19 February 2015

My #RootsTech & FGS 2015 impressions

Warning: This may not mean anything to genealogy beginners or even some experts. The following are some of my rough impressions from RootsTech, and some of what I felt were highlights. This is not intended to be authoritative or all encompassing.

Two of the major genealogy conferences in the United States, RootsTech and FGS conference, combined this year resulting in the largest reaching genealogy conference in the world.

This year the theme of the conference (in my opinion) seemed to be big, international, and together.  

I have been attending each year since 2012, so I will not talk as much this time about the free soda, popcorn, and mini-arcade. I will not talk as much about the stellar keynote speakers, the incredible energy of the crowd, or meeting up with other enthusiastic genealogists. Note: These things--even if everything else was taken away--make the conference worth attending every year.

Another major highlight every year for me is the opportunity to hear about the most groundbreaking technology (or collaboration) for genealogy. There is always exciting news, although much of the cutting edge technology is the same discussed during previous years. Some large genealogy organizations announced exciting plans a year or two ago, and these very technologies are still in beta this year. Examples of long-time-still-coming technologies include the new FamilySearch Indexing program, handwriting recognition, and the ability to clean up some large FamilySearch Family Tree profiles that have bad data. The excitement about some of those has worn off a little for me, since they have been promised for two years or more in some instances.  I'll still be excited when the improvements come, but hearing about them each year is less of a novelty.

Now I am much more interested in the collaboration aspect of RootsTech. This year there was a major new theme in the collaboration that was going on, fostered further by the presence of the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference (FGS). Much of the most exciting news (in my opinion) was related to collaboration between societies and societies collaborating with major genealogical organizations. 
  • Affiliate LDS member access for New England Historic Genealogical Society's website
  • BillionGraves Rewards Program for your genealogy society
  • Findmypast Partners with New York’s genealogical society for access to records
  • Robert Charles Anderson of the NEHGS spoke alongside David Rencher of FamilySearch and others, to developers at the Innovator Summit. This panel of society experts and FamilySearch executives encouraged developers to design tools for serious genealogists.
Collaboration falls under the overarching theme as part of together, but often also ties into big and international. Here are some other announcements or items that demonstrate one or more of these themes.
  • Many quoted a figure of 22,000 attendees on the busiest day (Saturday). This surpasses Who Do You Think You Are Live, a conference in the UK that has been reported to garner about 17,000 attendees. More than 150,000 are expected to watch the recordings in several countries worldwide. The recordings are translated into nine additional languages. 170 exhibitors had booths in the expo hall.
  • FamilySearch and FamilyTreeDNA announce partnership at ? "DNA in SLC"
  • 80 million Mexican vital records will soon be available because of our partnership with . Amazing! (Tweeted @FamilySearch)
  • "This fall Ancestry will release more than 170 million name-searchable images of million Probate and Wills records" (Press release)
  • Apps allow reaching a wider international audience: Devin Ashby of FamilySearch says smartphones are Family History Centers of today. BillionGraves testing new Windows app, beta announced during
  • Strathclyde University from Scotland brings a booth about their online genealogy master's degree to the RootsTech expo hall.  
  • David Archuleta sings in Spanish to an audience of some twenty thousand during the RootsTech closing social: http://youtu.be/2wWwXJnV56Q
  • Tan Le, originally from Vietnam, gives one of the best talks of the entire conference http://youtu.be/VK74LRhXaac
  • The Vice President of International for FamilySearch was the person to introduce most keynote speakers
There is a lot more that could be said about RootsTech, and the international collaborations. I hope this conveys the theme in general. The community is growing, and we are learning that collaboration is key to that growth.

For further reading I recommend:
Even all the posts on these blogs and sites cannot cover the experience, but it gives you enough to think about what you might have missed. Even if you attended, you cannot possibly soak it all in.

Note: Looking for themes can be fun. One theme from FamilySearch was partnerships, and one uniquely promoted undercurrent this year was that Indexing powers Hints. Some noted that it was more of a FamilySearch conference than a technology conference--although having FamilySearch front and center is good for the community. They are doing amazing work!

Another blogger noted that nothing too innovative came up in the innovator challenge event--even though the conference is RootsTech. While it may be true that most of the technology was not new, the finalists did present things in new ways that will be helpful to the community. I listed some of the most exciting things (in my opinion) above. These were not specifically part of the innovator day or challenge. Those innovator events seem more like ways to try and get developers started or discuss APIs. A developer who is just starting is unlikely to release huge record collections or never-heard-of technologies that would get serious genealogists jumping for joy. Having 80 million Mexican records indexed by the end of the year is enough to get a serious genealogist jumping for joy though.

FamilySearch, Ancestry, Findmypast and others mentioned a few more features or technologies they have under development. I mentioned a few on my Twitter feed. Some of them are too vague, small, or too early in development to get very excited about right now.

What did you find exciting or as a theme at RootsTech?

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