Sunday, February 15, 2015
FGS and RootsTech: Saturday and Overall Impressions
First, at the E-Z Photo Scan booth I managed to finish scanning the rest of the photos I had brought with me to Utah (thanks again, Arnold!). I think my total over the three days was around 500. I know that's a small drop in the bucket of the 100,000 the company was trying to preserve during the conference, but I was happy to be part of the total. The photos I brought with me were all unidentified. I decided to focus on those because now that they're scanned, it will be a lot easier to share them with cousins who are likely to recognize a good number of the faces.
Second, while I admit I did not find the Saturday sessions to be as good as the ones earlier in the week, I still learned something from each one I attended. The best was Deena Coutant's talk about the U.S. nonpopulation census schedules. The high points were that she gave a good overview of the six different types of nonpopulation schedules (farming, manufacturing/industry, defective/dependent/delinquent, mortality, supplemental, and social statistics), some ways in which they are helpful in learning more about your family, and which ones are online (not all of them are, something I did not know previously). Unfortunately, most of the images on her slides were too small to be effective, and she zipped far too quickly through the slides that showed where one could find several of the series offline (and didn't include that information on her handout, having taken valuable real estate there to show partial images of schedule pages). Coincidentally, she wrote a guide to the nonpopulation census schedules that's available for sale, and it was the only resource listed on the handout that she talked about during the class. Hmmm . . . .
The other two presentations I went to were not as good as the census one. A talk about online resources for black genealogy research was rambling and disjointed. The speaker gave incorrect information several times, such as saying that all books digitized on Google can be read online (many, many books are available in snippet view only or can't be read online at all); if it has to do with genealogy and is online, Mocavo will "grab it" for you (Mocavo searches specific databases only); and you can log in at HeritageQuest.com with your library card to look at their databases (you need to go through your library's Web site for authentication). Almost all the useful information was in the handout (where she spelled "Afrigeneas" incorrectly).
The last talk I heard, on the Digital Library on American Slavery hosted at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, was a little better but still frustrating. Way too much time was spent on "jokingly" whining about how research was done prior to the advent of the Internet and how it cost lots of time and money to do so. One short example would have been sufficient; four long ones was overkill. The slides didn't really show how to do searches or how to link results together (not that it looked particularly difficult to figure out), and no real explanation was given of how to determine where to obtain copies of original documents after you decide that an abstracted record is relevant to your research. One positive thing, especially in relationship to the "tech" part of RootsTech, was that the speaker announced at the beginning that there would be a hands-on practical learning part for the final quarter of the time block — but that was unfortunately not included in the handout, so not everyone was prepared for the opportunity.
Unfortunately, the talk I told Randy Seaver I was looking forward to the most, "School Daze: Finding the School Records of Our Ancestors", was in the very last time slot of the conference, from 4:00-5:00 p.m. My flight back to Oakland was scheduled for 6:10 p.m., so I had to miss the entire class.
My overall experience at the FGS-RootsTech joint conference was pretty good. I learned about new resources, and more information about resources that I already use. More than three quarters of the sessions I attended were offered by FGS. I saw many of my genealogy friends in person, some for the first time, and did lots of networking. And I think I made effective use of several of the special deals offered by vendors in the exhibit hall. I'm thrilled I won a free registration.
My impression of RootsTech specifically — not quite as good. I remember when RootsTech started as the great technology conference, with apps, developers, and programming as the focus. Even though this was the first time I have attended, I noticed an extreme lack of tech overall and even in many of the sessions officially labeled "RootsTech" (as in no mention of technology of any sort in session descriptions). I heard several attendees, particularly programmers and developers, comment negatively on the lack of technology orientation. One woman I spoke to was aghast that the winner of the Innovator Challenge was something that essentially allowed you to record a phone call; she had been rooting for the application that could do OCR on handwriting. (I tend to agree with her.) A man next to me in a session said this year would be the last he attended due to the lack of programmer and developer focus. It appears that FamilySearch's desire to have a conference to attract entry-level genealogists has had a negative impact on the appeal of the conference to those outside that category. It's a shame they didn't just create a new genealogy conference with that focus and leave RootsTech independent. It was probably an economic decision.
Ironic comments about the technological aspects of RootsTech:
• Tuesday, the day registration opened, the system crashed and wiped out records of people's paid add-ons.
• The Web site crashed during the conference.
• Nowhere online (or at the conference) could I find a version of the schedule that listed all events happening at the same time together. Clear separation of every aspect of the conference (FGS, Innovators Summit, Getting Started, Getting Started, RootsTech, keynote sessions, computer labs, and events) was maintained throughout. Maybe sorting a database by times is too much to ask of technology?
As a final note about my time in Salt Lake City, while I was waiting for the light rail to take me to the airport, I met a woman who told me she was from Murphys, California. I asked her if she was a member of the Calaveras Genealogical Society. When she said yes, I told her I would be seeing her in April, because I was going to be the speaker at the spring seminar. She told me she was the new director of the FamilySearch Center in the church, where the seminar will be held. Considering the fact that the population of Murphys was counted as only 2,213 in the 2010 census, that's a pretty amazing coincidence.
My previous comments on the conference are here for Tuesday and Wednesday, and here for Thursday and Friday.