RootsTech 2013

It has taken me awhile to absorb the implications of everything I learned at RootsTech.  It was an amazing three days of new ideas about how to pursue genealogy, and certainly has changed how I approach my own research.  Of course, I also took advantage of all the wonderful resources at the Family History Library... and even made a rather significant breakthrough on one of my problem ancestors!

The overwhelming theme was Web 2.0 and all that it makes possible:  think Facebook, Wikipedia, Youtube, Pinterest, Instagram, Yelp, TripAdvisor...... The web is no longer a place where we passively retrieve information.  We are now part of a virtual community, where we interact and collaborate with each other as both creators and consumers of information.

So it is inevitable that interaction and collaboration, this sharing of bits and pieces of our lives, would extend to genealogy.  At Rootstech, I saw four major trends that will change how we pursue family history.

The first is incorporating family stories into our genealogies.  Family history is really about families, and you draw new people into genealogy when you can hook into their emotions through family stories.  The most effective stories are the ones about those everyday moments that seem so ordinary, but which are precisely what evoke the most memories.  We were challenged to think about what our descendants will wish we had saved for them about our lives, and start capturing those memories.

Another major trend is the use of crowd sourcing to index the massive amount of data that is being digitized and brought online.  Crowd sourcing is when a task or problem is sent out to an undefined public to work on, rather than to a specific group.  The 1940 census indexing project last year was a major success because of how quickly it was completed, and at virtually no cost.  Indexing newspapers was identified as a high priority for the future because of how poorly OCR software reads newsprint.  Searches on uncorrected text will miss 4 out of 6 occurrences of a search term.

Online collaboration was the third major theme.  While users have contributed family trees online for many years, they have always been independent trees that exist side by side.  What's new today is the concept of a single human family tree, that anyone can add to or edit.  To my mind, FamilySearch is making the most efforts to ensure that this is done responsibly -- they identify every user who makes a change, provide tools for citing sources and initiating discussions and they have moderators to arbitrate disputes.

Autosomal DNA testing was the final trend that everyone was talking about at the conference -- especially after Ancestry CEO Tim Sullivan announced that they were dropping the price for the test to $99. proposes to extend their "shaky leaf" technology for data matching to DNA tests, thereby allowing customers to find relatives even in situations where the paper trails don't exist.  When you think about it, this is really an amazing feat of computing.  The autosomal tests look at roughly 700,000 SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms...that's as much as I can tell you!) compared with about 47 for the mitochondrial and Y chromosome tests that most people currently use.  So in theory, Ancestry is proposing to compare your 700,000 SNPs with roughly a million family trees in their system, AND continue to measure your data against any new data that is entered into the system.  Apparently, this kind of number crunching just wasn't possible until very recently.

So, I'm left with the question:  how do I use this information?

I've definitely been inspired to capture family stories from older generations while they are still around, and create multi-media presentations to share with family members.  I'm working on scanning photos and have even filmed a skype conversation with my father-in-law about his experiences in WWII
(note to self:  next time, use a tripod! I got a little seasick watching the video....)

This isn't exactly Web 2.0, but I bought a logitech keyboard for my iPad just before the trip, and was astounded at the difference it made when I was in the Family History Library:
I am now able to transcribe directly from the microfilm!  In the past, I've tried using a laptop, but found there was no place to put it, and it was awkward to stow away in my bag if I had to get up to get another film.  The iPad just snapped into the keyboard and slipped into my bag if I had to walk away, and opened up just where I left it.  Now that makes a computer useful!

Stay tuned, because next time I will tell you how I've integrated Evernote into my routine, and what it all means for my Research templates in Bento.  It's an exciting time for genealogy!