First-Timer Impressions of RootsTech

After 20 years of doing genealogy, I thought it was about time I got myself to RootsTech, an enormous annual genealogy convention in Salt Lake City. A few first-timer impressions:

The positive

RootsTech expo hall of genealogy vendorsTech stuff – the wifi connection was awesome and there were charging stations everywhere for my hungry electronic devices. The charging station counter was just the right size for my personal-size pizza (that was satisfying my hunger) to sit nicely on the counter next to my plugged-in phone (satisfying its hunger). This is not trivial. I’ve been to so many meetings where connectivity is a huge and annoying issue.

Genealogy stuff – the Expo Hall has vendors exhibiting everything you could possibly want for genealogy. Software, fancy charts, cool scanners, vendors with new records available online, books, new apps, methods for creating family books, advice on preserving antique textiles and family heirlooms, people standing by to give you advice on navigating their websites, how-to presentations. It’s a veritable selling frenzy.

I confess that some exhibits left me thinking “Who could possibly need this?” And when I asked one of the fancy chart-making software firms why I needed their “working charts” when I had Family Tree Maker and nearby Fedex/Office Depot stores that could print on large-size paper, they admitted, “You don’t.”

Workshops – they have a wide variety of workshops on a wide variety of topics from research topics to family story gathering. Even workshops I wasn’t that excited about attending provided a few new tidbits of useful info.

Logistics – this conference is a well-oiled machine. It’s easy to find the rooms and events of the day, their app notifies you of room changes, registering is quick and easy, a herd of volunteers in green shirts are there to help. They are absolute Disney-esque in their efficiency with a smile.

Focus on youth – Saturday was “Family Discovery Day” to introduce kids/youth to family history. Fun and games like Genealogy Twister (“Anyone who had an ancestor fight in a war, right hand red!”) If you drag your family along to your genealogy conventions or live in Salt Lake City, this is a fun way to get kids interested.

The less positive

The convention definitely caters to the mainstream – beginning to intermediate genealogists, especially the vast majority of people who have roots in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, and to a lesser extent, Germany.

Although I didn’t expect to find information on my own “dead people demographic” (Germans who came from Ukraine and other parts of Central/Eastern Europe), I did expect there to be a good variety of genealogy workshops on advanced topics. While these did exist, there weren’t many and they were generally in the smaller rooms. I got shut out of three of the four advanced topic workshops I tried to attend. And I didn’t find the technology content all that advanced. Maybe that was in the workshops that filled up and I couldn’t go to.

Because this is such a prominent conference in the industry, I thought I would be learning something really solid, like (to use a food metaphor) a juicy steak and baked potato dinner. Instead, I felt that I only got cheese and crackers. A tasty snack, but not the substantial meal I was expecting. It left me wanting more.

If I go again, I’ll be a lot more aggressive and cutthroat in getting into the classes I want.

The biggest highlight? Meeting a distant cousin who I’d only corresponded with by email. When you’re searching for dead people, it’s always fun to actually find a live one.


  1. Anita on February 28, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Hi Carolyn! Fun to read your report, and I was glad you attended my class on ancestral travel and told me about your book afterwards. I bought it and wished I’d known about it before I did my presentation, you have some great ideas! I especially liked how you called them “trip deal-breakers.” Happy heritage trails!

  2. Carolyn on February 28, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    Hi Anita! I’m so glad you liked my book. It’s great to find a kindred spirit in heritage travel. 🙂

    BTW – I just added a link to your website from my Heritage Travel page.

  3. Bobbi King on March 20, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    Agree with your comments about lack of advanced genealogy to learn about.
    Love your last sentence!

  4. Carolyn on March 20, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    @Bobbi 🙂

  5. Donn Dufford on March 21, 2016 at 9:53 pm

    Thanks. As veteran, have never gone. Keep thinking about it. So Calif Genealogical Society Jamboree is solid for advanced folks. Appreciate your input. Found out about your book from Dick Eastman. Great resource for those planning to find their home town. I visited my tiny home village in France last summer and was fortunate (with the help of a professional family historian there, and an Internet friend there) actually found my family’s house. Still there nearly 300 years and Nazi bombing later. Amazing life-altering adventure. Thanks again.

  6. Carolyn on March 22, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    @Donn – that’s awesome! I’ve found one house in Ukraine that I believe belonged to my grandmother’s family, but that’s much more recent than your discovery. I’ve never been able to get to that level of specificity in Germany.

    Would you be at all interested in writing a guest blog post about your experience in France? I have a special section of my blog just for that!

    I actually am signed up to go to Jamboree – looking forward to it!