My first visit to RootsTech in Salt Lake City

ballroomsignIf I were a better blogger, I’d have posted daily about my recent RootsTech 2016 experience in Salt Lake City while I was there, rather than waiting until I was safely ensconced back in my warm Austin home. In my defense, I was busy every day … trying both to get my first look at Salt Lake City and to experience everything RootsTech had to offer … on the technological cutting edge of family history.

I was unsure what to expect, but based on archived videos from previous conferences and the quality of some of the people involved, I decided RootsTech was worth my time this year. Even if my expectations were a little cloudy, what mattered to me was the integrity of the information provided and the expertise and character of the people providing it. I was satisfied on every count.

The general sessions each morning were inspiring, my favorite ones being the talks provided by writer Bruce Feiler and StoryCorps founder David Isay. Perhaps these appealed to me because I am interested in storytelling — and in the emerging ways to do it — and that is much of what these speakers were about also. I also enjoyed the presentations from Doris Kearns Goodwin, Mike Leavitt, Paula Williams Madison, and Steve Rockwood. I did not attend the Innovators Summit and so missed those keynotes.

For a conference with more than 20,000 registrants, it is incredibly well run and organized. One minor glitch briefly clouded my mood when a room change could have been handled better … That said, for an operation the size and complexity of RootsTech, most days I was marveling at the incredible organization of it and the all-around civility of the participants.

Speaking of the participants, I enjoyed their company, finding presenters and learners alike to be generally smart, well informed, curious, polite, interesting, and interested. It was a pleasure to be among them. At one point I even found myself sitting next to a fellow Austin resident. We were both surprised.

writinghistoryThe classes I attended included two classes on DNA, one class each on creating video photo albums and designing family history books, a computer lab on gravesite mapping, and perhaps the most valuable to me in the short term, a class on How to Write an Engaging Family History. Penelope Stratton of the New England Genealogical and Historical Society was well informed on the various styles of family histories and provided valuable information on organizing, documenting, writing, and presenting them.

The expo hall was something to behold. I left quite a bit unseen because I mostly was twirling through between classes. It was a bit overwhelming, to be honest, but also exciting to see all of the people involved in the family history endeavor and the new technologies, tools, and companies that are springing from it. I looked at artful genealogy charts and family history books, learned about the increasing number of newspaper data bases available, and was exposed to new technologies for sharing information, taking and scanning images, and for doing more things than I can remember at the moment. Like I said, it was a little overwhelming.

The conference organizers arranged for breakfast to be available each morning for participants in the hotel where I was staying, which was nice. It was a short walk from the hotel to the back entrance of the conference center, which was welcome on those cold, sometimes slightly snowy mornings, but from the back entrance, it was a more substantial walk across the inside of the large Salt Palace to the area where most of the activity was occurring. Each evening ended with a bit of light entertainment, including a jazz group on Thursday, a musical/cultural night with extended hours in the expo hall on Thursday, and a hymn revival group on Saturday.

At the beginning and end of my time in Salt Lake City, which was my first visit there, I took some time to get out and see what was around me. I looked more broadly than deeply, due to the limited time, but you can read soon, on my other blog, about my time in Salt Lake City — mostly spent trying to find the right photographic angle on the snowy mountains by Big Cottonwood Canyon, visiting the capitol building, taking a drive to the Great Salt Lake, walking through Temple Square, and making a very brief visit to the Family History Library.

FHLbooks2I had avoided the Family History Library until my last day because, having failed to organize properly before my trip, I assumed it would be of little help to me without specific questions to be answered. With limited time, I decided to at least see what it was about, so I walked in, picked a button on the elevator that looked interesting, and soon found myself browsing through a significant collection of books on Iowa history (where most of my ancestors settled at one time or another). Suddenly I was wishing I’d budgeted more time for the library! There was so much I would have loved to browse through, but before I knew it, the library was closing. Next time.

I am delighted that I made the time to go to RootsTech this year. I wish I could look forward to attending again next year, but I’m afraid I already know my work will interfere. So I’ll start looking ahead to 2018 then! Thanks for an inspiring and informative conference, RootsTech. Feel free to enjoy my full slideshow below.

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