I’ve mentioned before that I consider the potential benefits of a conference from a combination of factors: learning opportunities + friends and networking + location (which includes travel and research options).
Ultimately I decided to try out the London RootsTech as I’d been to two in Salt Lake (2015 an 2017) and it also meant that I could add on a week of Scottish research beforehand.
So how did RootsTech London stack up for me?
There was a good diversity of speakers on a range of topics. Many were very knowledgeable and professional in their delivery. As always there were always more than one that was of interest in almost every time slot. Mercifully the handouts counterbalanced the need to choose. In particular I enjoyed, and learned from, presentations by Myko Clelland, Fiona Fitzsimons, Maurice Gleeson, Celia Heritage, Michelle Leonard, Ursula Krause and Jonny Perl.
- The focus on British and European research as well as tools and techniques was particularly helpful. I didn’t attend as many DNA talks as I have in Salt Lake having recently benefitted from the amazing intensive of DNA Down Under in Sydney.
- The facilities were good and easily accessible offset by the unpredictability of room size for different talks – how were the rooms allocated I wonder?
Keynotes were very interesting. Dan Snow’s media professionalism was evident but it was his need to reflect on one ancestor’s adverse actions that was relevant to anyone who discovers less than appealing attributes of their ancestors and their lives. Kadeena Cox was less polished but no less inspiring with her emphasis on how her family’s role-modelling had helped her when she suffered what many would consider impossible health challenges. Once again I missed Donny Osmond – judging on the crowds I seem to be in the minority in my indifference. I spent time with a study buddy instead.
There were lots of helpers to guide mystified attendees to the rooms or provide advice. “Ask Me Anything” said their T-shirts.
- The Exhibition Hall provided plenty of diversity with a wide range of suppliers featured. I was particularly keen on learning more from the owners of “Name and Place” and am now even more keenly awaiting its release date. It seems to be an invaluable boon to those of us with an interest in One Place Studies. I’m also curious to follow up more on Reliving Ltd.
NETWORKS and MATES
This was absolutely the highlight for me.
I was able to have a pre-conference outing to Kew Gardens with my friend Angela, an Irish blogger, and Sharn, a genimate (and spouse) from Sydney. We had an absolutely fabulous day exploring the gardens and seeing the wonderful Chihuly exhibition. And then the chance to go around again with other friends on the Saturday evening to see the glasswork lit up…spectacular.
- The chance to re-connect with my study buddy, Kate from Essex Voices Past, with whom I studied the Advanced Diploma in Local History through Oxford University. It was great to have a chance to hang out and chat – even if we did get distracted by some weird and wonderful outfits from Comic Con.
Meeting up with overseas genimates from RootsTech conferences past was also a winner as well as Facebook friends who I’d only ever known by reputation or virtually. It was great to meet Cheri from Carolina Girl Genealogy from whom I’d won my pass to RootsTech.
- Thanks to GeniAus, the 50+ Australians in attendance had a networking “edge”. We already had a Facebook group in which to share news, meet others and plan the usual “pre-conference” dinner meet-up. Even so, on the last day we were still discovering Aussies who were living overseas or who hadn’t joined the Facebook group. I made new Aussie friends who I know I’ll meet at other conferences around the country. We also generated quite a bit of curiosity as some of us had adopted the US practice of conference ribbons.
- It was clear from all the Facebook posts, and photos, as well as conversations, that many people had taken the opportunity to visit ancestral sites before/after the conference, or to do research in relevant archives.
- Given the expense of flying from Down Under, accommodation, and exchange rate considerations, the mix of benefits is critical.
“COULD DO BETTER”
A good portion of the problem areas came from the ExCel venue and the combination of RootsTech being held at the same time as the obviously popular Comic Con event.
- Closure of the Customs House DLR station on Friday and Saturday eliminated one travel option.
- Access to the walkway through ExCel was blocked leaving anyone on the western side to walk 1.3kms outside in the weather – we were lucky it wasn’t pouring! This was of particular concern to those with mobility issues.
- Along with access issues was the prohibition on RootsTech attendees being able to access all the food outlets throughout the complex. This particularly affected those with dietary/allergy issues. Luckily I found the E16 café offered decaf coffee so they became my go-to place.
- Comic Con brought with it lots of crowds of all ages, some eye-popping outfits and K9 units.
RootsTech however also let the attendees down in these regards:
- Delayed communication relating to the conference – it seemed like RootsTech Salt Lake 2020 was being given information sooner than the London conference.
- Late disclosure of the fact that RootsTech would be at the eastern end of ExCel meant many of us had booked months before – at the western end. Earlier notice might have avoided some of our angst. There seems to be a gap in understanding that for attendees travelling vast distances to get to the conference, flights and accommodation have to be booked months in advance.
- After many speakers waging an education campaign to make attendees realise their slides were copyright and couldn’t be photographed, London RootsTech changed the rules and each speaker’s initial slide indicated photographs were allowed. Sigh.
I thought my travel dollars were well spent and I was satisfied by the experience. It was less crowded than Salt Lake RootsTech, making it less confronting for the newbies. Would I recommend it to others or go again myself? Yes, provided research or holiday travel could be combined with the conference to maximise the benefit of the total outlay.