Category Archives: Conferences

Israel 2015 – Day 5

After joining the Shabbaton unexpectedly yesterday, today I joined a tour. I went on the Masada and Dead Sea tour.

Masada was hot. I brought back one souvenir and it’s red and all over my face and arms. So much for the sunblock.

We skipped the Dead Sea for the most part. Many people were very annoyed, including me. I was last in Israel 30 years ago. My family saw the Dead Sea but didn’t go in. I wanted to do that this time. Obviously we could see the sea on the drive, and we did convince the driver to stop so we could take pictures. But I wanted more this time.

They said that many beaches are closed because of lower water levels and a plethora of sinkholes. But one person abandoned the tour at the start and he got to go.

We stopped at the old synagogue at Ein Gedi and at Qumran, but just for the gift shop of the latter.

It was a fun trip, but I thought it would be better.

I had dinner with four friends and almost fell asleep at the restaurant.

Today’s picture is the Dead Sea.


Israel 2015 – Day 4

The events of the IAJGS Conference have begun. There was a Shabbaton and, following instructions, I blended into the group by the end of Saturday.

I was hoping or expecting to do a couple of things, but trouble with the web site handouts meant I had some work to do. After making plans for that, I went to the Ramada hotel in the afternoon, catching a ride from Michael, where I joined the tour of the Israel Museum.

After a few hours of archaeology, history, and culture, followed by a speaker at the hotel, I headed home with Garri to fix the web site.

It was a day of seeing a small number of good friends among the conference attendees, adding on to those first visited from yesterday.

When some final evening plans fell through, Garri invited me to stay with her for the night. The offer was accepted due to the morning transportation back to the hotel. It’s good to have friends, but it’s even better to have the right friends. Among this group, I have often had the right friends to deal with several situations over the years.

No photo today, as I forgot to take one with my cell phone for this purpose.

Israel 2015 – Day 3

I wonder how long it will be until I forget what day I’m on.

I finally made it over to the conference hotel today. Rony Golan had arranged a tour of Tel Aviv for eight of us and it made for a lovely day.

First, I got see a bunch of conference people in the lobby. Then we hopped on a van and went for a drive. We had to earn our lunch by hiking up quite the hill. Then I compared our tour with a timeshare — where you earn something for free, but have to listen to a sales pitch to get it. In this case, we heard about a genealogy project to better identify and fill in the details of the lives of fallen soldiers of Israel.

The rest of the tour was spent in Jaffa and Tel Aviv. There were a few times that I wanted to get off the van to walk around and/or for pictures, but not badly enough to actually say so. It was hot and that first hike made me want to walk less. Instead, we did a lot of driving past things, but we did get out and walk in a few places, notably through Jaffa and Sarona.

While we were stopped for a late afternoon coffee break in Sarona, I had to deal with some conference stuff in my email. I connected to the free wifi available throughtout Tel Aviv at that time. I’m glad I read about that.

At the beach, we stopped by a monument to the illegal Jewish immigrants to British Mandate Palestine where we heard a great story from Rony about his father’s immigration. The short version is that he was immigrating illegally but ended up on the first ship of legal immigrants to the State of Israel.

We ended the tour at a restaurant on the beach of Herzliya for dinner. Some more conference business was taken care of with the lead co-chair of next year’s conference, Janette Silverman.

Shabbat Shalom from Israel.

I wasn’t thinking about a picture for the blog for most of the day, which has to come from the cell phone camera. I leave you with the sunset in Herzliya from inside the restaurant.


Israel 2015 – Day 2

Michael suggested that I visit Yad Vashem today and I took his advice. It turns out that he was more correct than he realized because the main museum was open a few hours later than all other days of the week.

I took the light rail out to it’s final stop to the south and walked down the hill. There was a huge crowd of IDF soldiers already there and it was an otherwise busy day, it seemed. I went to the archive first for research. I heard a few people mention the conference while there.

Similar to my visit in DC to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. Someone got me started but they just don’t have the time to explain exactly what they’re setting me up with. One database searched the Pages of Testimony, but those are online and I don’t need to see them when I visit in person.

The other database she sent me to had ITS files indexed. I found a few unexpected records. On the first, the woman helping me was surprised to find a file where someone seemed to request information about a relative, but she couldn’t find that person’s name anywhere on the pages. I was then able to continue the search in the way that she did and I found some interesting things. I still obviously need to comb through everything, and with a German dictionary, but I will make time when I get home.

I couldn’t save the digital files. She suggested I print them and pay per page. I really didn’t have an issue paying them a little, but the files were already digitized and that’s the format I want. So she suggested I could email and ask for them. I’ll do that when I get home, but I did take around 100 photos of the pages on the screen.

About to keel over from starvation, and nodding off a little from sleep deprivation, I left the research room a bit short of them kicking me out at closing time. I had a quick bite at the cafe and walked around the grounds. I’m pretty sure there should have been about twice as much as I saw, but I’m not sure where it was. I’ll need to consult a map and possibly return for another visit later.

As I mentioned, the museum was open late and I walked through. Two things stood out to me. At one point, there is a display of three bricks from the Warsaw ghetto wall. I was there a few years ago and saw the remainder of the wall. If I recall correctly, three bricks were missing and the wall said where they were. One was at Yad Vashem, one at USHMM, and one in Australia. I wonder where the other two bricks came from.

At the end of the museum was the Hall of Names, and now I know why it is called that. Pictures always show a display overhead of photos in a conical shape up to the ceiling, but all of the walls in the room were bookshelves lined with binders, containing rhe Pages of Testimony submitted over the years. And they have room for plenty more.

No pictures were allowed in the museum, but in the Hall of Names, one guy walked in while I was there and snapped several, not even muting his phone, so I didn’t feel too bad about doing the same (but without the camera noises). He even dared to do that right in front of the security guard at the exit.


(Those white “dots” in the back are the binder labels.)

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.