As many of you already know, I had the opportunity to attend the Rootstech genealogy conference at the beginning of this month. To say the least, I was excited to finally be able attend this year and, as expected, I learned SO MUCH.
Some of you may be considering attending a future Rootstech event. While no two people will come away from such an event with the exact same experience, perhaps my thoughts here may clarify, at least a little bit, what you can expect from the world’s largest family history conference.
Before I begin I should probably tell you that I did not get to enjoy Rootstech in its entirety. Unlike the many people who travel from out of town solely to participate in this conference, I, as a local, still had to balance my normal day to day responsibilities with my course attendance. Besides all this, I missed half of Friday’s classes and all of Saturday’s to be with my family during a difficult time. I did not attend any general sessions, computer labs or sponsored lunches. That said, I still think my abbreviated time allowed for me to see what this conference is about and hopefully offer some tips for future participants.
I think above all, Rootstech is exciting! The expo hall alone is “the stuff dreams are made of” with booth after booth of genealogy related products and services. I can think of no other instance where you can be surrounded by so many like-minded people who share your passion for finding ancestors. Perhaps best of all is the opportunity Rootstech affords those of us who are just hungry to learn. We all want to become better genealogists, right? Well, no matter your skill level or research interest, there are Rootstech classes for you.
In fact, the variety of activities are so plentiful, you will likely NOT be able to learn, see and do everything you would like to. In nearly every block of classroom time, I with difficulty had to choose between no less than 3 classes I wanted to attend — not to mention trying to find time to speak to all the expo hall vendors in the time between classes and during lunch. The good news is that if you sign up for the entire event, you can download the syllabi to ALL of the classroom sessions. So even if you didn’t get to attend a class you really wanted to, you still have an opportunity to learn something from that instructor on that topic.
So, with this said, here are my tips for anyone considering attending Rootstech for the first time.
1. Plan ahead – Download the Rootstech app on your mobile device and schedule the classes you most want to attend. Keep in mind that your personalized schedule is a merely an organizational tool. All classes are first come first serve so be sure you know WHERE you need to be and WHEN. Arrive early. I, unfortunately lost out when I read the wrong classroom number for a popular session. By the time I realized my mistake and walked to the correct classroom, almost every seat was taken. I took a calculated risk and sat in a seat that although empty of a person, had a conference bag on top of it. Two minutes before the start of the session, the person who put her bag on the seat walked in and I had to leave. By the time I reached the classroom for my second choice of class, it was full too. Although the seat saving practice is questionable to say the least, I should have gotten to the initial classroom earlier. So, my bad.
Besides making sure you leave plenty of time to get to the classes you want, also be sure to download and, if you like taking pen and paper notes, print the class syllabi ahead of time. I was shocked by how many people failed to do so. I saw so many people frustrated because the syllabi weren’t being handed out (which in my honest opinion is a bit of an unreasonable expectation) or when they didn’t have time to copy the presenter’s slideshow word for word.
2. Be prepared to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Set reasonable time expectations – Rootstech is huge. That’s part of its excitement and appeal. However, if you plan to do EVERYTHING at Rootstech, you will be tired before long. Which is fine. Just know what to expect. It’s like traveling to the destination of a lifetime. Do everything you can while you are there, but be prepared to need a vacation from your vacation.
If you are planning on attending Rootstech AND researching at the Family History Library on the same days, just know something will likely have to give. Consider arriving early or staying after the conference to conduct your research, or choose to give up some of what Rootstech has to offer in order to have the time and energy to devote to the FHL.
The best time to explore the expo hall is honestly during a block of time set aside for classroom instruction. To me, classroom time was more important than exploring the expo, so I only set foot in the expo hall during its busiest times – lunch and between classes. It is obviously a lot harder to get your questions answered when you are fighting crowds.
3. Choose classes based on skill level as well as topic – I took away something from EVERY single class session I attended. However, I was most satisfied with the classes I took which fell under the “advanced” category. Some of the beginner or intermediate sessions, while still informative, felt a bit underwhelming, like the instructors could have addressed many more points in the time allotted but chose to reinforce one main point. Obviously, the attendee must honestly evaluate his or her skill level and choose classes accordingly. Look beyond the catchy titles and consider the class description, skill level and instructor bio.
4. Download the syllabus to every class which interests you – To me, the opportunity to have the syllabus from every class offered at Rootstech is alone worth the price of attendance. As I said earlier, you likely won’t be able to attend every session, so if nothing else, read the syllabi!!
5. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and network, but keep your expectations reasonable. All those genealogists under one roof! Some of the best in the business! Yes, you can network at Rootstech and don’t be afraid to do so. Not everyone wants to talk, but many people do. Nevertheless, keep in mind that EVERYBODY is busy at Rootstech. A smaller genealogy conference or better yet, a genealogical institute are likely better networking events to really get your name out there.
6. Don’t be “that” genealogist – A fellow genealogist at Rootstech remarked something to the effect that genealogists as a whole are notorious for being cheap, for complaining about everything and for nitpicking at other genealogists. I thought about this later. Genealogy can be an expensive hobby. When it comes to my own personal research, a lot of things need to get put on the back burner simply because I can’t afford to send away for every record I would like right now. Does that make me cheap?
Is it a bad thing that genealogists are sticklers for accuracy? Not necessarily. It keeps us ethical. As with anything, there is a wrong way and a right way to go about things. I think perhaps, the behavior of a few can give the rest of us a bad name. And I got a say, I witnessed some bad behavior at Rootstech.
Complaining — I heard a lot. At one point, I met some people who worked for Familysearch. I thanked them for what they do and remarked on how great a service FamilySearch is for genealogists (People: Its free! Millions of records!!). Imagine my surprise when these individuals told me I was the first person who had anything positive to say them about the website and how everybody else they talked to told them everything they thought was wrong with it.
Rude behavior: Please, don’t be the person to throw your coat on the coat check table without waiting in line or paying the nominal fee who then walks away.
And yes, it is a violation of copyright to take photos of every slideshow in a presentation. So, please don’t keep doing so when the instructor nicely asks you not to.
Ok, I’m done lecturing. Rant over.
7. Enter the Giveaways – You never know, you might win something great! I was very excited this year to receive an email from NGS saying I had won a drawing I had entered at Rootstech for free enrollment in their new class, “Researching Your World War I Ancestors.” Never expected I would actually win, but here I am, enjoying this class immensely. Perhaps I’ll write a review when I’ve completed the course.
In short, I thought Rootstech was great. I am very grateful to everyone who helped make it happen.
If you missed this year’s conference, you can still watch a number of sessions here.