The Federation of Genealogical Societies/RootsTech combined conference was held February 11-14 in Salt Lake City, and was the largest genealogical conference ever in the U.S. with over 23,000 attendees. This year was the first time the separate FGS and RootsTech conferences were held together, which enabled a huge expo hall with vendors covering many aspects of genealogy, storytelling, photos, games, and historic preservation.
The FGS conference had a librarian’s day and society day before the main conference, and RootsTech held an Innovator’s Summit for tech developers who work to build software or apps for genealogists. The core FGS conference sessions mainly focused on genealogical methodology and records, while the RootsTech sessions covered technology, software and online searching or connecting with family.
I was honored to deliver one of the FGS keynotes and three other lectures during the conference:
- Society Day Keynote: New Growth
- Communicating on a Shoestring Budget: Cost-Effective Solutions for Societies
- Using Constant Contact’s Toolkit for Society Communications
- Beyond the Census: The Non-Population Schedules
RootsTech is sponsored by FamilySearch, so it is no wonder that many of the new companies or developers who debuted their apps were certified partners of FamilySearch. Most of these apps provided extended functionality or unique views of the FamilySearch Family Tree, making it more apparent where gaps in research or possible errors exist.
- KinPoint – Mainly a research aid by use of color-coded dots, that provides error notifications, missing records, hints, timelines, photos, and the ability to explore ancestors’ occupations or countries of origin
- RootsMapper – Plots the birth location and migration paths of ancestors with lines on a Google Map for up to 10 generations
- Puzzilla – A descendant and ancestor viewer that uses color-coded dots to diagram a 360-degree view of a family tree, visually indicating where additional research could be done at end-of-line locations on the tree
- TreeSeek – The ability to print decorative charts directly from Family Tree or via GEDCOM file, including fun charts like popular male or female name clouds from your own tree
- RecordSeek – A bookmarklet app that makes creating source citations easy by saving website links with genealogy documentation directly to Family Tree or into a “source box” to review later
In order to use these apps, an individual needs to have a free FamilySearch username and password to access the features, and should build out a few generations on the Family Tree if they aren’t already there. Some apps also offer additional premium features for a modest subscription price. After seeing the features of these apps, I had an “a-ha” moment that I really needed to build out more branches on the Family Tree so I wouldn’t miss the analysis benefits these tools can offer.
One new company named MooseRoots provides free ad-supported “interactive data visualizations” of historical records and trends to such things as demographics and name popularity. Searching for the name Rufus reveals that its most popular year was 1880 when it was the 88th most common baby name—not surprisingly, my great-grandfather was given that name in 1881. Searching for a 1920 census record of one of my ancestors allowed me to drill down into statistics from the county where he lived, providing insight on such things like racial and urban/rural composition of the county, literacy rates, and historical facts from that decade placed into the context of my ancestor’s life. Clicking around on this site and seeing various charts, graphs and statistics was fun, and revealed social context that can help enhance the story of an ancestor’s life.
Another new company named HistoryLines debuted in beta at the demo theater, and just recently went live last week. This company has a simple “discover-build-share” model. Based on a date and place, discover how life was for an ancestor, including education, clothing styles and cultural influences in his or her region. Build upon this base story by adding personal events, stories and memories to the historical timeline. Then finally, share the ancestor’s story in a variety of online platforms or in printed copies that can be handed out at a family gathering. This company is one of several that is using historical context to enhance our understanding of what it was like for our ancestors; this context is what aids us in appropriately interpreting the records and clues we locate so that we draw correct conclusions from them and can write a fuller story of their lives.
Last, on the fun side, I picked up a couple sets of The Game of Genealogy. This board game resembles the game of Clue, but is adapted for genealogy where you visit courthouses, cemeteries or archives to gain clues or points and “discover” more ancestors. The game made a fun family activity while on a recent visit with relatives, and could also be used at society game nights or family reunions.
The FGS/RootsTech conference offered many opportunities to learn, whether in the classroom sessions, computer labs, or when wandering the various demos in the expo hall. If you have not been to a large genealogical conference, consider attending one—you may be pleasantly surprised at all you can learn!