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Friday, April 12, 2013

Genedocs Rootstech Article in Upcoming NARA Newletter

The following is an article I have submitted for inclusion in the May 2013 National Archives Southwest Region Newsletter.  It hasn't been edited yet, but will post later what the final product looks like as well.

   This is significant because this year NARA has cancelled the annual genealogy conference in D.C., but the genealogy world still goes on!  Enjoy!

Genealogy Technology Conference, March 21-23, 2013
By Eric Jelle
   Dreams can come true sometimes.  However, they also do require dedication, some follow through, and often times sufficient funding on your part.  At the left is yours truly with fellow face-booking genealogist Heather Wilkinson-Rojo from March 22 in the Rootstech Expo Hall at the Salt Palace Convention Center of Salt Lake City, Utah.  Heather was just one of many great genealogy minded people I finally met in person at Rootstech at the three day March event.  It was my first national conference and worth every penny and precious minute spent to be able to attend!

     For a quick bit of Rootstech history, it is important to mention Anne Roach with the LDS organization Familysearch who began organizing the first Rootstech conference for 2011 at at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City as an ideal forum for family researchers and genealogy based technology developers to meet and share what would be the most useful for the industry and rapidly growing passion across the nation and the globe.  That first year over 3000 attendees were present.  In 2012 the conference easily added over 1,000 more people with live attendance at about 4,300 and 50,000 people around the world chiming in via streaming of keynote speakers presentations and some regular sessions.  Some attendees even have participated virtually via the Second Life web application. 

     In 2013 the conference organizers expected a little over 5,000 live attendees and were astonished recently when registrations exceeded 6,700 people investing hundreds of dollars between registration fees, lodging, and travel costs to attend the now largest such event in the United States.  According to Dick Eastman’s blog “If you add in the teen-agers, the total attendance at RootsTech 2013 in Utah had to be nearly 9,000 individuals.”  Coincidentally, the Rootstech planners also held a trial mini-Rootstech in the Kansas City area this year to gauge if serious interest was enough to expand to other major U.S. cities.  The success of that sub-event has yet to be shared on-line as of April 9, 2013.

     I had dreamed of attending in 2011 and 2012.  With a last minute holiday funding approved this year, I decided there would be enough funds to attend with the student discount, pricelines.com’s reduced airfare, and a little higher hotel rates for remaining available lodging within blocks of the Salt Palace Convention Center.   With a marketing class at DeVry scheduled as my first course in 2013, my class project naturally became oriented to how Rootstech could be the best opportunity to promote Genedocs with live “geneaholics” as well as other technology developers who could also provide invaluable insights and tips.  Vicariously, Rootstech 2013 would also help prove if Genedocs would ever be considered as a successful future business opportunity.

      So what great things happened at Rootstech 2013?  Some of the biggest news came from the big players in the genealogy field and industry;  Ancestry.com committing $100M over the next three to five years to work with Familysearch.org digitizing billions of estate/probate related records from 1800 through the early 1900’s was a huge announcement followed by MyHeritage.com unleashing their plans to consolidate Smart matching of individuals and source documents adding to the desired “elves that do all the work overnight as we sleep” and leaving us thousands of matches to verify with over a 95% level of accuracy per one geneablogger filling in with the experience using this amazing recent technology.  Every keynote speaker present was phenomenal with their own remarkable message to takeaway from the event. 

Crowd sourcing has redefined productivity after the amazing success indexing the 1940 U.S. Decennial Census after its momentous release by NARA to the public in April of 2012.  If you haven’t located your ancestors or other relatives yet in the 1940 recorded enumeration, then take a few moments to use Steven Morse’s amazing search tool at this link:  http://stevemorse.org/census/unified.html.  As a reminder, you can search the census free at Familysearch.org and as a NARA employee at Ancestry.com/institution via the Archives AAD path to genealogy via the NARA homepage.  Just be sure to do it on your break or lunch time unless you want to stick around after your work shift as a new genealogy nerd in the NARA staff library.  

     Since Rootstech this year closed with an onslaught of about 1,500 children attending beginners’ sessions, they were seen supported in the Expo Hall computer area beginning documentation of their family tree with pedigree charts, calling their grandparents for an interview to gather precious information that may otherwise be lost forever, and preserving this key family history on digital and internet locations to share with others for decades if not generations in a meaningful and priceless legacy that would help define a key part of their own identity.

        What did Rootstech change in 2013?  For all attendees, it was perhaps the most memorable such event they have ever had; from the first Keynote Speaker, to the moment the Expo Hall was flooded with attendees looking for collectable pins, vendor swag, and prizes ranging from custom wall charts up to big screen monitors/TVs, to the first session, to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s live performance dedicated to the attendees from around the world, to the night at the LDS Family History Library spent researching, to the final day’s ruckus to squeeze in as much as possible while the next generation of researchers flooded our midst on their new quest to learn better who they are through the identities of their ancestors.  

      For me, attending this year solidified my need to simply be more to my fellow genealogists than a mere attendee at future such events.   I have been egged on plenty at Rootstech by a few professional contacts to finally be a presenter at next year’s 2014 FGS Conference in San Antonio.  My own research, conducted passionately since 1995 and entirely since 1985, started when my sister first interviewed our father about the origins of our unusual Jelle name while I created my first poster descendancy chart.   Of course I took full advantage of Rootstech’s networking potential as I provided over 1500 contact cards and a few handfuls of Genedocs T-Shirts with random people who made my “firsts” lists; first to greet me, sit next to me, introduce themselves, recognize me, have lunch with me, first recognized from Texas, etc.  I proudly wore the same T-Shirt the first day with its reverse (shown below) displaying some of the visual evidence of my many successes spanning seven generations in the past 22 years which also helps memorialize my ancestors and motivate other attendees to press on in their endeavor and uncover the priceless past. 

     It was a pleasure to wear so many hats at one big event; researcher, developer, veteran, student, and I also did get to wear my National Archives one for a few moments for our SW Region Archives point of contact referrals.  I can’t sufficiently describe the elation you feel when you learn something completely new about an ancestor, but it is unlike anything else to discover that an ancestor who was so well documented as a classmate of a U.S. President, a Postmaster, an educator who brought a pistol to school in the 1870’s to deter unruly students, a newspaper publisher, and father, actually had nothing whatsoever listed in the county History book biography about his service in the War with Mexico in 1846-1848.  We have powerful tools like Google and hoards of genealogy minded friends on facebook to help us uncover these new tidbits of worthwhile family history, but if we don’t look, then we won’t find anything new or anything at all.  For someone whose father never filled out a resume’ in his entire life, I am happy to say that using new technology of facebook for family research actually ensured that I could even be here working with you at NARA today.   

     As for Rootstech 2014; if you are interested in attending, it is scheduled for February 6 – 8, 2014, at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City. Next year they will stream selected conference sessions to more than 600 sites around the world. They expect that more than 120,000 people will be able to attend RootsTech 2014, either in person or via the internet.  That is more people than went to see President Obama in St Louis.  My recommendations for anyone wanting to attend is to start planning now, budget early, use priceline.com for travel unless you have a cheaper means, and seek out the most affordable accommodations within walking distance with a shuttle to the FHL or Convention Center.  Archives employees can request free time off while FRC staff will need to utilize regular annual leave.  

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