RootsTech 2018 in Review
The desire to discover or connect with one's family or ancestors brought together tens of thousands of family history enthusiasts from 43 countries and 50 states—and even more online—at RootsTech 2018. Celebrities Brandon Stanton, Scott Hamilton, Henry Lewis Gates, Jr., Natalia Lafourcade, and FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood keynoted each day of the popular 4-day event originating in Salt Lake City, Utah. Cool technology, popular consumer DNA services, and hundreds of how-to classes kept beginner to advanced attendees buzzing.
The 8th annual conference continues to grow in popularity. More than 17,000 guests from every state and 47 countries gathered at the Salt Palace Convention Center, and more than 111,000 watched live using the internet. Keynote sessions were highlighted each day with special announcements from show sponsors Ancestry.com, LivingDNA.com, MyHeritage.com, and findmypast.com.
In his keynote, FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood suggested that when you discover you are related to someone, you treat him or her differently. Using geo fencing technology and a little engineering wizardry, FamilySearch enabled attendees to use its Family Tree mobile app feature "Relatives Around Me" to make connections with unknown cousins in attendance at the conference, showing how they were related and enabling them to communicate and rendezvous. Astonishingly, over half of the attendees (8,450 people) were connected with other conference goers. The total number of cousin connections found at the conference (from 1st to 10th cousins) were 2,334,110, which makes the average number of relatives discovered at the show per user 276.
The show offered over 300 mostly packed class sessions on a vast range of family history-oriented topics, an expo hall filled with vendors’ displays and products, and enrichment events nightly filling every moment with family activity. It was energetic, lively, exciting, entertaining, inspirational, and educational.
Brandon Stanton, author of the blog and book Humans of New York, shared his story of how his dream job came true through hard work and determination. He said, "Following your dreams is nothing but hard work." He said that we shouldn't get to a place where you don't have to work, but to get to a place where you get to choose your work. His blog, and resulting books, illustrate the importance of all individuals. He says "listening is a scarce commodity" in this age of selfies. Stanton has found that everyone needs to tell someone about themselves, if they can find someone to listen long enough—a key to the success of his bestselling books that depict pictures and intimate and personal stories of people around the world. When asked why people share personal stories with them, he replied, "I ask." He says that the feeling of being validated, the feeling of being heard unlocks something in people that allows them to share.
Scott Hamilton, an Olympic gold medalist, is as energetic and affable today as he was during his career run of athletic medals. He shared a touching story about himself as an adopted child, his bouts with different types of cancer, and the help of “family” figures in his life. He captivated the audience with his love of family and how important families are in everyone’s lives. He told about his own family, his wife, and the miracle and blessings that are his two natural children and two adopted children from Haiti.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., host of PBS's hit series Finding Your Roots, shared how an obituary of an "estimable" great aunt he read when he was a child planted the seed for his lifelong love for family history, and how knowing their stories can impact future generations. Gates shared how his journey through an Ivy-league education, African American roots, and a DNA test paved the way to a string of genealogy-related television shows that led to his current popular and long-running series on PBS. He introduced the DNA Detective, CeCe Moore, and explained how DNA is breaking down long held family history brick walls, dispelling myths, and blessing the lives of people young and old. He has created an initiative to introduce K-12 children to the joys and benefits of discovering their family histories in a summer camp called Finding Your Roots: The Seedlings.
Natalia Lafourcade, a Mexican pop-rock singer and songwriter, is one of the best known singers in the pop rock scene in Latin America. She shared the importance of family memories and quipped that family lore says she had French pirate ancestry. FamilySearch revealed a personal genealogy that confirmed her French roots, but could not validate the pirate family legends. She sang songs from her latest album, concluding with the Oscar-winning song “Remember Me” from the Oscar winning animated movie Coco.
The RootsTech 2018 Innovation Showcase, hosted by Extreme Genes' Scott Fisher, addressed the state of historic records, digital memories and DNA. Panelists included Judy Russell, legal genealogist, David Rencher, FamilySearch CGO, and Kurt Witcher, director of the Fort Wayne, Indiana, Allen County Public Library, Brewster Kale of Internet Archives, and five popular commercial DNA companies.
In concert with Brandon Stanton's keynote, RootsTech invited aspiring local photographers and writers to participate in a video-story contest. Over 200 people entered the contest, and the winners were Russell Hathaway, Karen Foster, Amberley Beck, and Cali Church. They received prizes such as a Dell laptop and Canon cameras. The pictures with their stories will be published in the future on RootsTech and social media channels.
RootsTech 2018's Family Discovery Day welcomed more than 26,000 attendees—mostly families with children. President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Kristen M. Oaks, showed how they share their family history with their posterity. Their grandchildren and great grandchildren participated, sharing how they have been able to personally connect with ancestors through written histories, photographs, and stories.
Also participating in Family Discovery Day were Hank Smith and Jason Hewitt, and singers Evie Clair, Kenya Clark, and Alex Melecio.
RootsTech, hosted by FamilySearch, is a global conference celebrating families across generations, where people of all ages are inspired to discover and share their memories and connections. This annual event has become the largest of its kind in the world, attracting tens of thousands of participants worldwide.