My trip to RootsTech!
Alec Tritton has been to RootsTech before - but this year he found it even bigger and better than ever... Read on for his thoughts about the biggest family history show on the planet!
As I finally get around to writing about RootsTech, I find the weather has come out in sympathy with the UK's recent weather and am looking out of my hotel room at around 8 inches of snow that has accumulated overnight – and it is still snowing!
It has been a very busy time over the last few days at RootsTech - I have been before, the last time in 2013, and it is definitely bigger and brighter than last time. The Exhibition hall was HUGE and filled with vendors that virtually all relate to family history and genealogy (no lady’s coats, holidays or animal charities - just one that I remember selling massage items). So vast was the layout of RootTech that it really did mean a lot of walking, so much so that there was a free courtesy shuttle within the Conference Centre.
Great show offers
There were some great deals to be had, especially with so many DNA companies competing with each other for your business. I settled on Living DNA @ $49 but My Heritage were there for $48 and Ancestry for $59 so some very good bargains. FTDNA wasn’t as cheap as the offer that can be bought by members of the Guild of One-Name Studies, so I shall leave that till later this month when I am at their conference. All the 'big companies' were there but also very many smaller organisations including a few from UK such as the Universities of Strathclyde and Dundee as well IHGS and FFHS. Many of these smaller companies were all trying to sell ways of preserving or enhancing your family history or publishing it, whether in print or online such as Animoto (https://animoto.com/), Family Book Creator (familybookcreator.com) and Legacy Republic. There was even one company Famicity (famicity.com) promoting a private social network dedicated to your family.
Family history fun
Others were also promoting training courses and with a theme designed to appeal to our younger generation. Family History Life (familyhistorylife.com) all dressed up as pirates. There were others promoting family history games such as Pando. One that did intrigue me was a company called Forever who are guaranteeing that storage in the cloud will be permanent and last at least for the duration of your lifetime plus 100 years - giving the promise that your memories will last forever and not be deleted when you die. All you need do is ensure your login details are lodged somewhere such as adding them to your will, or at least ensuring they stay within the family. Prices start at $199 one-off payment for 10Gbytes of storage.
Relax & recuperate
There were of course the usual the usual items one expects such as the Dome Theatre where you can relax for half an hour (no free popcorn like at the first RootsTech though) , the free Cyber Café, FamilySearch Discovery Zone and the Media Hub. There were also a myriad of food retailers at prices that were not extortionate (which has been the case at major shows in the UK).
This is a serious improvement on the first RootsTech were there was just one coffee vendor and that was all. Mind you there had also been free sodas in the Discovery Zone then but I suspect the vendors objected!
This year on both the Thursday night and Saturday night there were two fantastic concerts in the evenings. Both free of charge and being a smooth jazz enthusiast I certainly would have paid for the Thursday. The music and dance on the Thursday was based on the American Heritage (see a clip of the entertainment on the Family Tree YouTube channel) and Saturday in the Conference Centre rather than the Convention Hall about Mexican Heritage.
Saturday was all about family day and there were some fun events for the children including free face painting and learning American Indian dancing just outside the hall but inside they had a booth where you could dress up and a couple of telephone boxes – never did work out what they were about!
But of course one doesn’t come to RootsTech just for the exhibition hall but mainly for the lectures of which there were over 300 plus keynote speakers. These were of people who are obviously celebrities in the USA but personally I had never heard of them. I went to the first one and decided it was basically a motivational talk – not for me and left half way through. Didn’t bother with the others.
A lot of the talks are about American heritage or archives or 'how to do your research', again not really of interest to me. I came for the tech talks of which there were quite a few, but didn’t realise that when it said 'Lab' you had to pay an extra $19 for each one which I wasn’t prepared to do, so attended others instead.
Get the app!
Rootstech has a great app available for your phone and I would highly recommend that you download this – even if you didn’t attend or watch the livestreaming. The main reason for this, is that you are then able to download the handouts for free and do as you wish. Many of the lectures were recorded and will appear on rootstech.org in about a week. You can then watch them at your leisure and to have a copy of the handout will be invaluable.
I consider myself to be reasonably tech savvy. Indeed I am the designer of the Secret Lives (www.secretlives.org.uk) conference and the social media manager for the same. I have to admit though that from these lectures I did learn quite a lot more about using Pinterest, Evernote and Facebook as well as properly understanding meta-data. There were also some apps that I had never heard of!
Would I come again?
So would I come again? Definitely - but not every year and definitely not the route I came this time. I met some friends and acquaintances, missed others because of the size and heard only one really bad comment from a few people that the organising committee mis-judged the size of some of lecture theatres and people were turned away. If you paid $219 to get in and travelled the odd 6,000 miles and this happened to me, then I would not have been very happy either.
The Convention Centre is only a stone’s throw from the Family History Library and you could always spend time there (but remember they are closed on Sundays). I spent a couple of hours there and found the marriage in 1761 of a John Tritton in Germany. Not a direct ancestor but related and in my One-Name Study, something it would have been difficult to do elsewhere.
Salt Lake travel tip!
Finally, one great tip of you are on a budget, the Trax cost $2.50 each way (half for us pensioners) from the airport, takes about 20 minutes and drops you right outside the convention centre. Airport hotels are a fraction of the price of hotels downtown and all have free shuttles from the airport. May take you around 40 minutes to travel in/out but sat down all the way and over the four nights you will probable save at least $300.