RootsTech – Bedazzled

So RootsTech has come and gone for 2011. I wonder how many genies will schedule a trip next year and, for those who can’t get there, will the organisers make the video stream more widely available even on a user-pays basis. I’d certainly be willing to pay for the opportunity to see it from Australia despite the challenge of waking up at 1am to see some.

Although I was only able to attend online, I gained a lot from these sessions and these are some reflections.


Genealogy is a brain-stretching and challenging hobby which we all do for love or fun, or we’d have long since moved on to golf or tennis. On this point I agreed with Curt Witcher. However I disagree that people won’t do activities which don’t bring them immediate success or cause them too many challenges. I think the many genies out there who’ve been pursuing their research for anything between a few years and a few decades are living proof of our determination. We’re some amalgam of bloodhound (pursuing clues wherever they may be), bower bird (collecting any snippet of information that illuminates our family stories) and puzzlers extraordinaire who whoop for joy when two puzzle pieces lock together.

These attributes are no doubt part of why everyone had so much fun at RootsTech: it seemed like a giant genealogical lolly shop with new information, new strategies and innovative technology to help us expand our histories.

Barry Ewell gave a fascinating talk which could only scratch the breadth of preserving our family history by digitising documents, old Super 8 films and videos, as well as music on 33s, LPs and 45s or cassettes.

He also highlighted there were two branches of our research we should consider: our own personal history and the history of our ancestors. We need to be selective and preserve the “photo”/document etc that best represents the person and event.

The need to have multiple copies, stored in different locations is apt considering recent events in Queensland. A recurring theme was to ensure we kept our documents up to date with changing technology. Barry also offered to send a link to the full presentation but as yet my request hasn’t come through, so I’d be interested to hear from others if they’ve received their link.

Curt Witcher’s talk challenged us, in essence, to welcome new researchers to our hobby by letting them into the sandbox before sandbagging them with rules about white gloves, citations, and procedures. I still disagree with the Ancestry slogan of “you don’t need to know what you’re looking for” as I imagine people happily building trees filled with branches and twigs who have no actual relationship to them and claiming a BDM because it’s the only one online. I also disagree that citations aren’t important –how else to allow others to follow the same path, validate the data, investigate the same archival source, or acknowledge the research contributions of others. This should be an early lesson once we’re all in the genealogical sandpit together.

There were challenging concepts for genealogical societies, too, as Curt said that most new researchers are not society members: a warning call to ensure that they have a comprehensive online presence so those 21sters are tempted to visit and join their society. Curt told us that change is an opportunity not a difficulty –nothing new there –but have all societies taken that on board?

Josh Taylor’s talk on PDF documents opened up a world of challenges and opportunities in terms of preserving, sharing and maintaining the integrity of our family history documents. So many new tricks and skills to incorporate into our research strategies.

He talked about the role of Facebook and Twitter as 21st century diaries which can incorporate a lot of family and personal history. This will be lost if we don’t move quickly to extract the stories.

Brewster Kahle’s talk on Personal Archives was fascinating and received great audience support. His credo that “everything” should be available free online resonated with people. His company clearly demonstrates the “copies in multiple places” strategy with duplicate centres in San Francisco, Amsterdam and Alexandria, as well as its commitment to democratising information and making it available world-wide.

Some pivotal take-home messages from his talk were:

  1. Genies are the major users of public libraries
  2. We need to upload our memories ie ensure the life history in our minds is accessible to others, either family or the broader community
  3. Genies could be the pioneers of pushing the process of freely-available, digitised records
  4. That we have an obligation to make our histories available to our children on the internet as they are not going back to libraries (still not 100% convinced on that topic).
  5. Wayback is a great resource for finding archived websites: I’ve been using this for years without knowing it was attached to the Internet Archives.
  6. We can find old movie clips, radio shows etc on their site (I used Old Time Radio last week without knowing it was theirs)
  7. We need to be able to learn the stories of our ancestors and ensure they’re accessible to future generations
  8. We need to ensure we’re recording our own stories for our descendants.

So at the end of the conference I was bedazzled by the wonders that had been highlighted and felt like a very happy bower bird with a nest full of bright, shiny blue glass. However I was also bewildered and somewhat bemused, of which more anon.

2 thoughts on “RootsTech – Bedazzled

  1. I’m so glad you got up in the middle of the night to watch these things! I really thought they would be downloadable afterwards, or I might have forced myself to manage more than the last 10 minutes of Josh Taylor’s PDF talk.

    I, too, would be willing to pay a reasonable fee for access. Much cheaper than airfares and hotels!


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