Sunday, February 15, 2015

FGS and RootsTech: Saturday and Overall Impressions

As I walked to the Salt Palace Saturday morning for the last day of the FGS-RootsTech conference, I realized I had accomplished a lot during the week — attended several informative talks, networked with a lot of genealogy colleagues, even scanned more than 400 photographs.  I could have gone home then and still have had a very successful trip.  Lucky me, I was able to add even a little bit more on Saturday.

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 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.


  1. RootsTech is like a giant bait and switch. Instead of being a conference bringing together developers and innovators it is all about mass marketing. I suspect people will continue to come for the socializing and parties, but I can't imagine it will attract serious researchers and professionals who are seeking to hone their skills.

    1. That's certainly the impression I got. But I don't think the organizers particularly care if serious researchers and professionals don't come. Those groups do not appear to be the target market. I thnk they should rename the conference and be done with it.

    2. I don't see how RootsTech is a "bait and switch" - false advertising? Did it at any time say it was geared towards professionals? I must have seen different marketing materials.

      Again, there are many outlets for professionals - institutes, professional management conferences etc. To expect that RootsTech should cater to the professional crowd is unreasonable. The goal is to get new people into the genealogy space, have them learn solid basic research skills, and then guide them eventually through the spectrum of "serious" research if that is their desire.

    3. I consider it to be somewhat of a bait and switch because the name and some of the marketing emphasize tech, which was noticeably absent. I agree that it was not marketed as being geared toward professionals, and I said earlier that was not the target market.

  2. Janice, I’m glad you were able to attend the non-population census schedules presentation I gave on Saturday at the FGS conference. I’d like to address several of the points you mentioned.

    The conference aspects like room setup and screen size are largely beyond the speaker’s control, usually not known until arrival at the conference. In preparation for these unknowns, I added bullets or bubbles to the slides with the census images, to assist the audience in quickly grasping the key points. Admittedly my assigned room was long and narrow, so those in the back half of the room would have had a more difficult time seeing the image detail, so I verbally addressed those key points to compensate.

    I think you must have missed seeing page 4 of the syllabus (p. 328) for this lecture where two sections summarized where to find the schedules online or offline, and which also provided a bibliography of additional resources to read. Here is a link to the syllabus material for this lecture:

    Because this information was outlined in the syllabus, I focused more of the lecture time on providing examples of the type of information that could be found on the schedules or strategies for use—but also included the screen shots of how to locate the schedules in the or NARA catalogs.

    In its original form, this lecture was 80 slides and 90 minutes, so I had to pare down the material to fit within the allotted 50-minute conference lecture slot, balancing between time spent in discussion versus information spelled out in the syllabus. I could have easily spoken about these schedules for 2 hours, but the reality of the conference schedule doesn’t allow a deep dive when treating a topic such as this that contained 6 unique schedules to discuss.

    Regarding the Legacy Quick Guide that I recently authored on this topic, it was briefly mentioned because it is the cheapest ($2.95) and most accessible (PDF download) reference on this topic, whereas some of the other works in the bibliography are now out of print and harder to obtain. As you might imagine, even if every lecture attendee purchased the guide, my fraction of the royalties would not even come close to recouping my investment of 200+ hours in time researching and writing about this lesser-known topic.

    This particular lecture has been given numerous times recently, and has received overwhelmingly positive response; I am disappointed that you didn’t find the lecture as helpful as others have, but still hope that you benefit from the information I provided.

    Deena Coutant

  3. Deena,

    Thank you for writing and for the clarifications. As I wrote, your talk was my best session of the day, and I definitely learned new things. Regarding the quick guide, if you had stated the additional points about it being the least expensive and most accessible reference when you discussed it during the lecture, it would have mitigated the appearance of it being a sales push.



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