RootsTech London 2019 - A Worthwhile Event?
Updated: Aug 31
What is RootsTech?
Anyone with an interest in genealogy and who reads family history magazines, subscribes to blogs or online forums will have seen the ads and chats about the big genealogy conferences and wonder whether it’s worth the journey and expense of attending.
When #RootsTech advertised that they were coming to London for the first time and that they were going to provide a three-day conference from 24 – 26 October 2019, I was intrigued and wanted to find out more and wondered if would live up to the hype.
For those who don’t know, #RootsTech is a family history and technology conference and trade show that is held each year in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. The first RootsTech was held in February 2011 drawing about 3000 attendees and by 2018, it was claimed to be the biggest genealogy conference, having attracted 28,000 attendees, with thousands more watching sessions online. [i]
RootsTech describe themselves as [ii]
'a global family history event where people of all ages learn to discover, share, and celebrate their family connections across generations through technology. At RootsTech, there is something for everyone, no matter your experience in family history or your skill level in technology.’
#FamilySearch International is the hosting organisation of RootsTech – FamilySearch will be familiar to those of you who use their excellent (and free!) website to access millions of family history records from around the world. It is affiliated to the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, known better in the UK and Ireland as the Mormons.
The Salt Lake City conference includes a ‘Discovery Day’ for members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, but this didn’t seem to be a feature of the London conference. [iii]
You can access FamilySearch records here:
Where Was #RootsTechLondon held?
The conference was held in the ExCel Centre London – it’s on a 100-acre site in the docklands (part of the old Royal Victoria Dock) and close to London City Airport. The ExCel Centre is so big that it’s got two Docklands Light Railway (DLR) stops to ensure you don’t have too far to walk to your required entrance.
There are a range of hotels nearby and plenty of places to eat, both in the ExCel and outside. [iv]
What Were The Options for Attending #RootsTechLondon?
I had a three-day pass as I wanted to soak up the whole experience and attend as many lectures and keynote sessions as I could, but there were other options which included:
Free access to the Exhibition Hall only
A One Day Pass for any one of the three days, costing £49 which provided access to classes and the keynote session for that day
A Three-Day Pass for all three days, costing £99 which provided access to the classes and keynote session each day
A Virtual Pass – costing £49 for those who did not attend in person or an additional £19 for anyone who had purchased a One-Day or a Three-Day Pass. This allows nine months access to 20 recorded classes that can be watched on your smartphone, tablet or computer
The RootsTech App and Human Helpers
Attendees were given the option to download the RootsTech App; this was a very nifty tool that gave information about the classes, allowed you to plan your schedule and to download handouts from the classes. It also included information about the keynote speakers, the exhibitors and other attendees, allowing you to connect with them along with useful tools to get around London. I found the app a beneficial addition to the overall experience.
The RootsTechLondon staff deserve a mention too – there were lots of them, easily identified as they were dressed in turquoise tee-shirts and they were helpful, friendly, approachable and willing to take photos - see below.
The Exhibition Hall
The Exhibition Hall featured large stands from all the main sponsors (Ancestry, FamilySearch and Find My Past) as well as stands from different organisations including family history societies and those launching new products. A few of those that I stopped to chat with included:
FIBIS – Families in British India Society
University of Strathclyde where I met up with former tutors
Register of Qualified Genealogists where I met fellow students and members
FACHRS - Family and Community Historical Research Society
Irish Genealogical Research Society
Pen and Sword Books – who did a roaring trade with their popular range of books
Ministry of Defence – providing help to trace military ancestors and identifying medals
Patronomia – a company that enables you to print your own family history books
Name and Place – a new online database and mapping applications that can be used with one-place studies, one-name studies and local and family history studies
As well as the various exhibitors’ stands, the Exhibition Hall had a Demo Theatre where various organisations spoke about their products, a Cyber Café where you could get catch up on emails and social media or carry out some research, a DNA Basics Learning Centre where there were regular classes and a Coaches Corner where you could seek help on specific topics. Ancestry and Family Search also provided regular free mini sessions in the Exhibition Hall.
I spied the blogger Dick Eastman in the Exhibition Hall – I didn’t get to speak to him but he gave the conference a glowing review in his Online Genealogy Newsletter that you can access here:
One to Watch – Reliving Limited
One new product that I was particularly impressed with was Reliving. Mike Beck, Reliving’s CEO explained it to me – it’s a digital time capsule where you can create and store digital files that includes photographs, videos, diaries and documents and that can be shared among your selected family. Even when a family member has passed on, their memories have been captured and kept safe and secure online and available for future generations. The digital time capsule can be added to by new family members who are invited to be part of the group. The company is also working with health organisations and people with dementia to help capture their memories during reminiscence therapy. All in all, I think this is a wonderful idea and I wish Reliving much success. You can find out more about their product here:
For me, this was one of the best things about the conference. Classes started at 09.00am, 1.00pm, 2.00pm, 3.30pm and 4.30pm each day with a wide range of topics to choose from. They were graded Beginner, Intermediate, Professional and Advanced, although most fell into the Beginner and Intermediate brackets.
Even though the classrooms were large, I was disappointed that Maurice Gleeson’s talk on ‘Using Genetic Genealogy Techniques to Identify An Adoptee’s Birth Family’ was full to capacity, with the result that I, along with quite a few others couldn’t get into it.
However, on the plus side, there were plenty of other options and I was able to find another class of interest – there were a total of 137 classes listed in the catalogue over the three days and it was fantastic to see so many well known names in genealogy delivering them.
I was pleased to finally get to meet colleague Caroline Guntur aka The Swedish Organiser who delivered a class on cloud solutions for photos and memory management.
The Keynote Sessions
The Keynote Sessions were at 11.00am each day.
Thursday 24 Oct - Dan Snow, historian, broadcaster and television presenter.
Friday 25 Oct - Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International and Kadeena Cox, a British Paralympic Gold Medallist.
Saturday 26 Oct – Donny Osmond, singer, songwriter, actor, television series host, and best-selling author.
Nick Barratt who is known for his work on Who Do You Think You Are?, House Detectives, Hidden House Histories, Secrets from the Attic, and Missing Millions and as the author of several books was the host.
Dan Snow’s talk was very enjoyable and even though I was more of Glam Rock kinda girl back in the day, Donny Osmond’s session was excellent too. He interspersed his talk with a look back at his younger self when he started singing on the Andy Williams Show aged five and spoke about the importance of family and recording your memories. He also gave us a few songs - he still has a terrific singing voice. Donny Osmond came across as a genuinely nice person, even when there was a huge queue in the Exhibition Hall to meet him afterwards.
An Added Bonus – MCM Comic Con London
MCM Comic Con was also in ExCel London from 25 – 27 October which meant that we got to share trains and the ExCel building with Hans Solo, Bat Girl, Batman, Cat Woman, Darth Vadar, Harry Potter, Deadpool and many others. DLR got in on the act and played Harry Potter music when the train doors opened which was great for adding to the atmosphere - the crowds going to Comic Con were a really good-humoured bunch.
Were There Any Downsides to #RootsTechLondon?
I’d say just a few minor niggles, such as the RootsTech folk being restricted to certain areas of the food court when Comic Con was on and the lack of a list for the talks scheduled in the Demo Area.
It is fairly expensive to attend when you factor in flights, hotels, food and the RootsTech pass, although obviously, the cost is going to be less for people who live within daily commuting distance. Luckily, I was able to combine the trip with a visit to family, so for me it was all worth it.
Although there was a very respectable number of exhibitors, I was surprised that there weren’t more family history societies and professional organisations. For example, I’m a member of the North of Ireland Family History Society (NIFHS) and also of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), neither of whom were in attendance. Of course, that is not down to RootsTech but to those organisations and I don’t know their reasons for not going.
Will RootsTech return to London?
The RootsTech website has provided dates of planned conferences in Salt Lake City, Utah until 2025, but no dates have been provided for London, so it isn’t clear whether they plan to make London a regular event.
The good news is that if you weren’t able to attend in person and would like to get a flavour of what it was all about, the folks at RootsTech have made recordings of the keynote sessions and a number of the workshop sessions are available and free to view at this link:
It looks as if you can still buy the Virtual Passes as well.
#RootsTechLondon – Was it a Worthwhile Event?
So to answer the question as to whether it was worthwhile attending, I’d say definitely. It was slick, well-organised with a great range of learning and networking opportunities and interesting speakers. I’m sure that if RootsTechLondon becomes an annual event, it will only go from strength to strength.
About the Author
Natalie Bodle, a native of Northern Ireland is the author of the Roots Blog and founder of Roots Revealed. She is a professionally qualified genealogist and is a member of APG. She is also a qualified tour guide and a member of TGNI.
Roots Revealed provides genealogy research services to clients who are searching for their Irish, Northern Irish and Scots-Irish ancestors, in addition to genealogy tours and family history courses. For more information about the full range of services provided by Roots Revealed, please visit www.rootsrevealed.co.uk or get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] Wikipedia. RootsTech. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RootsTech: accessed 05 November 2019.
[ii] RootsTech. (2019) FAQ’s. What is RootsTech? https://www.rootstech.org/frequently-asked-questions : accessed 05 November 2019.
[iii] RootsTech. (2019) FAQ’s. What is Family Discover Day? https://www.rootstech.org/frequently-asked-questions : accessed 05 November 2019.
[iv] ExCel London. (2019) https://www.excel.london : accessed 05 November 2019.