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.

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?

What is this Family History Library?

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Unless you are new to genealogy, chances are you have looked for your ancestors on FamilySearch.org. The website has thousands (if not millions) of digital images of records from around the world. What you may or may not know is that Family Search is the website attached to a physical, brick and mortar library dedicated to exclusively to Family History/Genealogy research. If you thought the website’s record collection was impressive . . . well, it represents just a fraction of all the records held at the Family History Library.

The Family History Library (FHL) is located in Salt Lake City and owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Family History Research is something of a tenet of the LDS faith. I am not the person to ask about the details regarding exactly how or why this is, but as a result of this tenet, the LDS community collects and shares its record sets freely. The resources at the FHL are available to the public at zero cost. I think I speak for genealogists everywhere when I say, for this, I am grateful.

So let’s talk about these records.

And before I begin, let me just say this is not meant to be an exhaustive essay on all the services and resources available through FamilySearch.org and the FHL. Today, we deal with the basics and save the rest for another post.

So you may have gone to FamilySearch.org at one time or another and typed in your ancestor’s name. Likely a bunch of records came up. Some were your ancestor, some weren’t. So those records represent the FHL records that are both ONLINE and INDEXED. But, did you know that there are a bunch of records at FamilySearch that are ONLINE but NOT indexed?

For example, I found a baptism record for one of my ancestors by searching the Chicago Catholic Church records on familysearch.org. I went to the CATALOG, typed CHICAGO into the place field (click on the correct place option that automatically comes up), and then chose Church Records. I found the church where I thought my ancestors’ worshipped. Then I browsed the records for the correct year and approximate month, and there she was! That record was not INDEXED, so it never came up when I used the SEARCH option.

Now, the majority of the records at the FHL are not ONLINE and may or may not be INDEXEd. They are on microfilm (In addition, there are also books, maps, journals, etc. etc). You can find descriptions or abstracts of these records when you use the search feature or browse the card catalog, but you do not see the actual image(s).

For example, one day when searching the catalog at FamilySearch.org, I found a record set on microfilm titled, “World War I Service Records of Utahns.” I knew my Grandpa’s stepdad was a WWI Vet from Utah. I was able to retrieve the microfilm, search through it, and indeed, there was a record of my Great-Grandpa, with a PICTURE OF HIM WHEN HE WAS A BOY!!! Jackpot!!!!

So what do you do if you find a record you would like to see, but it’s not online?
You have a few options:

First, you could travel to the Family History Library and look it up yourself (and many genealogists do). A research trip to Salt Lake can be a very rewarding experience.

Second, you could see if your local Family History Center contains the record set for which you are looking. Family History Centers can be thought of as satellite Family History Libraries. Located around the world, these satellite centers often contain microfilms and records pertinent to the geographic area in which they are located.

Third, if your local Family History Center does not have what you need, but the FHL in Salt Lake does, you can usually have the microfilm sent to your local center for a nominal fee (similar idea to an interlibrary loan) and a varying amount of wait time. Once it arrives, you can view the record at the Center.

Your final option is to have someone local to the Salt Lake area look the record up for you and send it to you (usually electronically). This is where ALMOST HOME comes in. For $15 per document fee or $30 per hour, I am happy to find the specific document you seek at the FHL and email it to you.

So, again, those are the basics. I hope that explanation was clear and helpful. Feel free to comment or contact me if you have questions.