Category Archives: RootsTech 2017

Day 2 – RootsTech

The second day of RootsTech began with a very early start for the official Ambassadors – a behind-the-scenes tour of the Expo Hall at 7.30am! The Expo Hall was huge and to be given the opportunity to wander around to view and take photographs of exhibitor stalls without a massive crowd was a terrific opportunity.

The Hall was divided into three main areas: Innovation Alley for showcasing new tech tools and products; the Discovery Zone – full of interactive displays and activities while you learn about your heritage; and the Demo Theatre – a place to sit and relax while watching exhibitor presentations and demonstrations.


A fraction of the comfortable seating available for the Demo Theatre

Two new highlights for 2017 were the addition of a Coaches’ Corner, where you could drop in for some one-on-one mentoring from an expert genealogist, and the Heirloom Show and Tell – a place to bring your antique, heirloom, or photo to, for an expert to look at.

Following our tour of the Expo Hall we were seated for the Keynote session which began with Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch, talking about his family and the importance of food traditions within his family. He then went on to launch  a campaign whereby individuals can preserve and share family recipe stories at FamilySearch.

Steve Rockwood

Steve was followed by the exciting Property Brothers – Drew and Jonathan Scott. While I had never heard of these two before RootsTech, there were definitely several Ambassadors around me who went weak at the knees when they bounded onto the stage. And the Scott brothers didn’t disappoint. They were fast and full of energy as they told us hilarious stories of their home life and family holidays as well as why Jonathan learned to play the bagpipes.

Canadian brothers – Drew and Jonathan Scott

The first lecture I attended was on Wolfram Alpha for Genealogists and was presented by the renowned and highly entertaining Thomas MacEntee. He brings a presentation to life and thoroughly enjoys doing what he does best – helping others. Listening to the many merits of using Wolfram Alpha has certainly opened my eyes to new ways of researching the lives of our ancestors.

In the afternoon I attended my other lecture for the day – that of Researching Your European Ancestors Online by the IntoThePast team.

The evening’s entertainment was performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and guest soloist Dallyn Vail Bayles. Unfortunately, I was a last minute cancellation having received some worrying news from home but everyone I spoke with, who had attended, advised it was a huge success. Entitled Music – It Runs in the Family, it was held at the LDS Conference Centre on North Temple Street and was a mixture of music and stories of the Rodgers & Hammerstein legacy.


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 …

RootsTech is just around the corner

Gosh. Where has the time gone? I have suddenly realised that in just over 6 weeks I will be in Salt Lake City for my first RootsTech conference! When it was confirmed that I would be an official Ambassador for the event I had months to plan my trip – now I can see the next 6 weeks disappearing before my very eyes.

I’ll be arriving a week earlier, on 2 February, so that I can spend time researching at the wonderful Family History Library. The last time I was there, in 2010, I spent 4 whole days in Basement 2 which houses the British Isles collection. This time, I am hoping to at least visit one or two of the other 4 floors before RootsTech kicks off on 8 February.

But for now, what is turning out to be my biggest drama is, what clothing will I take?

I’ll be leaving Sydney at the height of our Australian summer and arriving in Salt Lake City, at the height of their winter. I think I am pretty well covered for the outdoor side of things – running (or will I be skiing) from accommodation to the Salt Palace Conference Centre or the Family History Library – but I’m not sure what to take for the indoors. Layered clothing sounds good but do I layer down to short sleeves or long?

All my besties know how much I hate the heat so I am currently leaning towards short sleeves for indoor activities. However, I will probably have to draw the line at shorts and thongs!



RootsTech 2017 – Innovator Showdown

After what can only be described as a very hectic couple of weeks in our household I have finally managed to get some time back at the computer to catch-up with all that is happening in genea-land.

Well that was the plan. However, the first item I came across was a blog post from a friend, and fellow RootsTech 2017 Ambassador, Jill Ball, announcing her participation in the semi-finalist judging for the RootsTech Innovator Showdown. What an honour it must have been to be part of the selection panel that evaluated  a massive 42 entries in the competition.

Hearty congratulations must go to the following trimmed down list of semi-finalists – all very deserving of their spot in the Innovator Showdown.

Champollion 2.0
CSI Crowd Sourced Indexing
Double Match Triangulator
OldNews USA

Each of the above Innovators, from around the world, will compete for $100,000 in prizes at the Showdown where five finalists will then pitch their innovative ideas on stage on 10 February 2017. You can read more about each of the 10 semi finalists at

Want to Visit RootsTech 2017 with a Friend?

A bonus of being an Ambassador for RootsTech 2017 is the fact I get to give away one complimentary 4-day pass to the event.

The pass includes:

  • 4-day pass to RootsTech 2017
  • Access to the Innovator Summit
  • Over 200 classes, keynote speakers and general sessions
  • Getting Started classes
  • Access to the Expo Hall
  • And Evening events

However, I also realise that there might not be too many people in Australia clamouring for a single 4-day pass that requires airfares, accommodation and meals to be added at personal cost. So, instead, I got together with recently crowned Gold Rockstar Genealogist, Kirsty Gray, and we’re offering a DOUBLE 4 DAY-PASS. After all, what better way to attend RootsTech 2017 than with a friend!

All you have to do is leave a comment on either Kirsty’s post of 6 Nov 2016 or on this post naming who you would like to take to RootsTech 2017. And, if you or your friend has already booked and paid for RootsTech 2017 you can still enter the draw and, if you win, a refund of your registration fee will be made by the organisers. But, remember, getting to and staying in, Salt Lake City is at your own expense so please only enter if you are serious – and make sure your nominated friend also enters to double your chance of winning.

Disclosure: Both Kirsty Gray and Jennie Fairs are RootsTech 2017 Ambassadors and received complimentary registration to RootsTech 2017, however, travel to and from RootsTech, accommodation etc is at their own private expense.

Kunta Kinte at RootsTech 2017

In April 1977, along with several million other Australians, I sat glued to local television over six nights watching the Alex Haley mini-series Roots.

While the show would go down in history as the first-ever blockbuster mini-series, for me it forged my strong passion for family history – something I had actually started the previous year when I had begun questioning my grandmother about her Scottish origins.

LeVar Burton

LeVar Burton

Starring as the young Kunta Kinte in 1977 was American actor LeVar Burton. Burton later went on to portray the role of chief engineer Geordi La Forge in the iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation television series, as well as hosting the PBS children’s series, Reading Rainbow, which ran from 1983 to 2009.

I find it quite ironic that in February 1977, 40 years on from Roots,  LeVar Burton will be the Friday keynote speaker at RootsTech – and I will be there to hear him!

Quoting from the FamilySearch announcement yesterday, Burton said:

The story of Roots traces a family’s journey from Africa to America and back. At RootsTech, I’ll share some of my own journey of family, storytelling and the influence of African culture on my American Experience.

RootsTech 2017

rootstech-logoWith the announcement of the official opening of registrations for RootsTech 2017, came a bright and colourful new website and publication of sessions and labs available throughout the conference.

The 4-day conference will offer attendees a full line-up of inspiring and well-known keynote speakers with more than 200 Breakout Sessions covering DNA, Tools, Photos, Stories, Organising and Discovery, including hands-on computer labs taught by industry professionals and leaders.

And then there is the interactive activities and exhibitors in the Expo Hall. Along with Innovation Alley, Discovery Zone and the Demo Theatre, RootsTech 2017 will see the introduction of two new events in the Expo Hall:

Coaches’ Corner will provide one-on-one mentoring from an expert genealogist; and

Heirloom Show and Tell where you can bring in any small item or photo of a large item you’ve been wondering about, and they’ll tell you about it.

Early bird discount pricing is available for a limited time with 4-day passes at just $159 and $189 for the RootsTech plus Innovator Summit pass. Passes for the Getting Started track start at $49 for a single day and $69 for a limited 3-day pass. All passes include access to the popular expo hall and morning keynote sessions.

Exercises 5, 6 and 7 of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog

Today, I find that I’m able to whizz through the next three exercises for various reasons.

For Exercise 5, I am, in fact, going to skip the exercise completely until I have grown a readership and can return to complete the exercise.

Onward to Exercise 6 where the challenge was “less about ‘doing’ and more about ‘learning’ and increasing your knowledge of blogging”. However, this exercise only required reading through a collection of helpful articles presented by ten successful  bloggers. This turned out to be a great exercise and one where I found some very useful and pertinent ideas that could easily be incorporated into my own blog writing.

And finally, Exercise 7 which was about writing a link post.  While there are many ways to write a link post, doing so should only be undertaken if linking to something of value. In his overview of the exercise, Darren Rowse, offers six types of link posts to consider:

  • Build upon the points of others
  • Take the opposite point of view
  • Build a resource on a topic
  • Speed linking
  • One question interviews
  • Suggest further reading and give examples

I’ve chosen to build a resource on a topic for this exercise and presently there is no better topic for me than RootsTech. I’m keen to read up on blogs relating to past RootsTech events that will prepare me for my upcoming role as an official ambassador at RootsTech 2017.

Among the wonderful assortment of posts returned by Dr Google for previous RootsTech conferences were some great reads by well-known genie bloggers including Thomas MacEntee writing for Geneabloggers, Kirsty Gray from Family Wise and Australia’s very own Jill Ball of GeniAus. However, the crème de la crème had to be Randy Seaver’s RootsTech 2016 Conference Blog Compendium. I know I am going to be very busy over the next few days reading through all of the articles posted by 73 separate bloggers that Randy was able to source.

Exercise 4 of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog

This exercise involved spending time on a successful blog in my niche so that I might observe the content, reader engagement, design, and monetization.

With genealogy, there are just so many great blogs out there that those I want to read regularly are added to my RSS FeedReader so that I can catch up with them when I have time. Sometimes this is weekly other times it is closer to monthly.

Picking one blog to scrutinise was difficult but I eventually settled on the FamilySearch blog. While not a money-making blog, I felt that it was one that is more than worthy of being a regular read.

The blog covers an inordinate amount of material taking in everything from community projects, new records, how to as well as why, photos and family history stories and, of course, everything to do with RootsTech.

New posts are uploaded every couple of days by either the team at FamilySearch or by guest bloggers and cover all levels of genealogy material for the beginners to the professional.

While the posts I looked at didn’t generate a lot of comment traffic, what comment there was showed that FamilySearch are certainly doing things right.

Tools and mediums used by the site include linking to their Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and G+ sites with options to subscribe to their blog via newsletters and RSS feeds.

But probably the best thing about the blog for me is the design – it is clean with plenty of white space and requires minimal interaction to move around.