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RootsTech Family History Conference – my experience & recommendations!

I went to RootsTech this year and had an amazing time learning, listening, meeting fellow genealogists, and spending time on my family history research – a full week to myself in the flow of genealogy.  RootsTech is the largest genealogy conference in the world held in Salt Lake City with over 200  learning sessions, inspiring speakers and an expo hall for Family History and Technology exhibitors.  Almost 30,000 fellow family historians, or as Steve Rockwood, CEO of Family Search called us ‘the Heart Specialists of our families,’ attended so you really were able to immerse yourself!  I missed my family but felt rejuvenated and rested when I came back. It was a nice retreat, genealogist style.  One of my favorite moments was after Lavar Burton (Roots, Star Trek) opened African American Heritage Day with a powerful message on strength, diversity and acceptance, he was presented with part of his genealogy by the FamilySearch researchers that he didn’t know about before.  Using newly digitalised African American Freedmen Bureau’s records (announced at RootsTech) they were able to find his ancestors who lived during emancipation.  It was an emotional discovery for him, in his words he found ‘his people.’  To lighten up the emotional tear-filled moment he asked the crowd of 30,000 thousand people ‘is this what you all do all day?’ We all laughed and said Yep!


The week was really jam packed with so much and I never got bored!  Here are a few highlights, memories and reminders for next year:

Some Conference Highlights

  • African American Heritage Day: Lavar Burton, Nkoyo Imambu and Genealogists Kenyatta Berry,  Sherri Camp, &  Melvin Collier  – beautifully discussed our African American Heritage in a way that remembered the atrocities of slavery but also recognized and honored how people who were brought here in forced slavery were significant contributors to our economy and also our culture – bringing ‘soul’ to America.  There where also some exciting announcements for those researching African American ancestors including the newly digitized Freedmen Bureau records to help break down the 1870 brickwall. Livestream recorded here.
  • CeCe Moore, Your Genetic Genealogist, a keynote speaker on the capabilities of DNA data.  This was entertaining, inspiring and exciting to hear about what we can do and will be able to do with DNA data for genealogy.  She contemplated and discussed the question ‘We know DNA passes down physical traits, but what else can it pass down?’  I decided to purchase a DNA kit after hearing her speak to at least start figuring out how to use the data as a genealogy tool after this. Her livestream recorded here
  • Jewish Genealogy learning opportunities. There were courses almost everyday to specifically help with Jewish Genealogy and a number of genealogists around to talk to and ask for advice.  JewishGen and IAJGS both had a booth in the expo hall as well.  Lara Diamond’s Where to Look and What’s Available for Jewish Genealogy helped me with making a list of records and places to search I had not thought of before. For example, she found a few important records for her family by asking Jewish historical institutions and museums where her ancestors lived if they had any un-indexed boxes of records in storage she could look at.   It was also exciting to hear about the efforts being done to rescue and digitize records in Eastern Europe that will be helpful for us to make family links before immigration.  This session was also live streamed here.   
  • GeneaBloggers has documented a summary of all the sessions that were livestreamed and where you can access them here. Livestreaming for select sessions reached over 100,000 households!

Here is a List of the Break-Out Sessions I attended:

Learning Paleography

Some Next Steps for me:

  • So much! I wish I had another week of vacation just to work on everything I learned!
  • Organize and analyze the documents and data from the Family History Library
  • Develop/modify Research Plans – I took a class on developing research plans and learned about a ton of new records and where I can find them throughout the week.
  • Focus on Naturalization Records hunt for immigrant ancestors
  • Download Google Earth Maps plus and start mapping our ancestors
  • Make a wish list of apps, resources and technology I learned about
  • DNA tests – Ancestry was selling DNA kits for half price, I picked up 2 to take the DNA plunge
  • Prepare for my next conference 🙂 I would love to attend IAJGS this year in Orlando, but not sure I can swing two conference in one year!


Reminders and Recommendations for Next Year:

  • Download the RootsTech App before the Conference and start marking sessions you would like to take – you can build a schedule in the app!
  • Try to leave space in your suitcase to bring stuff home and budget to buy things in the Expo Hall (amazing deals) – books, charts, family history memorabilia, historic maps, genealogy tools, DNA kits, children’s books, games, ect.
  • Be a part of the conversation and link up with others on Twitter using the #RootsTech hashtag.
  • Remember that booths like Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch and Genealogy Gems also have 30 minute classes throughout the day in the Expo Hall.  The schedules at their booths.
  • Have back up classes in case yours is full (for sessions you are really excited about go 10-15 minutes early to get a seat).
  • Wear comfortable shoes, clothes and layers.  There was a coat check for 2 dollars, cash only.
  • Bring a phone charger, snacks, water, phone with camera, note taking supplies (you get a free RootsTech bag with registration).  There was also water and food for sale in the convention center.
  • There is a coffee stand in the convention center and a Starbucks right in front in the Marriott Hotel.
  • Do not miss the keynotes.  All of them were inspiring, well put together and great speaking. I even sat in the back and it was still amazing – everyone was on a big screen and you still felt the energy.
  • Go to the entertainment events at night even if for a little bit. There are fun giveaways and just fun to see the energy of your fellow genealogists together.  I was invited to a Friday Shabbat dinner with some other Jewish Genealogists and meeting them was one of my highlights!
  • Books that I saw in the exhibit hall were sold out by the last day (when I waited) some booths were offering free shipping though.
  • The Family History Library is so close – you can even go during the 90 minute lunch break and they were open until 9 pm. I recommend walking down there as soon as you get there to get familiar with it so you can take advantage of it through-out the week when you find time. I wrote a little about visiting the FHL at this link.
  • Try to stay organized by labeling and filing data from the FHL, notes and information, next steps, project ideas and handouts electronically as you go so that you aren’t overwhelmed when you get back (I used google drive on my phone to do this – I downloaded the handouts from the app directly there) it was a bit of a distraction to do this after every session but well worth it in the end

8 thoughts on “RootsTech Family History Conference – my experience & recommendations!

    1. It was so exciting! I hope you get to go to a conference one day too! If you can, I also recommend RootsTech. This year they also live-streamed a lot of it as well – if I can’t go next year I will plan some time to at least stream in!


  1. I also hope to attend one of these conferences some day. Right now my travel budget priorities are going to the places my ancestors once lived. But some day…


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