Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Looking Back on Tessa’s Excellent RootsTech/FGS Adventure

Everything has been unpacked and the luggage put away (a few things are still on the floor in the guest bedroom!), the laundry and grocery shopping got done, the emails were sorted (and ruthlessly archived or deleted), telephone catch-ups were had with siblings and friends who wanted to hear all about it, and I caught up on my sleep. Last week I did reasonably well writing posts about my week in Salt Lake City and then, the weekend came early. 

The Pacific Northwest has been blessed with lovely weather – beautiful blue skies, unseasonably warm days and very little rain (of course those who like to ski would disagree with me as it has not been a good ski season). I know that much of the rest of the country continues to host the winter from hell, so I am happy that my recent travels have kept me out of the Nation’s capital (or anywhere in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest or even Southwest). Now it is time to get back and finish up my posts about RootsTech/FGS 2015 by sharing my experiences as a first time speaker for RootsTech and my final thoughts on the whole experience.

Image made with wordle.net - thanks

RootsTech and FGS put on an excellent conference

I was impressed with the efficiency and professionalism of those who put the conference together and who were there volunteering day in and day out to give us attendees a great experience.  The signage was excellent, the ballrooms and session rooms were comfortable and well lit, and the conference guide contained everything you needed to navigate the Salt Palace, the Exhibit Hall, and the Session choices. As with any guide you needed to take the time (in advance) to understand the layout, but the color-coding and maps were well done.

I had to remind myself that although some sessions seemed basic or old hat to me (sessions I have seen before in person or as webinars) the vast majority of genealogists do not attend seminars and conferences or webinars, and many haven’t used FamilySearch.org or any of the other big players (Ancestry, FindmyPast and MyHeritage), except perhaps as a quick free trial. It would be interesting to see the demographics on the attendees because I noticed a tremendous variation (experience level) between the people attending RootsTech sessions and those attending FGS sessions. Kudos to RootsTech for encouraging beginners to join in and have so much available to engage them.

Both RootsTech and FGS did a good job of including a variety of skill levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced). Of course the actual delivery of information via sessions was done by the speakers and a huge thank you to those who took the time and effort to prepare, provide useful handouts, and share entertaining and applicable slide presentations. Those who took the time to switch up sessions they had given before (adding new information, new websites, or new technology) or who stayed in the hallways and exhibit areas to answer questions – you really paid it forward and encouraged so many new genealogists.  

My RootsTech Speaker Experience

The online proposal process was excellent and very clear to this newbie. We learned on a timely basis whether a proposal was accepted and what the RootsTech deadlines were. We had a contact person (Amy Smith the RootsTech Content Manager) who hosted two recorded webinars to explain the logistics for our presentations and provide suggestions/tips. Having a clear understanding of the requirements, technology and deadlines was very helpful and having the speakers’ area on the RootsTech website to check off our deadlines was excellent. On a few occasions I had questions and Amy was always quick to reply with the information needed. I appreciated meeting Amy in person before the conference started and the personal thank you note and gift in our conference bag was a thoughtful touch.

Having not presented at a national conference before I was a bit nervous – but having all the equipment set up (projector, computer, and mics) as well as the tech guy (sorry I didn't get his name) who performed the sound check and confirmed I was “good to go” and that he would be around if anything glitched, put me right at ease. My room monitor Karen gave out my handouts, provided timing prompts, and collected the surname cards I asked the attendees to fill out. Knowing these two RootsTech personnel had my back let me concentrate on the content of my presentation rather than the logistics - thanks. The projector set-up was perfect, my slide presentation took advantage of Amy’s tips and suggestions, and everything went smoothly during my session. A huge thank you to everyone involved behind the scenes who made me look good!

Thoughts on Possible Improvements

Please leave the after conference surveys open for two weeks – I saw it in my email and simply needed to get caught up with real life and process the experience before I shared my thoughts/opinions (and I do have them!). I starred it in Gmail and tried to respond last weekend – and was met with CLOSED. Say it ain’t so RootsTech. I think a subtle reminder and giving attendees and speakers enough time to share a thoughtful response would be a very good thing.

Please revisit the concept of unconferencing or short demonstrations/labs that are not tied to having an exhibitor’s booth. It would be nice to have a place where 5-15 people could gather and work through something we learned at a session or try a practical application of a website or piece of technology. I have seen this in action as medical and legal conferences and it works well (often these sessions are 10-15 minutes and require a sign up with 24-hour advance notice – it can work well for attendees). I found the Demo Theater a bit loud and distracting, especially for those with booths nearby who were often drowned out by the microphoned presenters on the Demo Theater stage).

Could we have a return of tickets for luncheons and events – I signed up for a luncheon that turned out to be scheduled the day of my session (and my session was right after lunch). Needless to say due to logistics, I could not attend. No one could attend in my place because I didn't have a ticket that I could give them. This year our events were listed on our registration card (and mine did not have all my events and had to be rerun twice – glitches happen, no worries as it was handled fine). But if I had a ticket for the event I could have easily given it to another member of our group (the Guild of One-Name Studies) and s/he could have attended in my place. I noticed a number of people who had these type of conflicts (luncheons and speaking schedules was one, being just too tired to attend an evening function was another). I watched a few attendees trying to switch, return or give away their event and it was not easy. You might want to rethink the ticket idea.

It would be nice to have simple boxed lunches from places like Panera, Subway, Nordstrom, Harmons, or any local equivalents (sandwich or bakery shops) available at the Salt Palace – I was less than impressed with the choices available from the food vendors and there were a few who did not seem to enjoy the experience either (and they were happy to share, odd when you consider we were a captive audience and paying a premium for marginal service and food). Also when you are traveling, sometimes the tried and true is the best choices for meals.

Encourage the use of the RootsTech Mobile App – perhaps have some prizes or giveaways based on using the mobile app (a treasure hunt or points for people you add to friends and then contact, or some such). Please encourage attendees to use the app (opening sessions that include something about it - maybe everyone rating the session before they leave), rate the speakers and sessions, make suggestions and share one or two aha moments from any of the sessions (with prizes or announcements of the funniest, most entertaining or most touching). The RootsTech mobile app continues to improve each year and it was constantly updated which was helpful (except for that one time when I walked a rather far distance only to discover a session canceled with no notice on the mobile app – back to Siberia the FGS classrooms on the other end of the Salt Palace). Ramp up the user experience and RootsTech will have itself a winner!  

My Final and Very Personal Thank You

A shout-out to my biggest supporter – my sister Kris who encouraged me to send in proposals, offered support in (very) big and small ways that made it possible for me to attend and speak at RootsTech rather than view it from a distance, sent “good vibes” text messages to me throughout the week, said a few prayers (and reminded me of the one that got me through many exams) right before the start of my session, reminded me to “have fun,” and who was the first one who wanted to hear all about my excellent genealogy adventure after my return. Kris is an amazing sister (and I have a few more of those) and a really good friend who always has my back and who gets the importance of family and family history.

Kris – you are simply the best!  Go raibh mile maith agat & Grazie mille  

Sisters in Springtime - boy our bangs are short!

Well that brings us to the end of my blog posts sharing my experience at RootsTech/FGS. 

In the next week I will put the finishing touches on the recorded version of my presentation (and I do remember that I promised the session attendees I would do so) which will be posted on my YouTube Channel TessaWatch.

This month I am working on those responses to the surname cards that 75 of you filled out. We had a variety of surnames - with Czech, Irish, Hungarian, Italian, English, Russian, Welsh, Scottish, German, Polish, Slavic, French, Chinese, Mexican, Greek, Spanish, Ukrainian, and Native American origins. Attendees wanted to know about the meaning, frequency, migration, and resources associated with their surnames. 

Over the next few weeks here at the KeoughCorner, I will take a look at a few of the most interesting surnames (as well as a few that stumped me!). Each attendee who turned in a surname card will receive an email with some information, resources, and suggestions for "learning more about it" - this is an ongoing process, so be sure to watch your email later this month!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

It’s All About the Learning – So Many Choices!

Being the planner that I am, I prepared pink sheets for each day of RootsTech/FGS. They included my first and second choices for each session as well as reminders of morning, luncheon, and evening events that I wanted to attend (all filled out before arriving in Salt Lake City). I also had the RootsTech app and the FGS app (although the FGS app was a bit glitchy for me as I could not get it to close – don’t know if it was the app or my mobile but I did find myself relying on the RootsTech app which would close). Then I picked up my registration materials and had to check my card against what I had signed up and paid for – also a few glitches there, but hey that happens and the administrative people were very helpful in making corrections and reprinting.

Why the pink sheets? Well I could easily find them in my RootsTech Conference Guide or my Bullet Journal. I made a few quick notes on them (not on substance but on presentation or vibe) about each of the sessions or events I attended. By the end of each day, the pink sheets were well-worn but it worked for me (I guess I am a bit old school and new school tech-wise). What did you use and how did it work for you?

The RootsTech Opening Session was brilliant and thanks to my early morning tour (you can read about that in yesterday’s blog post) us Geneabloggers, FGS and RootsTech Ambassadors had reserved seats in the front center section (thanks RootsTech folks – that was a nice touch!). Others have written about Tan Le and her talk – my only comment – if you haven’t seen it yet, watch it – what an amazing story and what a heartfelt presentation. Really, stop reading this post (but please come back) and watch it!

Okay, thanks for coming back – onward. The introductory remarks by Dennis Brimhall were excellent. I was impressed with the numbers (shown on bright slides, meant to dazzle us and they did). More impressive were three specific items he discussed.

And RootsTech begins!

The letter he read from Darris Williams was a good reminder that we are not going to “find it all” in one place or even with one subscription or company. By using records and information from Ancestry, FindmyPast, MyHeritage and FamilySearch – Darris was able to put together his family’s history and connect to a larger family. I was thrilled to hear this story because I met Darris the previous day and learned he has a one-name study (Colt) and is a member of the Guild of One-Name Studies. Darris’ story of discovery reminds us of the importance of looking beyond our own family to make those connections to our bigger family. By studying and gathering data, images, information and stories on all the Colts (and placing his data on the FamilySearch Tree) he is adding value and sharing his research with the larger genealogy community. It is all about doing the work, making the connections, and sharing the results – brilliant!

with all the tweets it must have been trending!
The discovery center was unveiled and shown to us in a playful and entertaining way (can I just say that Dennis Brimhall is so relaxed now with a few RootsTech conferences under his belt that it was fun to watch this - oh, and I want to be a pirate). He introduced the “museum of me” concept (and wouldn't we all want one!) with the ability to learn the meaning, origin and migration associated with our surname. Hey – that guy is stealing my session – no – wait, I definitely need to use this as an example in my session on surname research and one-name studies, better take some photos! The discovery center is live in Salt Lake City and will be coming to a city near you in the future (happy to hear that Seattle, Washington will be one of the pilot locations).

It is fun but also informative - a good way
to meet people where they are and get them started.

Definitely a WOW factor!

The meaning and origin of a surname - brilliant!

Where will your "museum of me" be located?
The news that Ancestry and FamilySearch were working together to bring the Mexican vital records online with images and indexing in 2015 was a wonderful example of each company sharing its strengths and joining as a team, all for the greater good of the genealogy community. My first thought on hearing the news was that this type of record set will make it much easier for anyone doing research and much easier to work on a one-name study with Mexican roots. Since the Guild of One-Name Studies is a worldwide group, we want to encourage those with an interest in their Mexican roots (whether located in Mexico or the Southwest USA States or elsewhere in the world) to study their surnames and start one-name studies.

Excellent news - thanks Ancestry and FamilySearch
It's all about collaboration!

I love it when people and companies work together
we get so much more done - teamwork!
After the opening session – it was time to check the pink sheet for the day! Below is a list of the sessions I attended on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  I chose these sessions because I wanted to expand my knowledge base about record sets and ethnic groups that are important to use with my own family research and/or would be helpful to use with the USA membership of the Guild of One-Name Studies. There were a few sessions that I could not attend due to timing conflicts – but they are on my list for future attendance. These include Native American, African American, Jewish, and Hispanic records and research (I would love to see tracks on this type of research at future RootsTech conferences).

21st Century Italian Genealogy with Michael Cassara
Irish Records – Beyond the Obvious with Rosalind McCutcheon
The Best Scandinavian Websites with Anita Olsen

Impossible Immigrant! Exhausting Research to Find an Ancestor’s Origins with Warren Bittner
Who Does That? An Introduction to One-Name (Surname) Studies with Tessa Keough (shameless plug!)

Beyond the Census: The Nonpopulation Schedules with Deena Coutant
Manuscripts and More with Pamela Boyer Sayre
School Daze – Finding the School Records of Our Ancestors with Peggy Lauritzen 

Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest!
I also made a point to attend sessions taught by new-to-me speakers. We often get the opportunity to hear Thomas MacEntee, Judy Russell, Thomas Jones and Lisa Louise Cooke. They are well known speakers and are in demand at statewide, regional and national conferences, as well as online webinars. Since I was at RootsTech/FGS and there were all those choices, I wanted the opportunity to hear other speakers and less well known topics, so I made a point to search out these focused presentations. I took lots of notes and learned the basics as well as how to find and use specific record sets highlighted in these talks. Beyond that, I was able to appreciate not only the substance but also the style of each of the speakers and that was a good learning experience.

Denna showed me how to solider on even with allergies, Pamela quickly recovered and showed a sense of humor with the glitches she experienced with her projector/computer combo, Peggy had such a relaxed and entertaining way about her (that can only come from really knowing your material) that she made it look effortless. The amount of information (websites, ideas, strategies) shared by Michael, Rosalind, Anita and Warren as they each addressed specific groups (let’s hear it for the Italians, Irish & Scandinavians!) as well as those always hard to find immigrants (or at least on the censuses I am researching) was wonderful. My only concern is when I will find the time to dive deep into all those genealogy finds.

As you can see, I did not attend every opening or closing session or schedule myself back-to-back with sessions, or attend sessions only with RootsTech or FGS. I definitely took the time to visit with other attendees, watched some Demo Theatre sessions and Out of the Box sessions, did not overload my schedule, gave myself time to check out the Exhibit Hall for a short bit each day, and stopped for meals and shopping (thank you Macys for having Ellen Tracy on sale!). No worries on getting my walking in as these sessions were all over the Salt Palace.

When we attend a statewide, regional or national conference, let's get outside our comfort zone and learn something (an ethnic group or record set) that we are unfamiliar with. Water that genealogy tree and watch it grow! 

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net ID-10064502
Thanks RootsTech and FGS for providing all of us who attended (in person or virtually) that opportunity.

Did you attend the Thursday, Friday and Saturday sessions? How did you spend your time? What sessions did you go to? What did you learn? Why not share your experiences (either comment below or tell us in your blog).

Tomorrow – What I learned being a first time presenter and my final thoughts on a VERY BIG conference.