RootsTech 2016, Technology and Next Year

WARNING: This is my opinion!

It’s now been two full weeks since the madness excitement of RootsTech has ended. 2016 was my third visit to this fabulous conference, although years 1 & 3 were very different from year 2 (2015) when RootsTech and the Federation of Genealogical Societies teamed up for the double conference.

I’ve been pondering my visits and what I’ve learned at each one. Let’s start with the keynote speakers. I freely admit that I’m not really one for the keynote talks, but no one has asked me why, so I will tell you. It’s not for a lack of attention span on my part, it’s because most of them are boring and/or way too long.  I actually went to parts of several of them last year and, after that experience, didn’t bother to go to any of them this time around.

I think it was Thomas MacEntee who last week said he wanted to hear genealogy stories. I agree 100%. I think he hit the nail on the head. I realize the big sponsors get their time in the spotlight, but they need to use that time differently. I don’t care what new and exciting thing Ancestry is bringing out this year – at least not hearing it in a keynote – nor do I really care that FamilySearch was opening their family discovery zones around the world last year. I can read about both of those in a press release.

Instead, Ancestry could showcase a speaker who actually did his/her own research using lesser known Ancestry databases to build a family tree. FamilySearch could have used the time to spotlight the need for volunteers and current progress on its Obituary project, announced in 2015.  Another speaker, perhaps an adoptee, could share what they went through learning they were adopted and how they made contact with or discovered their birth families. Someone else could talk about ethnic migrations. Hank Jones giving a keynote talk on his Palatine work? You can be sure I’d be attending all of these keynote sessions.

Also, one rule needs to be put in place for keynotes – no speaker can talk more than 20 minutes. It’s supposed to be a keynote – a highlight – not a life history. People’s brains get saturated quickly and with multiple speakers in a session, even more so. The audience should be left wanting more not wanting out of the room.

Okay, I’ve said my piece about keynote speakers. Now on to the sessions.

First timers comment about being overwhelmed by it all and they definitely can be. However, there is a difference in the type of overwhelming, I think, between first timers and repeat visitors.

A first visit brings both an onslaught of class sessions, extra activities such as computer labs and the Innovators’ Summit, and the vendor hall with all of its BSOs. Choices have to be made and time is limited. There is the additional draw of that building just up the street – the Family History Library.

For repeat visitors, though, I don’t think it is really a sense of being overwhelmed. There is a definite bombardment of images and information, but it is much more manageable the second or third or fifth time around.

This year, I really stopped to think about what I would like to see in future RootsTech conferences. I have made it a point to attend one or more sessions during almost every time slot at each conference and I blogged about most of them.

I also viewed each session in terms of its appropriateness for and quality of information given to its target audience. Many of the sessions are geared to beginning or less experienced family historians. That is great because we want new genea-addicts zealously researching their family roots.

However, it has become very apparent that sessions for advanced researchers are very limited. It wasn’t nearly as noticeable last year with the double RT-FGS sessions happening concurrently.

What I would really love to see at RootsTech 2017 is an advanced track that provides a combination of genealogical research techniques requiring a higher skill set level and technologies that can be used in ways that also require a higher knowledge level.

Every session that I attended this year was excellent and beginners gained a huge amount of new information. The problem was that many of them were way too basic for me and, I suspect, for many others who are intermediate level researchers or beyond.

While I am definitely in the advanced group when it comes to genealogical research, I don’t consider myself to be particularly advanced when it comes to technology. I have a fairly limited knowledge base in that arena, so I think it says a lot that the more tech-oriented sessions I went to didn’t have me leaving confused. In fact, I learned one or two new tips in each one, but for the most part, most of what I heard was old information.

The sessions from which I got the most this year were those by Warren Bittner, Thomas Jones and the handful of others who shared more complex case studies, ideas and projects. RootsTech planners – we need more of these!

Instead of vendors just introducing their apps, websites and inventions, how about limited trial versions of these products available beforehand to RootsTech registrants and then offering sessions that are more advanced than “welcome to my product with a quick overview?” NEHGS – step up and offer a session or two on using some of the more deeply buried resources in that fabulous building in Boston, particularly those relating to states other than Massachusetts.

In a nutshell, I’d like to see the “reasonably exhaustive search” genealogical proof standard be applied to the RootsTech offerings with more choices relating to the end of the exhaustive search range instead of just the beginning. A visit to RootsTech isn’t an inexpensive trip by any means. If you want continual repeat visitors, choices need to be expanded.

7 thoughts on “RootsTech 2016, Technology and Next Year”

  1. I think your points are on-target. Just looking at the list of presentations, I could tell that the few concerning complex methods would attract me, whereas there were just too many keynotes and repetitive general stuff. For me, a SLIG, FGS, or other top-notch educational efforts would help me the most.

    And as for tech stuff, I did not really see much in the way of advancement except maybe for those having excellent broad-band internet connections. Different collations of existing technology can meet a lot of different persons’ desires, but a conference such as RootsTech is not necessary for finding them. The opportunities for trying out vendors’ wares can be useful, but not exceptionally so.

  2. Linda – Encourage those with the advanced skill set topics to submit session papers when RootsTech does their call for sessions in May/June. Also, you need to share this information with RootsTech – especially the ideas about keynotes (info@rootstech.org). Also if you have ideas of actual people who could do these keynotes, include that information in your email as well. You have some great ideas here.

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