Some thoughts on Rootstech and Tips for Future Attendees

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taken from https://www.rootstech.org/about/media?lang=eng

As many of you already know, I had the opportunity to attend the Rootstech genealogy conference at the beginning of this month. To say the least, I was excited to finally be able attend this year and, as expected, I learned SO MUCH.

Some of you may be considering attending a future Rootstech event. While no two people will come away from such an event with the exact same experience, perhaps my thoughts here may clarify, at least a little bit, what you can expect from the world’s largest family history conference.

Before I begin I should probably tell you that I did not get to enjoy Rootstech in its entirety. Unlike the many people who travel from out of town solely to participate in this conference, I, as a local, still had to balance my normal day to day responsibilities with my course attendance. Besides all this, I missed half of Friday’s classes and all of Saturday’s to be with my family during a difficult time. I did not attend any general sessions, computer labs or sponsored lunches. That said, I still think my abbreviated time allowed for me to see what this conference is about and hopefully offer some tips for future participants.

I think above all, Rootstech is exciting! The expo hall alone is “the stuff dreams are made of” with booth after booth of genealogy related products and services. I can think of no other instance where you can be surrounded by so many like-minded people who share your passion for finding ancestors. Perhaps best of all is the opportunity Rootstech affords those of us who are just hungry to learn. We all want to become better genealogists, right? Well, no matter your skill level or research interest, there are Rootstech classes for you.

In fact, the variety of activities are so plentiful, you will likely NOT be able to learn, see and do everything you would like to. In nearly every block of classroom time, I with difficulty had to choose between no less than 3 classes I wanted to attend — not to mention trying to find time to speak to all the expo hall vendors in the time between classes and during lunch. The good news is that if you sign up for the entire event, you can download the syllabi to ALL of the classroom sessions. So even if you didn’t get to attend a class you really wanted to, you still have an opportunity to learn something from that instructor on that topic.

So, with this said, here are my tips for anyone considering attending Rootstech for the first time.

1. Plan ahead – Download the Rootstech app on your mobile device and schedule the classes you most want to attend. Keep in mind that your personalized schedule is a merely an organizational tool. All classes are first come first serve so be sure you know WHERE you need to be and WHEN. Arrive early. I, unfortunately lost out when I read the wrong classroom number for a popular session. By the time I realized my mistake and walked to the correct classroom, almost every seat was taken. I took a calculated risk and sat in a seat that although empty of a person, had a conference bag on top of it. Two minutes before the start of the session, the person who put her bag on the seat walked in and I had to leave. By the time I reached the classroom for my second choice of class, it was full too. Although the seat saving practice is questionable to say the least, I should have gotten to the initial classroom earlier. So, my bad.

Besides making sure you leave plenty of time to get to the classes you want, also be sure to download and, if you like taking pen and paper notes, print the class syllabi ahead of time. I was shocked by how many people failed to do so. I saw so many people frustrated because the syllabi weren’t being handed out (which in my honest opinion is a bit of an unreasonable expectation) or when they didn’t have time to copy the presenter’s slideshow word for word.

2. Be prepared to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Set reasonable time expectations – Rootstech is huge. That’s part of its excitement and appeal. However, if you plan to do EVERYTHING at Rootstech, you will be tired before long. Which is fine. Just know what to expect. It’s like traveling to the destination of a lifetime. Do everything you can while you are there, but be prepared to need a vacation from your vacation.

If you are planning on attending Rootstech AND researching at the Family History Library on the same days, just know something will likely have to give. Consider arriving early or staying after the conference to conduct your research, or choose to give up some of what Rootstech has to offer in order to have the time and energy to devote to the FHL.

The best time to explore the expo hall is honestly during a block of time set aside for classroom instruction. To me, classroom time was more important than exploring the expo, so I only set foot in the expo hall during its busiest times – lunch and between classes. It is obviously a lot harder to get your questions answered when you are fighting crowds.

3. Choose classes based on skill level as well as topic – I took away something from EVERY single class session I attended. However, I was most satisfied with the classes I took which fell under the “advanced” category. Some of the beginner or intermediate sessions, while still informative, felt a bit underwhelming, like the instructors could have addressed many more points in the time allotted but chose to reinforce one main point. Obviously, the attendee must honestly evaluate his or her skill level and choose classes accordingly. Look beyond the catchy titles and consider the class description, skill level and instructor bio.

4. Download the syllabus to every class which interests you – To me, the opportunity to have the syllabus from every class offered at Rootstech is alone worth the price of attendance. As I said earlier, you likely won’t be able to attend every session, so if nothing else, read the syllabi!!

5. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and network, but keep your expectations reasonable. All those genealogists under one roof! Some of the best in the business! Yes, you can network at Rootstech and don’t be afraid to do so. Not everyone wants to talk, but many people do. Nevertheless, keep in mind that EVERYBODY is busy at Rootstech. A smaller genealogy conference or better yet, a genealogical institute are likely better networking events to really get your name out there.

6. Don’t be “that” genealogist – A fellow genealogist at Rootstech remarked something to the effect that genealogists as a whole are notorious for being cheap, for complaining about everything and for nitpicking at other genealogists. I thought about this later. Genealogy can be an expensive hobby. When it comes to my own personal research, a lot of things need to get put on the back burner simply because I can’t afford to send away for every record I would like right now. Does that make me cheap?

Is it a bad thing that genealogists are sticklers for accuracy? Not necessarily. It keeps us ethical. As with anything, there is a wrong way and a right way to go about things. I think perhaps, the behavior of a few can give the rest of us a bad name. And I got a say, I witnessed some bad behavior at Rootstech.

Complaining — I heard a lot. At one point, I met some people who worked for Familysearch. I thanked them for what they do and remarked on how great a service FamilySearch is for genealogists (People: Its free! Millions of records!!). Imagine my surprise when these individuals told me I was the first person who had anything positive to say them about the website and how everybody else they talked to told them everything they thought was wrong with it.

Rude behavior: Please, don’t be the person to throw your coat on the coat check table without waiting in line or paying the nominal fee who then walks away.

And yes, it is a violation of copyright to take photos of every slideshow in a presentation. So, please don’t keep doing so when the instructor nicely asks you not to.

Ok, I’m done lecturing. Rant over.

7. Enter the Giveaways – You never know, you might win something great! I was very excited this year to receive an email from NGS saying I had won a drawing I had entered at Rootstech for free enrollment in their new class, “Researching Your World War I Ancestors.” Never expected I would actually win, but here I am, enjoying this class immensely. Perhaps I’ll write a review when I’ve completed the course.

In short, I thought Rootstech was great. I am very grateful to everyone who helped make it happen.

If you missed this year’s conference, you can still watch a number of sessions here.

Exciting Things Happening at Almost Home; Or TV Shows, Research Focus and Rootstech

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At the end of 2015, I alluded to some exciting things that have been happening at Almost Home. One opportunity I wanted to share came as I recently completed some work for the Travel Channel’s, The Dead Files. I love that a (growing) number of television shows, such as The Dead Files are utilizing the services of genealogists. The partnership gives exposure to our profession, and ignites that spark of curiosity in many viewers. At the same time, I like to think the expertise we genealogists provide makes it a win-win for all involved. After all, we know better than anyone that truth IS often “stranger than fiction” and you really “can’t make this stuff up!” I found this project fun and interesting and I would certainly welcome any similar opportunities in the future.

On another note, I think I am coming close to really nailing down a genealogy research focus. It is no doubt apparent to the readers here that many areas of genealogy research easily capture my attention. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but this tendency does present a couple of difficulties. One, I tend to jump around in my own personal research as a result. So instead of having a really thorough picture of one branch or segment of my family tree, I have a kind of piecemeal conglomeration of facts sometimes producing more questions than answers.

Similarly, without a research focus, I am concerned I am not reaching the highest level of expertise I might otherwise attain as a genealogist. As I’ve written before, I have a goal to one day earn a Certified Genealogist credential. The process to earn that credential requires that I declare and write a portfolio that relates to a chosen research focus. While the transient nature of our life as military family presents its own challenges to my finding that niche, I think I’ve found a specialty to which this lifestyle might actually work to my advantage.

All that said, I am not quite ready YET to make any major announcements regarding the future direction of my research services of this blog. I am hoping to network with and ask advice from a few people at Salt Lake City’s upcoming “Rootstech” event before I settle on this direction.

Speaking of Rootstech, can I just say, I am so excited to be able to attend this event this year!? I am ready to LEARN more and hope to MEET many of you there!! No doubt the event will inspire some future posts as well. Stay tuned.

My New Year’s Resolutions Need Your Help!!

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Here it is, nearly the middle of January and I’m just now sharing my New Year’s Resolutions. Considering we were hit with one of those weeks. . . complete with a nasty case of food poisoning AND car trouble, I am just grateful to be writing at all.

2016 will be a year of change, it seems. I have alluded to at least one of these changes in a previous post, so I guess it is time to tell you that we will be leaving Salt Lake city soon. . . too soon, if you ask me. We have yet to receive official orders to our next duty station, so I won’t say exactly where we are going; But, I will tell you that it is one of the 13 original colonies!!

Many of my resolutions came to me as I anticipated what a new geographic region will mean to my genealogy education and career. Others are projects I have been meaning to take on for some time. A few of them require some expert advice, because I really don’t know where to begin in order to accomplish them. I would be very grateful for any insight my fellow genealogists can offer! So here they are, in no particular order:

1. Make the Most of My Remaining Time in Salt Lake – It has been a dream to spend so many hours over the last year and half researching at the world famous Family History Library. I am so grateful for all that facility provides AND for their evening and Saturday hours (since I stay home during the day with my son). Yet, it is difficult to believe I will soon have to leave this amazing resource. I still have so much I want to do there. I need to take advantage of every opportunity, even on those cold, dark evenings when I might be tempted to stay home and turn on the TV!

2. Give Back by Becoming Involved in Military Repatriation Cases – Did you know that some genealogists work to find living descendants of killed or MIA veterans whose remains were never identified in order that those individuals’ remains may finally be identified through DNA testing? I first heard of this when listening to a genealogy podcast and have tried to learn more on the topic. There are so many ways we as genealogists can give back, but when I heard about these efforts, I knew this was something of which I wanted to be a part.

Unfortunately, I am having trouble getting started. I joined an organization of volunteer genealogists a while back and offered my services, but I never heard anymore. I made a few inquiries, but still nothing. If you know how I might be able to be a part of these efforts, please contact me!

3. Attach Source Citations to Genealogy Documents – Source citations are not something I generally look forward to writing, and to be honest, I am still not 100% confident in my source-citation-writing-ability. I spend a lot of time pouring over Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained. Yet, because I know how important they are and how attaching them to my documents will actually save me time in the future and make me a better genealogist, I think will call 2016 the year of the source citation. I plan to take another class or two on the topic and really buckle down on this project.

4. Continue to Take Formal Genealogy Courses – I don’t know if 2016 will be the year I can really dedicate myself to a concentrated, rigorous class or program, because you know, the whole cross-country-move and mother-of-a-toddler situation, but I would like to take some courses that I can chip away at as I have time. I currently have my eye on few offerings from the National Genealogical Society. I will keep you posted.

5. Become More Skilled at Newspaper Research – I think I am OK at newspaper research. I can find obits and major news stories if I know the dates for which I should be searching. Yet, I feel like I could do a lot more with newspapers if I understood how better to search them, both those online as well as those that might be on microfilm. I am convinced there are a few tricks I need to learn. I am hoping to read a book or take a class on the topic. So, fellow genealogists, if you have any recommendations, I am all ears!!!

6. Learn more about Tax Records and Land Records – Genealogy research at our new geographic location will be very different from anything I’ve done in the past, which I am actually super excited about. It may seem counter-intuitive that a person who is “married to the military” could have a successful genealogy career with so much moving around, but I hold a different perspective. The nuances of each geographic region only help expand my knowledge and expertise. I know that where I am going, tax and land records are going to be essential to understanding the local history and the families who lived there. So I better start studying!

7. Contact Distant Family – Listen, I like people. I enjoy meeting new people and hearing their stories. That said, I am also introvert at heart. I can be shy and I don’t particularly like to talk on the phone. While I enjoy speaking in front of a crowd, I get nervous at the thought of calling someone I’ve never met and asking a favor of them.

As genealogists, we know how amazing these interactions can be if we are just willing to get out of our comfort zone. I have a few people in my family, whom I’ve either never met, or met when I was, you know, three, whom I have been meaning to call. Yet, I keep procrastinating, worried that I might be bothering them. Afterall, not everybody shares my passion for genealogy, and what if I inadvertently step into some sensitive topic and end up offending them? These are all excuses I know. I just need to make the effort.

8. Write more – I would really like to start writing reports, case studies, proof arguments, etc. for my own family. I could use the practice and the process will inevitably help prepare me for my ultimate goal of one day writing a portfolio that will pass the rigorous standards of the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Its time. So 2016 is year!

How about you? What did you resolve for 2016?

15 Ways I Became a Better Genealogist in 2015

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Photos from author’s personal files. May not be used without permission.

2015 was quite a year. One for the history books, in my opinion. For one, I will never forget watching history as Thoroughbred racing’s American Pharoah won the first Triple Crown in almost 36 years. Something, as a lifelong horse lover, I had been waiting my whole life to see.

This year also saw the culmination of years of hard work when I finally reached my ultimate running goal of Qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

In 2015, my Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup and my Cubs won their first post-season playoff series at home in Wrigley Field history.

Besides these things, I will always remember 2015 as a banner year for my growth as a genealogist. As I look back on the year, I can pinpoint specific actions and experiences which fostered this growth. I still have a great deal to learn (stay tuned to for an upcoming New Year’s Resolution post), and am uncomfortable with the number of times I use the word “I” in this post. Nevertheless, I hope my experiences may inspire you. So here, in no particular order:

1. I listened to podcasts. You guys, there are so many free genealogy podcasts out there! The best part about education via podcast is that you don’t have to be sitting down to be learning. You can listen to them while you clean the house or when you are in the car or whatever. You can also download the audio to many of the free webinars out there and upload them to your listening device. My favorites include anything by Marian Pierre-Louis, and pretty much any webinar put out by the BCG or the APG. Check them out!

2. I exercised. I know this sounds a little ridiculous, but I sincerely can’t say enough about the value of getting away from the computer screen and getting your heart rate up. We genealogists tend to sit too long, intensely staring at screens and microfilm readers. Exercise helps loosen the tension from sitting and protect our health. For me personally, exercise gives me energy. So when my son goes down for his naps, instead of taking one too, I have the energy to work.

As you probably guessed by my aforementioned reference to the Boston Marathon, I love to run. Running provides a great opportunity to listen to those genealogy podcasts! It also just seems to spur creative thought. When I’m not listening to podcasts, I’m usually working out my genealogical brick walls or finding inspiration for blog posts.

3. I joined genealogical societies. In 2015, I joined the National Genealogical Society and the Chicago Genealogical Society. I can’t tell you how much I have learned from reading their publications, particularly those from NGS.

4. I took online courses. I currently stay home with my 2 year old. Consequently, I learn from home and I (mostly) work from home. Online learning provides classroom quality instruction without requiring me to actually be in a classroom. This year I completed several courses from the NGS and I am currently working my way through John Grenham’s Irish Ancestors course.

5. I read recommended books. There are so many genealogy books out there, sometimes it’s difficult to know which ones will most aid us in our efforts. I found there are a few books out there that come recommended time and again by top genealogists. Those are the books I’ve tried to acquire for my library and in each case, I have not been disappointed.

6. I started Almost Home. Few forms of learning are more effective than “learning by doing.” Client projects have stretched me and have also given me confidence in how much I have learned.

7. I joined the Association of Professional Genealogists. My membership in this organization has given Almost Home great exposure leading to some pretty exciting opportunities I hope to share more about in the future. The association’s email list provides another source of learning and an ever-present network of professionals to whom I can go for advice.

8. I admitted knowledge gaps. When I admit my knowledge gaps, I am more motivated to fill them. A few short months ago, I knew next to nothing about probate records, which I find almost embarrassing now that I know their value. Yet, just this week, I worked out a really difficult client problem relating to probate records, thanks to the steps I took to educate myself. I’m still no legal expert, but it was a proud moment.

9. I spent time significant time researching at the Family History Library. When we moved to Salt Lake, I knew we wouldn’t be here forever. I committed to getting the most out of living here while I could. That means I make at least weekly trips to the FHL, spending a minimum of 2 hours at a time. Even accounting for weeks that I traveled, or couldn’t make it for one reason or another, I spent at least 100 hours researching at this repository this year . . . and there’s still so much more to do there.

You may not have access to this library where you live, but you may live close to a Family History Center. If you aren’t already familiar with their holdings and the FHL’s loan program, I encourage you to check it out.

10. I diversified my repository research. Besides the FHL, I also spent time this year researching at the Chicago History Museum, Chicago’s Newberry Library, Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Utah State Archives, and the Salt Lake City Recorders Office.

11. I interviewed family members. While I certainly interviewed family members in years past, in 2015, I took better care to record or take notes on those interviews.

12. I investigated “old shoeboxes.” This practice led to a number of new clues and helped solve a few mysteries too. Read more here.

13. I learned under some the best at the BCG lecture series. Read more here.

14. I buckled down on source citations. I still have a long way to go in terms of getting accurate source citations attached to all my records, but I am happy to say I am making progress.

15. I learned from more experienced genealogists. I don’t read as many blogs as I would like and I don’t interact with other genealogists as much as I would like, but when I am able to connect with others, whether electronically or in person, I want their advice. I want to know their stories and learn from their experiences. That includes you. In what ways did you become a better genealogist in 2015?