I’m just back from the big Rootstech conference and two weeks of research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Others have tweeted and blogged about Rootstech announcements and news, so I’ll not try to one-up them. You may even have watched some of the sessions live online. But I will attempt to draw together some of my overall impressions—and what they seem to say about the state of genealogy.
Rootstech was big. More than four times the size of any genealogical conference I’ve attended. The male/female balance was closer than any family history event I’d been to, and the age range much wider. (There were also more cowboy hats—but mostly on the heads of brightsolid staff, Scottish brogues and all.)
The concurrent sessions—13 in each time slot—were about evenly split between “user” and “developer” target audiences, and designated as beginner, intermediate, or advanced level for each target group. It wouldn’t be fair to say the audience was split along similar lines, because there was so much overlap in interests, skill levels and emphasis.
Many of the “user” sessions were fairly basic and a bit disappointing to experienced researchers, however very appropriate as an introduction to family history techniques for the “techie” half of the audience. I enjoyed myself more when I figured out that I could understand and benefit from the beginner and intermediate “developer” sessions. (And my knowledge of html is strictly cut and paste and cross my fingers.)
Maybe Rootstech organizers could more actively encourage participants to wade into the other stream at next year’s conference.
But back to overall impressions…
Supplying genealogical data is now big business. No doubt about it. But there seems to be a realization that data doesn’t stay exclusive for long, and the better business model is to provide the customer with easier, more accurate, focused, and documented searching. Transcriptions and indexes need to improve, and customers expect value for money. Brightsolid’s first American project—offering US census records only, purchased with credits rather than a timed subscription—will be an interesting experiment to follow.
We were shown intriguing collaborative projects—from a new and better GEDCOM, to a microdata schema that can be added to archive, library and genealogical websites to help Google find historical information, to perhaps the most visible, the 1940 US Census Community Project.
There were many new software products to organize and share the data collected—some of them valiant efforts that, I’m afraid, will soon be left in the dust. Notable were QR code medallions designed to be embedded in gravestones.
I would liked to have seen more emphasis on thorough research, thoughtful conclusions, and documentation, which tend to get lost with the avalanche of data sliding in our direction.
A bright spot on this front was FamilySearch. Representative Ron Tanner shared their plans for merging the LDS-only New Family Search with the public site and allowing merging of records and correcting of data submitted by anyone. A brave and huge step towards accuracy, submitters will be able to attach digital images of records directly from the Family Search site and other sources, and if you change someone’s data, you’ll be prompted to explain why. (And they’ll be able to change it back.)
While sometimes it seemed that I was the only person not glued to a smart phone or tablet or laptop (or all three) during the multimedia presentations—I learned a lot and was reassured that the spirit of collaboration and openness will boost the quality of our research and conclusions.