RootsTech 2015 Review

So I guess this is my annual rant about RootsTech.

The Fun

I had a great time last week. I spent a lot of time in the IAJGS booth with the IAJGS folks. Mark was always there, Marlis, Garri, Michael, Barbara, and Emily were around a lot. I finally met Debbie in person. Schelly and Pamela came over many times. And I shudder to think I’m missing someone who I saw a lot of. Of course Daniel was in his own booth, but I saw him quite a bit too. I went out to eat with some of them and many others not listed here, sometimes in large groups, every day. I really enjoy the company of these people, who I usually only see once a year, and RootsTech gives me a second opportunity now to see a bunch of them.

I enjoy saying hello and chatting a bit with some of the other bloggers and Twitterers as I see them. The media center was on the opposite side of the expo hall from my booth, so it was a trek to get over there. I talk to random people who I just happen to be sitting next to sometimes, and obviously the ones who come to the booth.

Some of my local Utah JGS folks came around, some more than others, like Beth, Marelynn, Rochelle, Gary, and Barry.

It was fun.

The Conference

But then there’s the conference. It’s not supposed to be just a social event. It’s supposed to be educational, and as it started but has since left behind, all about genealogy and technology. That’s not genealogy or technology, but genealogy and technology. It’s a big difference. And ironically, RootsTech has forgotten it’s roots.

How Many Sessions?

When signing up, I noticed that RootsTech claimed to include 200+ sessions. The web site listed 128. I was told later that there were more sessions not listed on the web site. Why not? Are they not technologically capable of including all the sessions in the schedule? They included FGS on their site. How would I know that there are more session and how do I review them to choose what I want to do? I went very carefully through the web site listings to look at the skill levels, but the book received at registration nor the app had those levels listed. So I ended up adding a few sessions after registering only to walk out within minutes because of their simplicity level.

I happened to pop into one session, that was a late addition to my schedule, just as the presenter got to the “who this session is for” part. The options were things like, and I paraphrase, non-coders who are curious about the topic, code-dabblers, programmers who want to know how to explain this to non-techies, etc. And back to the exhibit hall I went in under a minute.

Where’s The Non-Beginner Tech?

Again, the Innovator’s Summit segregated the programmers from the genealogists. It’s a separate ticket that costs more in order to go to sessions focused on creating technology. And very few of those even appealed to me this year. Only three of all the sessions were marked as advanced skill level, two at the Innovator’s Summit and one at RootsTech. What kind of programmers did they attract this year if nothing was advanced? And what is there for genealogy tech users who aren’t total beginners at using computers?

The one session I went to on Wednesday had no tech in it at all. It was supposed to be about what was needed in genealogy technology. I recall something similar last year or the previous one too. I admit that I didn’t stay for the whole thing, but while I was there, it was droning about… work flows? I don’t even know. So I still don’t know what other people think needs to be programmed. I guess they won’t be getting it from me.

There are plenty of beginner level tech courses in genealogy in webinars, at society meetings, at other conferences. Why do we need them at RootsTech now? So many sessions had titles that sounded interesting and only got rejected by me for their beginner level tech skill listing.

Where Is The Tech?

And then there were the sessions that had absolutely nothing to do with technology, save for the fact that it is the 21st century and we all use computers to do things. RootsTech included two sessions on Jewish genealogy, both presented by friends of mine. Even those friends admitted there was nothing tech about their lectures. So what were they doing at RootsTech? They should have been at FGS. And there were a plethora of other sessions about genealogy that had nothing to do with tech. French, Irish, and Italian were included, as I recall, among others. The only tech in any of those sessions was when they admitted they were simply teaching how to use a single web site.

Where’s The Streaming?

For the first time in RootsTech history, one of the keynotes was not live streamed. Did they tell us this in advance to give people like me a chance to try to get there early enough to see it in person?


The schedule clearly showed they would live stream from 8:30-10am, but they cut off the feed at 8:50 after the initial speaker. And it wasn’t a technical glitch, it was deliberate.

So what did the Bushes have to do with genealogy and technology? Who knows? Not me. I was livid.

Fifteen minutes after cutting off the stream, the conference Twitter account finally announced the stream would return at 10:30. Nice timing. At least they were on the ball that night, being very clear that the next day’s keynote would be streamed in full, but only after I asked. I guess everyone’s angry tweets wasn’t enough for them to volunteer that information.

Sessions I Stayed For

I did go to a few sessions where I didn’t leave immediately. I listened to one person with OCD tell me how to organize my files and some other things… the way I already do because I have OCD. So that didn’t help me. The RPAC session just informed me that everyone else in the room was on the same page as me. It was interesting, but not educational. Another session posed a question in its description but never answered it. I waited it out and didn’t learn anything except the thought processes that one company used to develop their own product, without sharing the actual solutions.

Non-Innovation In The Challenge

I’m not entirely sure what the Innovator’s Challenge is for anymore. They’ve reversed the original rules, which was to program something new. Now they want something that is ready to launch. So instead of programmers beginning a new project, they have to be finishing it.

So third place was GenMarketplace. How is that innovative? There are several genealogy marketplaces now, including one that’s been around since 2008 that I use regularly. The intro video on their site begins with presenting a listing of what documents are missing from your genealogy, but I could find nothing on their site that analyzes your database to find what’s missing. It’s just a rent-a-genealogist site and it devalues the skill or even just the time needed to do anything by starting the jobs at 10 cents.

Second place was ArgusSearch. Their site gets very technical with the description and skimming the content doesn’t explain it. Are they indexing and searching handwritten records? And that wasn’t the winner?

No, the winner was StoryWorth, a site that emails a question then either receives an email answer or records a phone call. Seriously. This is what FamilySearch thought was the most innovative entry. Recording a phone call. As someone else was tweeting, I don’t think innovation means what they think it means.

Next Year

I’m sure I’ll be in the IAJGS booth again next year. I see no reason why we would stop having the booth. I’m sure I’ll enjoy my time and socializing with the folks who come to town. I doubt I’ll register for RootsTech though. I almost didn’t this year and should not have bothered.

I will probably enter the Innovator’s Challenge with something I started working on last month. It won’t win because it’s not mainstream enough for everyone to use it, but it’s for genealogy and it will be more polished after I’ve worked on it for a year. I may even submit some papers again, but not expect to be accepted, as usual. I’ll probably send in something that’s too techie for them.


I go to IAJGS conferences to socialize, sometimes learn new things, attend SIG and BOF meetings to meet other people in the field and with the same interests, present my own sessions, and to network myself to promote my business. IAJGS stays on topic and everything is related to Jewish genealogy.

So thank you FamilySearch for bringing this conference year after year, which brings some of my non-Utah friends to Utah so I can see them just a little more often. But you’re not giving me any new knowledge about genealogy or technology. There are no meetings of like-minded people, outside of the dinners I attend outside of the schedule. You have so far rejected all of my papers to speak. I promote my society rather than my business. And you definitely don’t stay on topic of technology in genealogy.

RootsTech is just a social gathering for me. And a week when the FHL is too busy to get any work done. If it wasn’t local, I wouldn’t bother at all.

2 thoughts on “RootsTech 2015 Review”

  1. Well — if it makes you feel any better, you made me feel a LOT better about not going this year. I was hugely disappointed with the live feed selections, and not terribly impressed with the listings of non-streamed sessions. It makes me sad because I remember how incredibly charged up I got a couple years ago just from the amazing live feed — the presentations were cutting edge tech, made by people with tech backgrounds, and I came away with the feeling that anything was possible and great things were happening. This year, when faced with the decision whether to watch RootsTech or Hart to Hart reruns while paying bills, Hart to Hart won.

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