Monthly Archives: February 2017

Day 1 at RootsTech 2017

Wednesday began with the Innovator Summit General Session. The keynote speaker was Liz Wiseman, president of The Wiseman Group that teaches leadership to executives and emerging leaders around the world as well as workshops and development programs. Liz Wiseman is also a bestselling author of three books and contributor to Harvard Business Review, Fortune and Wall Street Journal. Liz was someone I had never heard of before, being from outside the USA, but WOW what a motivational speaker! She wasn’t a feminist pushing her success down your throat and she also wasn’t a corporate bully telling you what you have to do to succeed.  But what she spoke about was amazing, including, that not everyone is a genius but everyone has genius and how we can evolve it. I was so totally impressed with her business and life standards that I chose to forgo my next genie session to sit in on her one-on-one interviews. And, therein, I had my own 5 minutes of fame when I was able to explain why smoke detector batteries always begin to chirp at night when the batteries are getting flat. As soon as I arrived home I purchased her best-selling book, Rookie Smarts.

One-on-one with Liz Wiseman

There was no way, however, that I would forego my next session. It was time for the exciting Innovator Showdown Semi-Final. I wrote previously of the ten semi-finalists that had been whittled down from an initial 42 entries so I won’t repeat myself here with that detail. For now, the Innovator Showdown Semi-Final required each of those ten finalists to promote their software innovation in a 2-minute pitch in front of a 5-man judging panel.  As each innovator took the stage it was easy to see that all were worthy of a place in the final.

Innovator Showdown Semi-final

Louis Kessler promoting his entry “Double Match Triangulator” at the Showdown

Double Match Triangulator







However, only five finalists would proceed to the Innovator Showdown Final to be held on the Friday of the conference. No doubt the ten finalists spent an anxious afternoon waiting for the official announcement to be made that evening, during the RootsTech Welcome Party, of who would be the five finalists.

In the afternoon I attended a booked Lab session on Palaeography. Even though I am already fairly skilled with palaeography, I still managed to come away with one or two new ideas and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I felt the standard of this Lab session was very good but speaking later with many advanced genealogists attending RootsTech it appears not all Lab sessions were as good – especially for those who had booked sessions expecting advanced teaching but receiving only basic education.

One third of the room with state-of-the-art computers for the Palaeography Lab Session

The evening entertainment event was the 80s-themed Welcome Party held at the Marriott Ballroom opposite the Salt Palace Convention Centre. The entry to this function certainly didn’t go as smoothly as planned but putting that aside it was a great evening to unwind among friends. Jason Hewlett did another fabulous job as MC, thrilling us with his Michael Jackson impersonations among many others. Lots of small prizes were also given out for all manner of competitions including dance and karaoke.

The spectacular Thomas MacEntee and myself at the 80s Themed Welcome Party

However, the moment we were all waiting for –  the announcement of the five finalists for Friday’s Innovator Showdown. And the winners were:  Emberall (Capture, organize, store and share the life history of a loved one – from your smartphone in as little as 30 minutes); Kindex (Accessible, searchable archives for everyone through collaborative record sharing and indexing);  Double Match Triangulator (An autosomal DNA analysis tool for genealogists); OldNewsUSA (The easiest way to find your family in historic newspapers – on your phone); and QromaTag (Add your story to any photo using your iPhone and your voice). Congratulations to all who participated.

A jublilant Louis Kessler who will proceed through to the Innovator Showdown Final

Pre RootsTech and Salt Lake City

If there is one thing I have learned from attending my first RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, it is – you cannot physically do everything!

So … how did I spend my time as an Ambassador at the world’s largest genealogy conference? Well, it all now seems such a blur but I know I was definitely there and it was just the greatest time ever.

I began my journey from Sydney, Australia, by flying into San Francisco to allow me to travel on the California Zephyr to Salt Lake City. This was a great decision, giving me time to view some wonderful countryside I wouldn’t have otherwise seen from a plane, with the highlight being the thickly-covered snow-capped Sierra Nevadas of the Rocky Mountains. I would definitely do this train trip again but I would break the journey and stop off overnight at Truckee, California. With snow and icicles abounding, Truckee was the ultimate picture-postcard village.

The California Zephyr arriving at Emeryville, California

Travelling light as usual!

Plenty of space to work in my cabin







So much snow!

Wonderful countryside

Truckee, California






I arrived in Salt Lake City on the Friday prior to the Wednesday, 8 February, kick-off of RootsTech. In fact, I arrived at 4am on the Friday morning – the only drawback of travelling to SLC by train.  However, I had thought ahead and booked my accommodation in SLC to start from the Thursday night enabling me to go straight to my room, drop my gear and catch a few more hours sleep. After waking, showering, breakfasting, and, armed with a long list of microfilms and books I wanted to look at, my early arrival in SLC allowed me to reacquaint myself with the wonderful Family History Library.

Open to the general public and free to use, this place is massive! It is operated by the genealogical arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, under the title of FamilySearch. Among a multitude of other material, it houses over 1.6 million rolls of microfilmed records from over 110 countries. And, while I can order any one of those microfilms to read at my local family history library in Australia (for a very small charge), the fact that I can look at one reel and proceed immediately to another, based on my research findings, is quite amazing. But I digress …

All of these roll-out drawers contain microfilms

I wasn’t long in the FHL before I found Helen Smith, from Brisbane, Australia, who was not only attending as an Ambassador but also speaking at RootsTech and who was also hard at work in the library. And while, I wasn’t able to catch up with Helen later, for dinner that night, I did catch up with RootsTech Ambassador Extraordinaire, Jill Ball – a fellow Sydneysider attending her 6th out of the seven RootsTech conferences held to date. Jill is better known as Geniaus and is a true inspiration to all genealogists, and not just DownUnder. We dined at Kneaders Bakery & Café and I am so very thankful that Jill held my hand as an older sister throughout my first RootsTech attendance – thank you, Jill.

Saturday saw me back at the Family History Library, bright and early, and throughout the day I met up with several more Australian & US genies who were also in town to attend RootsTech –Melissa Hulbert (Sydney), Kerry Farmer (Sydney), Alona Tester (Adelaide), Mary Kircher Roddy (Seattle, WA), Jenny Joyce (Sydney) and Lilian Magill (Sydney). Following a full day of research it was really great to have a quiet dinner with Helen Smith and Alona Tester at JB’s Restaurant that night.

Sunday, for me, was a little sleep-in followed by a short stroll around the City Creek shopping district of SLC (sadly all closed). I again met up with Helen and Alona for lunch back at JB’s followed by dinner at The Cheesecake Factory with a whole bunch of Australian and New Zealand genealogists. The Cheesecake Factory in USA is nothing like its namesake back in Australia. In the USA you can order all manner of food and I enjoyed a wonderful appetiser of Vietnamese Shrimp Summer Rolls. Those in attendance included: Alona Tester, Jill Ball, Roger Moffat (ex-NZ) & Lisa Christensen, Lilian Magill, Kerry Farmer, Melissa Hulbert, Jenny Joyce and Fran Kitto (Queensland) – the night ended up being a pre-Commonwealth dinner!

Vietnamese Shrimp Summer Rolls

Monday was another day back at the Family History Library with all of the above mentioned genie friends searching through various microfilms and electronic databases. However, first-up, we all met on Level 3 at the FHL to take part in the highly popular Monday’s With Myrt genealogical program. Pat Richley-Erickson is the genius behind Dear Myrtle and it was a huge honour for me to be interviewed by her live-on-air as well as receiving a set of fabulous blogging beads confirming my place at RootsTech as a GeneaBlogger. Another highlight was meeting Thomas MacEnteea major worldwide genealogical name – and the inspiration behind my own recent weight-loss surgery.

Setting up for Monday’s With Myrt

The kick-off to RootsTech for those from British Commonwealth countries officially began on Monday night with a superb get together at the Blue Lemon Restaurant organised, once again, by Jill Ball. Added to the above Down Under attendees were many more genies from the Commonwealth including Martin Killion (Sydney), Jan Gow (New Zealand), Alan Phillips (Adelaide), Heather Garnsey (Sydney), Carole Steers (England), Audrey Collins (England), Graham Walter (ex-Aussie now England), Steve & Diana Fulton (Canada) and Ruth Blair (Canada). What a wonderful combination of worldwide people united by the same interest – genealogy.

So, on to Tuesday – the start of official Ambassador duties at RootsTech and, while I was able to conduct a little more research early in the day, at 2pm the RootsTech Ambassadors enjoyed a VIP tour of the Family History Library’s newest interactive discovery experience.  The new attraction opened to the general public on 8 February, and, from what I previewed, I am sure that everyone who visits will enjoy the experience. With something for young or old, the innovative technology is designed to introduce guests to the fun side of their genealogical discoveries.

Family History Library’s new Discovery Centre

Aussie genies finding out who they are related too

How cool is this?






Located on the main floor of the Family History Library you are given a custom iPad which you then log into your FamilySearch account. Of course, it helps if you have already entered your family tree previously into your account. Once logged in, you can meander among the 44 touch-screen monitors, six recording studios and 42 research computers. Unfortunately, I had uploaded my better half’s family history which, although, theoretically connected with me, wasn’t my family tree (through the log in) and so I wasn’t able to succeed in utilising many of the features. However, I was very impressed with my fellow genies who made great discoveries – especially in finding out who they were related too. Of great fun was the green screen where you could stand in front of and have your photo superimposed to any worldwide destination

The final event for the day – well for the RootsTech Ambassadors – was the Media Dinner. As a first time attendee I was overwhelmed by the friendliness, camaraderie and celebration of being at RootsTech. And they couldn’t have asked for a better MC for the evening than Jason Hewlett – a consummate speaker, entertainer, author and impressionist with a “clean”, family friendly comedy.  And I have to say, that his impression of the Bee Gees absolutely floored me!

Stay tuned for more to come on RootsTech itself …