Saturday, February 11, 2017

RootsTech 2017 - Day 4

Day 4 has finally come. This is the last day of RootsTech 2017 and the first morning that I actually slept until my alarm went off at 5:45 am. My day will end at 6:00 am tomorrow morning when I arrive at the Orlando Airport.

Our opening session today was hosted by Ancestry DNA. Ancestry DNA announced the launch of their new Genetic Communities scheduled for March/April this year. The Genetic Communities is basically a high resolution population cluster analysis indicating the most probable locations linked to your DNA results. They currently have 1,000 communities to compare your DNA but only 300 will be available at the initial launch. These communities are smaller geographic regions where there is a high concentration of specific genetic interconnectivity. This technology is ground breaking and was recently published in the journal Nature. With this resolution of data Ancestry can show migration routes and provide historical context to help build your stories. The results also show which of your DNA match cousins also belong to your genetic communities, allowing you to see how these cousins could be related if they don't already have trees on Ancestry to match to.

CeCe Moore, the Genetic Genealogist, talked about her research and how memories may be carried through generations via DNA. There have been several studies that indicate this may actually occur. She told about several of her projects where she reunited families that were separated at birth or found people who had forgotten who they were. The value of DNA in genealogical research is proving to be one of the most important discoveries of our time.

The winners of the Innovator Showdown were announced this morning. They were:

  • Kindex - People's Choice Award - $25,000 in cash and in kind credits
  • Double Match Triangulator - 3rd Place - $26,000 in cash and in kind credits
  • Qroma Tag - 2nd Place - $44,000 in cash and in kind credits
  • OldNews USA - 1st Place - $95,000 in cash and in kind credits

I also attended the Ancestry sponsored lunch. Ancestry has set a priority of making more records available and making their search process as fast as possible. In the old days it took an average of 1 hour and 20 minutes to find a person in the 1870 US census on microfilm. It now takes 22 seconds to perform the same task on Ancestry. Just in the last year, their page access time has improved by 44%, resulting in a 2x increase in page loading speed. Additionally, they are working on a predictive search algorithm, focusing the results based on your recent activities.

Ancestry has over 19 billion online records and added 2.3 billion new records last year alone with the largest increases being the addition of US Vital Records, Church of England Parishes, Ireland Catholic Parish Registers, German Lutheran Church Registers, and German Directories. Their US Marriage library now totals more than 300 million records, three times larger than FindMyPast's collection of US marriage records. Ancestry plans on adding another 120 million German records in the next 3 months resulting in a total of 640 million German records. They are also expanding their Dutch and Swedish record collections. And, one more collection, the US WW I Troop Transport collection will be available in April of 2017. This collection includes the crew and passenger lists for the troop transport ships during WW I. The partnership between Ancestry and FamilySearch provides a record library larger than all the other FamilySearch partners combined.

What else is Ancestry planning for 2017? is adding 8 to 10 million pages each month and currently have more than 240 million pages online. They will launch the We Remember personal memorial pages later this year. These memorial pages can be created for your deceased ancestors, providing one point of entry to tell their stories. AncestryDNA now has over 3 million users, a 2 million user increase over this time a year ago. The increased number of DNA kits in their system is providing many more results for those using the system.

The closing ceremony featured Noteworthy and Vocal Point, two groups from BYU. Additionally, they announced the winners from the cake contest, judged by The Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro. There were 60 cakes entered in the competition and the winner was awarded nearly $12,000 in high end kitchen appliances.

It has been a wonderful conference and I look forward to next year. FamilySearch announced that the RootsTech 2018 conference will be February 28 - March 3. It's time to start saving up for your trip.

RootsTech 2017 - Day 3

RootsTech has been great so far and today was no different (except the weather turned rainy and cold).

The General Session this morning started with Ben Bennet from FindMyPast talking about their new collections. In 2016, FindMyPast released the beginning of the US Marriage Record Collection. Their goal is to provide more than 100  million marriage records with over 450 million indexed names. That would be the largest collection of US marriage records for any site available today. Currently, they have over 70 million records available for search and expect the remainder to be released in the next couple months. Additionally, FindMyPast has acquired Twile. Twile is a tool that allows you to visualize your family history timeline. Twile recently came out with a family infographic using your data from FamilySearch.

My Family Infographic from Twile

What else does FindMyPast have in store for 2017? During the FindMyPast lunch they announced one of the most important releases in 2017 will be their partnership with the Catholic Church for the release of the Catholic Heritage Archive. The Catholic records for Ireland (7.6 million records) were released first with Scotland and the UK following soon. The US Catholic records will be released by archdiocese. The first US archdiocese, Philadelphia was released today. Several others, including Baltimore, New York, and Cincinnati will be released later this year. I am looking forward to the Cincinnati release since it will hopefully have many of my Ohio ancestors.

LeVar Burton, Geordi LeForge from Star Trek TNG, gave a very emotional talk to open the conference today. He emphasized the importance of having good role models as we grow up. He talked about his mother and how she, as a single mother raising children, worked to better herself by being the first person in her family to get a college degree and by working several jobs to make sure they had what they needed to succeed. LeVar also discussed his role in Roots and how the mini-series changed the way we see ourselves. At the end of his presentation, FamilySearch presented him with his family history and talked about some of the significant finds they discovered. LeVar was deeply touched by the stories they presented and there wasn't a dry eye in the convention center.

I also attended a question and answer session with the senior executives from FamilySearch where we learned about the direction FamilySearch is headed. I asked them if they were considering being able to include DNA results in their system. They said that was something they were investigating. Another thing that they mentioned was that they were taking a conservative approach to privacy issues and that their stance on this was beyond what the other companies had as policies. Some records are not being released because of the potential for privacy issues and they are looking at ways to handle living people in the system, to make it more useful without exposing private information to the world. Their customer support continues to be one of the best in the world with over 2,000 support missionaries handling over 1 million requests during 2016.

FamilySearch is concentrating on increasing their records availability. They are prioritizing their content acquisition to include high risk and vitally important records but have the ability to loan out smaller capture kits to groups so they can digitize their own collections. FamilySearch is focusing on developing partnerships to assist them in records acquisitions and are looking at some nontraditional partners to help develop some areas like their recipe collection. So, how quickly are the records being digitized? Well, about 50% of the vault records are now complete. They expect the remaining records to be complete in only a couple years and as new digitizing technology becomes available they will be able to increase the speed at which they release records. They are working on better OCR and AI technology so that computers will be able to index more records. Using these improved technologies they were able to index 26 million obituaries last year without the need for indexers. This allows the indexers to focus on more difficult records. Additionally, they are working on new partnerships with newspapers to include their collections.

The FamilySearch user base is expanding from the predominantly English speaking regions to more Latin American users but the hinting is still focused on English records. They also have seen a 40% increase in the use by youth, including Primary age children (under 12 years old).

All of these advancements will provide new resources for us to research our family histories and learn more about each and every one of our ancestors.

And, to finish off the day, MyHeritage had their After Party. This is a great opportunity for us to network and discuss various things. And just in case you thought genealogists were boring old ladies, that would be wrong. One of the most popular activities at the party was the karaoke stage. The music ranged from 80's rock to rap. Everyone had a great time.

They announced the dates for RootsTech 2018 as February 28 - March 3. That is a little later than usual and will probably require some other local conferences to rearrange their schedules but I don't plan on missing it.

One more day of RootsTech 2017 left and then I can head home and get some sleep.

Friday, February 10, 2017

RootsTech 2017 - Day 2

Wow! It was a busy day today. First of all, I am still on Florida time, so when the clock rolled around to 4 am I was ready to go. Since it was still dark out and the convention center wasn't open I did a bit of walking and playing Pokemon Go. There are a lot of Pokestops in and around Temple Square.

The conference opened with Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch talking about how certain foods can bring back memories of events. He told us about how his grandfather would take the grand kids to the A&W Rootbeer stand and how his grandmother made rocky road fudge for special occasions. This has lead FamilySearch to develop a new part of FamilySearch where you can upload your family recipes. It is located at The purpose is to preserve your heritage by sharing your recipes.

Steve Valentine, FamilySearch's director of partnerships, also mentioned how the different online genealogy companies were partnering to bring more information to the public. He said that Ancestry was focusing on increasing the availability of Mexican records, MyHeritage was focusing to bring more Scandanavian records, FindMyPast was focusing on US marriage records, Geneanet was focusing on French records and FamilySearch now has the largest collection of Chinese records online. FamilySearch was also partnering with BYU to improve computer text recognition software and has been able to index 26 million obituaries over the last year.

Steve Rockwood talked about using the collaborative family tree. The tree now has over 1.1 billion linked names and over 700 million attached sources. But, if you are still concerned about the use of a collaborative tree, FamilySearch is maintaining the ability to upload your gedcom file as a read only source. You can upload your gedcom by clicking on Search at the top of the page and then Genealogies. At the bottom of the page is a Submit Tree button that lets you upload your own gedcom file. One thing to notice on the Genealogies page is the data sets that you can search beyond the IGI, Pedigree Resource File and Ancestral File. These include trees from the Guild of One Name Studies, Oral Genealogies, and Community Trees. These are all valuable resources that should be looked at occasionally during your research.

Aaron Godfrey from MyHeritage spoke about MyHeritage's DNA matching and ethnicity results. They believe they have the most accurate ethnicity results of any DNA test. They took DNA samples from over 5,000 individuals with strong ethnic backgrounds from 200 locations to use as their baseline comparisons for their ethnicity results.

The Property Brothers, Jonathan and Drew Scott, talked about their family, their Scottish heritage, and how their HGTV show allows them to help people achieve their dreams. In each of their projects, they try to focus some of their design around a family heirloom or object, this could be a knick-knack or a photo that the family treasures. In that way, they bring a part of the family into the project design.

As always, the keynote speakers did an excellent job of motivating the audience.

I didn't do many classes today but one that I made sure to attend was Kitty Cooper's discussion of DNA Triangulation. She writes a blog at where she talks about genetics and genealogy. She did a great job of making a very technical topic more understandable. There are a couple tools she discussed that help interpret your DNA results. This was actually a very timely presentation and was useful to me and my family today. My wife was contacted by someone who shows as a 1st cousin to my mother-in-law (who just passed last week - we did her DNA for Christmas) and a 2nd cousin for my wife. As you may know, DNA results showing as 1st cousins could also be half siblings. We believe, based on the results, that this new relative is either the child of my wife's grandfather's brother, or the child of her grandfather. We may have  a bit of a problem determining which it is since the person is adopted and doesn't know her heritage. But at least we are able to connect her to many new relatives on her Bielefeld and Wesner lines that we know about.

MyHeritage provided a great sponsored lunch today. They added two new functions to the MyHeritage site. Today they released the Photo Discoveries application. This basically works like their SmartMatching but does it with photos. This was released today and I already had a hit! There is a picture of Hermann Augenstein (1875-1949) that I had never seen before. This new discovery also added 7 new people to my tree. The second application, Consistency Checker, will be released this Saturday. Consistency Checker goes through your MyHeritage trees and alerts you of potential problems such as parents being younger than their children, mother being too young to have children, husband and wife are too far apart in age, etc. Running this application could help make sure your tree is as accurate as possible. One good thing with the Consistency Checker is that you can adjust the configuration to set thresholds for it to alert you with. MyHeritage also talked about the advances in their DNA collection. They already had access to 23andMe DNA and are letting people upload their DNA files from other sites such as Ancestry and FTDNA. Today they announced the hiring of Dr. Yaniv Erlich as Chief Science Officer to lead development and strategy for MyHeritage's DNA program. Look for several improvements and additions to their DNA program in the next few months.

Oh yeah, the event tonight was great. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed a selection of Rogers and Hammerstein pieces at the Conference Center.

Well, I hope this information gives you something to look forward to in the coming weeks. I'll let you know what else I learn tomorrow. Goodnight!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

RootsTech 2017 - Day 1

It has been a busy day. I arrived in Salt Lake City last night late, after a 5 hour flight. That was after a busy few days where my mother-in-law passed away last week and we had her funeral Monday afternoon. It was a hard week for everyone involved.

Today was day 1 for RootsTech 2017. I was up before 6:00 am making my way to the convention center. The weather has been nice with temperatures in the 40's, so the walk wasn't bad. The major event for today was the Innovator Showdown. So, here is a rundown of some of the sessions I attended.

9:00 - Steve Rockwood, President & CEO of FamilySearch talked about innovators needing to focus on all levels of customers, from beginning researchers to experts. He presented on how the new Discovery Experience on the first floor of the Family History Library draws many people in with a cool experience which then leads them to the other floors where they begin to do research on their families. He talked about how the internet and other new technologies are opening family history to the masses and even demonstrated how Alexa can provide family history information. If you don't know what Alexa is, it is a device that responds to voice commands and answers you back based on information it discovers on the internet. He asked Alexa, "Alexa, anything interesting in my family tree today?" and Alexa responded by providing some information on a couple ancestors who died on that day. He also asked everyone to check if they were related to him by looking up his father, Trulon Van Rockwood (FamliySearch PID#KW88-46X). I put that PID number into the FamilySearch app on my phone and discovered that my wife is a direct descendant of his 9th great grandmother, Mary Rose Croshaw (PID#LKC2-YBF).

Liz Wiseman, author of "Rookie Smarts" presented next. Her talk was on how many tech innovators were inexperienced rookies who didn't know what couldn't be done. She asked us to think about our rookie experiences and how we handled challenges then. As rookies, many of us would seek out networks of people that we could learn from, we asked questions, volunteered for "opportunities", and acted outside our comfort zones. As experts, many of us now make assumptions that we already know the answer, stay within prescribed boundaries, see what we want to see, and miss the gorilla in the room. We need to step back and throw out the rule book, make an attempt to start fresh, leave the mode of giving answers and begin to ask questions again, question what we "know", seek out less experienced individuals, and take new challenges to put yourself back on the bottom of the learning curve. The more challenging the task, the more satisfying it is to complete. Don't get caught in the rut of doing routine assignments because low challenge equals low satisfaction. I totally relate to that last part. I have switched jobs frequently in order to put myself back on the bottom of the learning curve and to perform challenging new things. I do get bored quickly with a standard routine.

10:15 - Craig Bott hosted a panel on Industry Trends and Outlooks. There were representatives from FamilySearch, FindMyPast, JRNL and TagGenes discussing how innovation can change the genealogy environment. Today, many of the new innovations focus around using the data, sharing it and documenting events. This is resulting in multiple ways to use the data but few new ways to gather the information. There is lots of room for innovation in genealogy and the market is huge, genealogy is second, behind only gardening, as a hobby. So how do we engage the larger market? We need to lower barriers, build on existing content and engage people where they are at. Innovators need to differentiate, build products people want, not reinvent the wheel, and show that sharing is caring. TapGenes has innovated by using DNA tests to interpret medical histories and is now working on life planning applications based on your DNA. FamilySearch is working on advanced OCR and handwriting recognition, natural language processing to understand the context of words in records, and neural network and machine learning so computers can improve the accuracy of their record searches. They are also looking at new ways to gather records by determining the risk these records face through natural disasters, political turmoil, poor archiving processes, etc. Another innovation they are investigating is how to share data between sites by removing boundaries between companies. This will cut down on duplication of efforts and allow users to select their favorite platform.

12:30 - The Innovators Showdown presented the top 10 innovators. They included Qroma Tag, JoyFlips, Cuzins, Crowd Sourced Indexing (CSI), Kindex, Rootsfinder, Champollion 2.0, Emberall, DoubleMatchTriangulator, and OldNews USA.

Qroma Tag is an app that allows users to provide custom metadata for photographs. The program can be found at

JoyFlips is an app that connects photos to family history. It allows you to scan and share photos, and provide searchable text by speaking into the app.

Cuzins is an app which links you to your famous relatives. The intent is to introduce young users to genealogy by showing which celebrities they are related to.

Crowd Sourced Indexing is a web based tool that manages indexing project for groups. It allows groups to scan their collections and develop an indexing project based on those records.

Kindex was one of my favorites. This program allows families to produce their own searchable archive of family records in the cloud. Their program can be found at

Rootsfinder integrates with various online genealogy databases to make your searches easier and more productive. It also allows for data to be shared on social media. This program can be found at

Champollion 2.0 is a desktop application that can clean up digitized records and makes it easier to transcribe documents.

Emberall is a smartphone app that helps you tell anyone's story. The app provides the user with a set of questions and organized video clips of the answers to produce a story of the person's life.

DoubleMatchTriangulator helps you analyze your DNA matches and shows how various people are related. It can be found at

OldNews USA is also a phone app. This app helps you research newspapers by suggesting papers that are most likely to have information based on your search information. Users can save clips to their phone or as pdf documents. The app also works with Google Maps to located newspapers near where your ancestors lived.

There were several additional sessions that I attended today, but I am tired and will try to get some sleep before tomorrow. I may write more about the other sessions later. Remember, you can watch some of these sessions streamed live or as archive videos on