Feb 182017

This was our second year at RootsTech and so, we (moi and @HistoryLady2013) are possibly a little more ‘qualified’ to comment this year than last. Last year was very much a ‘finding our feet’ mission, with no expectations before we arrived.

I know that since RootsTech has ended, I have already been quoted by @DearMyrtle on her Monday’s with Myrt. She and I discussed comparisons between RootsTech and Who Do You Think You Are? (WDYTYA) Live in the UK. As a volunteer in various organisations from local to national and international, I have first-hand experience of the cost of booking stands at events across the UK. In years gone by, the Society of Genealogists used to organise an annual family history fair at the Royal Horticultural Halls. There were a few lectures during the day but the fair appeared (in my opinion) to be an occasion for societies across the UK to come together and present their offerings to the public. The stands were inexpensive and so, a large number of societies attended.

For the last N years (since the advent of WDYTYA on the television), the annual event moved firstly to Olympia (London) and then to the NEC in Birmingham. Multiply the space by Y and add a factor of Z into the cost of stands…. Guess what? Many of the societies can no longer afford to attend.

How is RootsTech different? The stand costs are Z divided by B (i.e. a darned sight lower)! The number of classes (lectures) and calibre of speakers is a million times greater. I was told by one of the organisers that they received 900 applications to speak at the event and accepted 170. Well, I was super excited to present two of those classes though saddened to see that some classes had to be cancelled as some speakers were unable to honour their commitment to the conference, for whatever reason.

For us – me and @HistoryLady2013 – we take RootsTech as an opportunity. An opportunity to meet up with so many people who we are otherwise only connected with online. Genealogists who are so knowledgeable and always prepared to share their expertise during the conference, either in their classes or personally. The event is not just business but social too and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening event organised by MyHeritage.

What has become very evident to us (me and @HistoryLady2013), in our very differing roles at the conference, is that people who attend RootsTech want to have more classes about/experts in UK records and how to research in the UK (whether in person or from afar). We have both had copious conversations with attendees who want to know ‘how to’. They don’t want a course. There are plenty of those, they know that. They want to speak to a real person and/or hire someone to carry out research. There is clearly something missing from RootsTech and maybe, the Federation of Family History Societies might want to look at attending in the future? The Really Useful leaflet would have been a handy one to have up our sleeves….. to direct interested attendees to relevant Family History Societies back in the UK…..

I will definitely be feeding back to the RootsTech organising team with thoughts for next year. Maybe more UK-based genealogists/exhibitors might want to look into attending in 2018? A coordinated trip?? Honestly, RootsTech is a Win Win!

Feb 152017

As I said in the last blog post, RootsTech cannot last forever. On Sunday evening, me and @HistoryLady2013 looked out of the window of our boudoir in Hotel Monaco and noticed, with sadness, that the huge RootsTech signage in the central tower of the Salt Palace Convention Center had gone. Moving onward to the next convention, I guess.

With two days of ‘downtime’ before heading back to the UK, we decided (not for the first time) to attend the social hour in our hotel lobby at 5pm (sadly, minus our Canadian and Australian friends who had previously accompanied us during the week). Several members of the US Air Force had checked in first thing and proceeded to build a stunning Jenga tower which kept us greatly amused.

Anyone connected with either of us on Facebook will know that we have a penchant for Red Rock Brewing Company and so we paid a final visit (for this trip at least) for our evening meal before heading back to the hotel to continue our family history research. You can’t take the research gene out of either of these ladies!

Monday saw a slightly more focussed trip to the Family History Library. On Wednesday, I had managed to take a few document copies for a friend (Kitcher surname study) back in the UK but most of the time, we had people joining us to catch up/pick our brains, which slightly distracted from the task at hand! For the first time in a long while, I took the opportunity to work on my own surname study whilst @GeniAus was working on her Curry surname study alongside me. I soon had my focussed taken with a work-related matter in the name of Smith and made surprisingly light work of it! Hurrah!!

Knowing that our Valentine’s Day would be an odd one – mostly travelling – we stayed up as late as physically possible, having packed our suitcases with all our RootsTech goodies, ready for departure at 7am from the hotel. We hadn’t planned to leave so early but, when we found out that our seats were to be ‘allocated at the departure gate’ for our Salt Lake City to Detroit leg of our home journey, we decided to err on the side of caution.

We needn’t have worried. Our Express Shuttle driver arrived promptly, we were deposited at the airport swiftly and cleared the check-in desk at break-neck speed. @HistoryLady2013 was not to be calmed until she had her seat, however…. And so, we hot-footed it to D13 to enquire about our seating arrangements. We were not informed until 8:35am that we had in fact been (allegedly) upgraded and were just one row behind Business Class. Slightly confusing when Business Class is Row 1 to 4 and we were in 10!

Salt Lake to Detroit – done. We had plumped for a longer wait in Detroit to avoid any issues with connections but again, needn’t have worried (though we were quite glad we had factored this time in when we heard the horror stories of other people’s journeys to and from RootsTech). A few snaps both during our wait and on departure …. with only 53 people on our flight! We were also informed that the San Francisco flight back to Heathrow had only 30 people on board! The cabin crew could not have been more attentive….

And so, back to Blighty. You are reading this which means we have landed and are back on our merry way to FWL Towers. Some kind of ‘normal’ will now resume.

[N.B. Forgot to mention in early blogs that in fact our Express Shuttle driver back to the airport last year, Leon, was so taken with our stories of RootsTech 2016 that he and his wife, Ann, attended this year. The power of networking!!]

Feb 122017

Day 2 at RootsTech was African Heritage Day and featured LeVar Burton as Keynote speaker. I was surprised to read that LeVar was born in Germany but when I read further into his history, his father was stationed there whilst serving in the US Army Signal Corps. With the aforementioned certificate still not in our UK Office, research was put on hold for the day and learning was put at the forefront of plans. Last year, I managed to attend only one lecture (‘class’) and this year, I have actually fared worse. None, other than my own! Oops…. I definitely need the ‘must try harder’ badge on that score!!

20170212_123523I have spent a long time in the Media Hub with fellow ambassadors and also out and about in the Exhibition Hall. There are so many new and innovative ideas, and people really want feedback from users in the genealogical community too. The Innovation Summit winners were announced ain the ‘Innovator Showdown’ at 10:30am….. several worthy winners but the Top Three were (from first to third) OldNewsUSA, QromaTag and Double Match Triangulator, with Kindex winning the People’s Choice Award. [Click on the links to find out more!] There was a whole section of the Hall dedicated to innovators called ‘Innovation Alley’ (whether officially or unofficially!) and I had the opportunity to interview two innovators over the course of Day 2 and 3.

Friday evening saw the Canadian contingent plus my companion @HistoryLady2013 making a trip to the Marriott at City Creek as we had been invited to the MyHeritage party. And what a party it was…. party games, magicians, karaoke, prizes and more! A social event where there really is no way you’ll find yourself alone….

With the arrival of ‘the certificate’ on Saturday morning, I was more than slightly distracted from the early hours, though very pleased to be able to put a call in to a potential heir in the UK before Saturday came to a close ‘their time’. Several of my fellow ambassadors and RootsTech staff were amazed to hear how the story unfolded and how deep the digging had been to find heirs.

To close off the RootsTech experience, I was appointed as ‘Contact Les’ (in charge of a whole van of genealogists!) by Thomas MacEntee who arranged the transport for us to go to Dear Myrtle’s house for the After Party. She must have welcomed over 50 people to her home to round off an amazing week in Salt Lake City. I managed to spend about an hour talking to her and interviewing people together on Friday. What a wonderful lady!

The fun has continued throughout the week …. though sadly it cannot continue forever. All good things must come to an end. Sitting here on Sunday afternoon, we are already planning our trip (the email has been sent to our travel agent!) and many of our genie-friends have already begun their trip homeward. Safe travels all and we’ll meet again here next year, if not before [Wed 28 Feb – Sat 3 March 2018].

Feb 102017

What a day is about right!! This time last year, I was a rookie with no idea of the packdrill. Being an ambassador – what did that mean I actually needed to do!? This year, at least I know a little bit more but quite frankly, I still have little idea of what is expected of us! Not to worry …. we do what we do and create noise about the conference in whatever way best suits us as individuals.

Day One was very different for me this year. Two ‘classes’ to lead. That’s me. Talking. For an hour. In front of a large (hopefully) generally American (obviously) audience. The day began early with a tour of the Exhibition Hall at 7:30am. This time of day is normal for some people but not for this night owl. Being there at 7:30am also means that I need to be up, out of bed and looking decent at this hour. Quite a challenge….

20170209_073238The Exhibition Hall seems to have expanded yet further this year with more Platinum sponsors than ever before including Forever, MyHeritage, FamilySearch, Ancestry, FindMyPast and several more. They have bigger ‘booth’ space at the front of the Hall (see picture!) but there are simply hundreds (surely) of other vendors and societies represented from so many countries. In fact, during my interview with Brian Donovan from FindMyPast on Wednesday in the Marriott Hotel, I bumped into Living DNA who are based just down the road from our offices in the UK. Crazy….!

In all honesty, I spent most of the morning networking with other ambassadors, catching up on new news and connecting in the real world. A large proportion of the classes (talks, in my lingo) are US-specific and so, I was not sure how my two would go down with the attendees – Rummaging in the Parish Chest and Searching for Surnames: Challenges, Pitfalls and the Downright Ridiculous (and old favourite of mine). Fellow ambassadors and ‘groupees’ created a lot of noise for me prior and during my talks and I have several good photographs and quotes to use in future promotional material!

When it comes to social events, there are almost as many to choose from as concurrent classes. It’s impossible to be everywhere and, aside from cloning myself to be in the office and in the US, I definitely need to be cloned to be everywhere I want to be at RootsTech. After a lovely evening with my dear friends @HistoryLady2013 and @Andrea4family and a long walk without a successful outcome, some good news was on the horizon at the end of Day One …. each day of last year’s RootsTech, I came in early to get my blog post written. This year, the Media Hub is not open until 10am!!! OMG!!! A lie in….

[N.B. Still no sign of that darned marriage certificate. I do fear that the men in white coats may take me away shortly….]

Feb 092017

Since the last blog, many miles have been travelled (and even more kilometres) on foot, bus, boat, car and plane. My MileIQ app on my mobile keeps asking me to classify journeys as personal or business and I keep telling it ‘I am on public transport’ or similar!

The boat part of our travels was on Monday to Alcatraz, 1.25 miles offshore from San Francisco. For any hermits who don’t know what Alcatraz was, Alcatraz Island housed a maximum high-security federal prison, which operated from 1934 to 1963. Interestingly, there were only four different wardens during that time in what must have been very challenging working conditions. Walking around the cell block, recreation area, library etc., the prison can best be described as bleak and it is understandable that prisoners arrived on the island either resigned to their fate or argumentative and angry. The weather was less than pleasant which made the experience all the more ‘real’. Thankfully (although many expressed their amazement), @HistoryLady2013 and I were allowed off the island to continue our trip!

The step count on my prison bracelet …. I mean Fitbit …. almost hit 100,000 steps this week. That’s a total I haven’t seen for some time…. but the goal was not achieved due to a minor travel challenge. No ‘plane to take us from San Francisco to Salt Lake City! Argh!!!! Cinderella had a ball to attend!!! One of the (many) benefits of being an Ambassador at RootsTech is that you get to attend the Media Dinner which, this year, was on Tuesday. We were due to arrive at half 4 which would have been a challenge enough to get there for 6pm. Flight delay made it impossible.

Never one to see challenges as any more than just that ….  leapt over hurdles and produced a minor canter up the Convention Center corridors to arrive only 20 minutes late for the dinner. Nothing short of a miracle! Great introduction to the conference from the ‘key players’ and managed to bag myself a seat on a fabulously international table with Daniel Horowitz from My Heritage, Brandon Beckstead who is on the RootsTech organising team, Myko Clelland from FindmyPast and several new friends.

Having missed the networking before the dinner, I made quick work of meeting up with friends and also connecting with people who I had only previously ‘met’ online. RootsTech really is the place to be.

I always refer to the Innovator Summit day (Wednesday) as Day Zero at RootsTech. It’s an awesome concept with so many new and innovative ideas but, more often than not, that’s the day I use for networking, researching and getting prepared for the three days ahead. I have a rather irritating lady on one of our cases at the moment who seems to change her name more frequently than one might consider healthy! She received more than her fair share of attention and still remains elusive…. Her marriage certificate arrival tomorrow in the office may help to ward off insanity. Oh the traumas of a professional genealogist!

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