Initial RootsTech Impressions

RootsTech 2015

Though I’m not an official RootsTech Ambassador, I want to share some of my initial takeaways from the opening streamed session.

During the session held on Thursday, Dennis Brimhall announced a major breakthrough for Mexican Ancestry research. Indexing of Spanish records has lagged behind other languages making researching ancestors in Mexico challenging. Compound that by the fact that many Mexican records have been poorly preserved and one can quickly understand the struggles faced by those with this very family-centered culture on their family tree.

Somehow, a partnership between and will index 800 million Mexican records by the end of 2015. This is great news! Yet, I’m just trying to understand how Ancestry will make this happen when FamilySearch cannot. Do you ever wish you could be a little fly on the wall to see historic events like this unfold?

The Family Discovery Center is now open in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. A mini-version of this center was demonstrated during the opening session. As the “Museum of Me” was featured, I loved the “year you were born” nuggets. It’s not as easy to find this information online. I had a “go-to” resource when my first two children were born. After my third child arrived, the resource was no longer online and I struggled to find these facts for my subsequent kiddos and their memory albums. Call me odd if you wish, this stood out to me.

As cool as this center seems, there is a side of me that has several thoughts. Not criticisms, but questions. First, what transition is in place from the ‘wow’ factor of such centers to the work/research needed to expand a family’s histories? Will this just be a fun thing to do but soon forgotten? Or is there a ‘next step’ that builds upon the experiences folk have? I don’t have an answer and since I won’t be traveling to Salt Lake City in the near future, I just have to wonder.

I love the idea of having smaller versions of Discovery Centers to help revitalize Family History Centers throughout the world. For the last 20 years, most Family History Centers have been ‘open for business’ but few people utilize the centers. One could say it’s the fault of folks not going. On the other hand, many such centers do not have programs to bring folks in. A Discovery Center could be a first step. And then perhaps, those centers can find their own smooth the transition from excitement to participation with other educational offerings or activities to build upon the discovery experience. We’ll have to wait and see how these things play out.

My last curiosity-laced question is this… what happens if there are no photos, stories, and audio for your family? Not everyone has something on Thus, the heritage percentages would not be available. Information about your ancestors would be absent. Would the lack of content ruin the experience? One could still record stories and add photos and learn about the year they were born. Will the discovery, or lack of discovery, still be exciting?  Again, I’m not being critical when I wonder about these things. My curious nature just wonders how these things play out and wish I could some how satisfy my inquisitive nature.

Finally, there was something said that struck me, “the wider market requires immediate gratification to get started.” I think that is true in some cases. In working with beginners, I like to plan ahead before meeting with them so we can find immediate successes.

The follow-up to this statement triggered more thoughts of my own. (Isn’t it great when a speech does that?) There seems to be a need for ‘our content’ to be ‘everywhere’ to make the ‘immediate gratification’ work. How do I possibly manage all the tree sharing services such as MyHeritage, FindMyPast, FamilySearch, CrestLeaf, and so on?

Once I gained access to MyHeritage and FindMyPast, my excitement fizzled as I realized what placing my tree on these sites would mean (a lot of tedious work attaching sources that I have already found on Ancestry and FamilySearch). Should I find the time to redo my work on various sites, how on earth will I manage them all? Would the effort pay off?

Sometime during RootsTech, additional partnerships were revealed. The FamilySearch Family Tree database now being accessible on was announced. I quickly hopped onto MyHeritage to see what was meant. The database is just another database possibility that you could find on the online service. Unlike (as far as I could tell), you were not really sharing content between the two sites. There is no syncing, only search and link as a source kind of situation. Again, it’s exciting on one hand but so tedious on the other. With my limited time and resources, I applaud the partnership but do not think I will make use of it much nor tell someone new to family history to be everywhere. (Okay, that was critical. Sorry.)

For me, the partnership announcements are not as exciting as perhaps they should be primarily because the specifics of the agreements are often presented in vague generalities. In the trenches of family history, there isn’t much visible difference to what I’m already doing. Perhaps I do not truly understand all such partnerships entail. This just brings be back to the point. The partnerships are not explained in such a way that an average person (such as myself) can truly understand and feel excited about it. Additionally, when I play around with the results of said cooperation and it’s tedious, I am left to wonder what the hub-bub is about. Perhaps a few more folks on the marketing end of such announcements who can boil things down might be beneficial.

Finally, I wrote down a thought that either the presenter said or I simply felt, “When you give a gift of family history, it can be overwhelming.” My next thought was, “how do we make family history be less daunting?”

For me, I like to encourage people with small and simple things they can do regularly. Label your photos. Be a volunteer indexer and contribute a batch a week. Record one story about a family member that you hear all the time. When I present my findings, I like to make scrapbooks because, even the simplest ones, are so beautiful that they grab my family member’s attention quickly. Then family members start talking about their relatives or they’ll learning something they hadn’t known before.

Wow! This is so long. I’m going to need another post to reflect on the additional things I learned, felt, or pondered after watching RootsTech from the comfort of my home. I can not imagine what I would have to write about had I been there in person. Thank you, FamilySearch and everyone else for making streaming available. Someday I’ll attend the conference live. Until then, I am appreciative of being to attend from home.

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

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