Category Archives: Conferences

Israel 2015 – Day 1

Today, I got to see some of Israel.

I’m staying with the IAJGS conference co-chair, so I do a bit of helping out with the conference. I have already been helping out with a few things, but now I’m sometimes helping with random jobs that need doing. I spent some of the morning doing that.

Then I headed to the Old City of Jerusalem. Another friend, Barbara, has been here for about a month taking Hebrew lessons, so I met her at the Jaffa Gate and we went for a walk. We took pictures, did a little shopping, stopped for lunch, and walked on to the Western Wall.

She has been here for a while, so she sat in the shade while I visited the Wall and took a slew of pictures. We then went to the nearby Davidson Museum, an archaelogical museum. We watched the video in Hebrew and English. The only ones in the room, we joked around quite a bit. Then we walked around the area to see what was found there.

It doesn’t sound like much when I write it here, but we took our time walking around and just enjoyed ourselves. Sometimes I might want to see so much that I’ll run around like crazy, but most of the time, I’d rather take my time and enjoy what I’m doing, which we did.

Michael was surprised by how early I got back, but it felt like a pretty good day. And I know I’ll go back, probably a few times, in the coming weeks.

I then had a quick car tour from Michael of the areas nearby his home and we went to dinner.

The app really doesn’t want to cooperate, but I think I’ve improved the method for getting a photo online over the previous post. So today, I will leave you with the Western Wall, the Israeli flag flying in front of it.


Israel 2015 – Day 0

It’s a long flight to Israel, and I was in a middle seat. But I survived it. And my cell phone plan upgrade that dumped my data plan — the entire reason for upgrading, I got that straightened out too.

My flight landed a little early. Passport control had a long line but soon moved. I wasn’t even asked any questions. I took a sherut to Jerusalem, where my friend Michael offered to let me stay with him until the conference.

Surprisingly, I was not tired, so we went out to eat in an Arab neighborhood.

I think I slept well, though it wasn’t for long. I hope I did, because I’m in Jerusalem now and there’s a lot to do here starting today.

I leave you with the view from my bedroom window.


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.

IAJGS 2014

IAJGS 2014 is finally over. What a busy time it’s been. As co-chair of the conference, I had a lot of work to do, from overseeing all of my local volunteers in addition to some non-locals, covering for people who didn’t get their job done well, and taking care of a huge job that we didn’t think we’d have to do at all. And most of that took place in the last month.

All in all, the conference went really well. I was impressed by how much some of my local people stepped up. I had already seen some evidence of it, and seen some evidence of problems, but some came through much more than I had expected.

Many people told me how great they thought the conference was going, many thought there were no problems at all. Of course, from behind the scenes, I knew about the problems.

I especially appreciated how many times my co-chair, Hal Bookbinder, and the IAJGS president, Marlis Humphrey, thanked me for all the work I put into it. I’m glad they noticed. That last month before the conference, I got no client work done; too busy with the conference preparations.

I’m not complaining. I was the one who bid on the conference coming to SLC. I volunteered to be co-chair. I put my name on the conference and I had to make sure things were done well. And so I did. I learned a lot about how the IAJGS conference comes about and plenty about where improvements are needed.

I only attended four sessions and I dropped in on a few SIG meetings but never stayed long. Of course, I was in both of my sessions and one that I facilitated. My facilitating job came on Friday. Sadly, the speaker just read her slides, and they had lots of text. She had a great story and it could have been a fantastic presentation, but she skipped past all the genealogy parts of it too quickly, just barely letting us glance at the records she found. I also sat in on Josh Taylor’s session about attracting the younger generation to our societies. It reminded me of things I’ve heard him say before, or I’ve heard elsewhere, or thought of myself, and how much work it will be for me to try to do that without any help from my society members.

I’m really hoping that after all the work they did for this conference, my UJGS members will be willing to step up for our society. So far, they have done little to nothing for the society. But it gets tiring to run a society by yourself, especially after helping to run a whole conference. I hope they aren’t volunteered-out and we can make our society greater than it is. Now that I know they can put in the effort, I really hope they do.

And I look forward to getting back to my normal routine, getting some client work done, blogging more, etc. I have a lot of catching up to do.

Rootstech 2014, My Thoughts

RootsTech just finished it’s fourth year. I’ve gone to the conference every year. This year, I had a different perspective. So here are my critiques.

Hal Bookbinder in the IAJGS booth

1. I went over to the media center a few times to pick up my blogger beads and chat with a few bloggers. I didn’t see RootsTech doing anything different with their official bloggers than any other year, nor was there a noticeable change in who was chosen.

2. Security was kind of iffy. I went to a session on the first day before registering and nobody cared about my lack of a badge. (Apparently, registration wasn’t even open for most hours of that day anyway, so maybe they knew that and thus didn’t care.) I was only registered for the Expo Hall, but nobody checked my badge other days either. I only went to one or two sessions a day, but I shouldn’t have been allowed. The only time someone checked was when I was going back to the Expo Hall the first evening to continue setting up the booth, with bags of supplies in hand.

3. The app went downhill. RootsTech used another vendor. Now, that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But now, it required a login to add items to the schedule, so I couldn’t even speculate, via the app, what sessions I might go to. That sure discouraged me from upgrading my registration. I don’t know what else changed, since I didn’t bother much with it after that.

4. RootsTech’s theme has definitely switched to storytelling. How to use technology to tell stories, rather than technology’s use in genealogy. But I knew that last year. Maybe they should change the name. StoryRoots?

5. IAJGS had a table in the Expo Hall. This was a first. I was there to help set it up and man the booth during the conference. I was not impressed with RootsTech’s inability to spell “genealogical” on our sign. Good thing we had a banner to replace it. But it was an interesting experience overall, talking to so many people who came by to tell us there was a Jew somewhere in their family. We gave out an awful lot of flyers about our UJGS meeting the next week. I was pretty disappointed at the turn-out; only two new people attended. (I was glad to have them, but we gave out about 150 flyers…)

Thanks RootsTech

And thus concludes another year of RootsTech. Back to working on this year’s IAJGS conference.

IAJGS 2013 – All Done

I blew off the one session I might have gone to on Friday and headed out to Boston. It was raining. The first weekend, I walked the Freedom Trail, save for one of the earliest stops. (Some years ago, for NaNoWriMo, I had written my characters walking the Freedom Trail, so I knew I had to do that.) I visited an interesting book store with Hal Bookbinder where we flipped through some old atlases, had lunch, then finished the Trail at the Massachusetts State House, where we took the tour. I especially remember some of the fun things, like where we get the expressions “costs an arm and a leg” and “red tape”. I also liked the stories about the Sacred Cod and the Holy Mackerel. Hal and I walked along to visit the Cheers bar, then through the Boston Common back to the hotel. It rained the whole time.

My last 24 hours in Boston included a walk-by of the New England Historic and Genealogical Society (when it was closed). I visited the Mapparium and walked through the Boston Public Library. The BPL has one architectural tour per day and I had missed it, so I just walked around a bit.

Thus ends another year of IAJGS conference. Next year is my conference. We will be in Salt Lake City and I am one of the co-chairs. I have a lot of work to do this coming year.

I leave you with some pictures.

IAJGS 2013 – Thursday

I began Thursday by showing up a little late to David Kleiman’s Early American Jewish Research. It was kind of what I expected, telling me to use the kind of records the non-Jewish researchers usually use for US research.

The next session I had chosen was a full room and became a closed session. They should have known, with a title like Life In Ukrainian Jewish Shtetlach, they’d need a bigger room. I only saw two instances of full rooms, but I wasn’t checking up on the whole conference.

After lunch, the Webmasters’ Roundtable, though listed as Society Webmaster BOF, was held. It was a small group where we sat around a table and discussed issues with web sites. I stuck around to have an extended chat with two people and missed the next sessions.

The gala banquet was that evening. I hadn’t even bought a ticket in advance, but someone offered me one for half price. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to sit with the people I have in the past, so I met some new people at a table that ended up in the back of the room. This year, the banquet was organized┬ámuch better than Paris, with the entertainment, the Zamir Chorale of Boston, and the awards not overlapping with any of the meal service. The Chorale was pretty good, but I preferred the Wednesday entertainment. However, I was also pre-biased.

IAJGS 2013 – Wednesday

Wednesday was my big day. I moved up in the world this year. My lecture was not only put in the big room, but it was broadcast live for the inaugural IAJGS Conference LIVE. I skipped the morning sessions I had marked.

I was early and killing the last half hour or so before my session when I ran into Michael Goldstein. He was still trying to reach my cousins in Israel and suggested we try calling again. He finally got through. I spoke briefly to my cousin, but we were both in bad locations on cell phones. I got her email address and happily went to my lecture.

Rehearsing several times in advance, trying to find bits to cut, every practice run of my lecture went for an hour and 20 minutes. I warned people. Not the audience, but the facilitators. I did not have a clock to watch while I spoke. I sped through a few things faster than usual because I knew I would go over time. I started the stopwatch on my phone, set it down, and couldn’t figure out where it was during he session. When I got to the last slide, I finally spotted it on the podium and noticed that it said… 46 minutes. What the heck happened to the other half hour of stuff I had to say?

I heard from plenty of people after that I did a good job, I just wonder what I did so differently. I quickly figured out something I meant to say and forgot, but that would only add a couple minutes. I must speak even faster when I have a large audience. I guess I need to practice at lightning speeds from now on to make the lectures longer.

The twitterers were trying plan a tweet-up after. Several of them were there and commented. Eventually I ended up in an informal Tech BOF apparently, so not quite the group I thought it was going to be.

I was later told that one guy stood up within the first ten minutes to ask a question. At least one person was silently cheering me on to ignore him. I didn’t even see him. I felt a little bad about it after, but he did have kind of a rude question. Did he really stand there for that long? I look out on a sea of faces and don’t notice much of anything specific. In a smaller room another year, I remember noticing some people come in late and being told a few left early that I hadn’t even noticed.

The ever-exciting Annual Meeting followed. Unfortunately, my joke during roll call fell completely flat. Coming from Utah, by the time it gets to me, it’s already stale. We elected some new officers, there was some interesting debate over a bylaw change.

Daniel Horowitz then did Conducting Webinars, which he required me to be at, as one of the webinar masters. He passed me the room’s computer (using his own to present), but had two attendees online in the webinar to do what he wanted from me. I actually learned more about the webinars. I had missed the entire section about sending reminder and follow-up emails.

The first evening session was Zvi Gittelman talking about The Litvak-Galitsianer Wars. I was late and sat in the back where I couldn’t see the map he had on screen. He did a lot of talking and didn’t change the slide very often when I was there. I stayed for a little while, but not very long. I did learn, interestingly enough, that I am, in fact, a Litvak, since he said that encompassed the Lomza area of Poland. Who knew? I figured someday I might find I’m a Galitsianer, since Trans-Carpathian Jews usually came from that region. Maybe I’m both.

The later entertainment, I had requested even before there was a committee for this conference. Safam was awesome. I had seen them a couple times as a kid at our synagogue. I was a little worried since the guys are getting older, but they all sounded great. They infused some great humor into the show. They started with two favorites of mine, Just Another Foreigner and World of our Fathers. I was disappointed that they didn’t do Jerusalem, but instead a newer song, Home to Jerusalem. I think the highlight was their top ten worst melodies for Adon Olam. The melodies included Amazing Grace, Danny Boy, a Christmas song (I can’t remember now which one), a couple songs from the 50s including Breaking Up is Hard To Do, and the Macarena. They even did the dance.

IAJGS 2013 – Tuesday

Tuesday began exceedingly early for me with a meeting at 7am of the committee for SLC 2014. We discussed a few things, but it was mostly just to see who else was on the committee and to be introduced to anyone we didn’t know. The only other person from Utah besides me turned out to be the only attendee who will be helping but isn’t yet assigned to a committee position.

From there, I had an important session to attend, Michael Goldstein and Find Your Israeli Family. He’s been telling me about his plans for that one for a little while now. I sent him some information about my long lost Israeli Halpert cousins two years ago for the same session. More recently, I sent him a new document and he found my cousins. He was hoping to Skype with them live, but he hadn’t gotten through to them yet on the phone. Instead, it seems he kind of glanced over what he actually did for my research. He wasn’t even very specific about what I had sent him, except to specify that though I had sent information before and he couldn’t find the family, that I continued to do the research and found more. So he didn’t reveal anything new to me during the session.

Hanging around for Ron Arons again, I finally got to see his Mapping Madness. There were some interesting things in there that I will need to check out.

The Next Generation Jewish Genealogists BOF was next. It was probably better in the past when we put the chairs around a circle to just talk to each other. I didn’t mention it in the blog post, but Newsletter Editors the day before actually did that. I got some interesting ideas, sometimes about the tech stuff, from this group.

I volunteered for the SLC 2014 table again after lunch, but that turned into a meeting with my co-chairs where we really began preparations for next year’s conference.

I basically missed the rest of the day. Writing this days later, I can’t remember what I did, but I’m sure it involved eating with friends at some point.

IAJGS 2013 – Monday

Monday was kind of a short day for me at the conference. I started the morning at Ron Arons’ Finding Living People on the Internet. He showed a lot of web sites where he looked for specific information about several people, often in professional fields. I think lectures where he tells more stories are better.

That was followed by the Newsletter Editors BOF (Birds of a Feather). I’m not a newsletter editor anymore, but I’m at least partly responsible for making this group happen. It was an informal gathering of editors and other folks that evolved into a conversation about communication methods, not just newsletters.

I volunteered to sit at the table for SLC 2014 for just about the rest of the day. Since I didn’t keep up with my blogging during the week, I can’t recall anything specific that happened. Much of these conferences turn into long blurs of everything that happened.

The evening had a different plan, as I have a cousin who lives in a suburb. I took the train out to meet a Rosenthal cousin and his wife. We had dinner and sat talking about the family. I brought along a lot of photos and showed many to them. I have to get to emailing those now.