For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what does technology have to do with family history? I am a 1973 BYU graduate in Genealogy Technology and have seen enormous growth and changes these past 40 years as we have moved full-throttle into the scientific era of doing genealogy. Modern technology is key in the discovery, identification, documentation and authentication of the Family Tree of Man, and FamilySearch is at the forefront. RootsTech 2012, hosted by FamilySearch with the theme “Innovation Through Collaboration”, brought this brightly into the spotlight this past weekend.

From February 2-4, 2012, this 2nd Annual Conference held in the worldwide center of family history in Salt Lake City, Utah, brought together thousands of people with diverse interests in genealogy and technology. From its opening keynote address by Jay Verkler, former President and CEO of FamilySearch, where he predicted that 7 billion people would be doing genealogy by the year 2060, RootsTech offered lectures, workshops, and unconference events designed to help technologists, genealogists and users collaborate and increase future capabilities of genealogy and family history work.

How does this impact those who desire to do their part in fulfilling the mandate of Malachi and turning their hearts to their fathers? What does RootsTech 2012 mean to Meridian readers? First we must know the role of modern technology in the spiritual realm of history and then we will share concepts, experiences, and comments from the classes, presenters and participants of RootsTech 2012..    

Book of Mormon Combines Faith with Modern Technology

Approximately 2600 years ago, the Book of Mormon Prophet Lehi and his family were encamped in the Arabian wilderness many miles south of Jerusalem. On this particular occasion, as related in 1 Nephi 16, The Lord commanded that Lehi was to move his family and others in their party to a new location. The scriptural account tells us that the following morning, upon going to the entrance of his tent, Lehi discovered a round brass ball of curious workmanship, lying on the ground. (Verses 9-10). Later called the Liahona, meaning compass, this devise was composed of a round metal ball, which upon opening contained two spindles, or pointers, that directed Lehi and his followers as they went forward in faith, in the direction they were to travel. There was also, presumably, a screen upon which the Lord provided messages to Lehi and his group. This means of communication was deemed remarkable to Nephi because it was “a new writing which was plain to be read.”(Verse 29) Nephi had never seen “printed” writing before, relying only upon hand-written characters of Hebrew or Reformed Egyptian.

The introduction of the Liahona into the community of Lehi, was of incredible importance, and signified that the Lord felt it was absolutely necessary that an item of technology should be in the equation of God’s communication with man. For Lehi, his sons, and his extended family, this amazing device was truly a miracle from God; and when the Lord spoke with Lehi, and told him to behold the things which were written upon the ball, he viewed it with fear and trembling, as did all of his household. (Verse 27). But they exercised their faith, and moved forward to the Promised Land. Lehi and his family could not comprehend a tool of technology, as we might understand it in our time. Through their experiences in the wilderness, they only knew that the Liahona functioned, when they were faithful and obedient to the Lord.

We, too, must exercise faith

And so it is with us. Today’s technology is often beyond our comprehension but it has been given to us by God to move forward His work.   And like our brethren of old, we too, must exercise faith in using this ever-expanding technology to benefit today’s genealogy and family history work. Instead of looking upon this new technology with fear and trembling, we must embrace it and move forward with faith. Remember what the prophets have said:

In 1974 at a Regional Representatives’ Seminar, President Spencer W. Kimball declared: “I believe that the Lord is anxious to put into our hands inventions of which we laymen have hardly had a glimpse. … Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.587). bbb

Howard W. Hunter taught, “The role of technology in this work has been accelerated by the Lord himself, who has had a guiding hand in its development and will continue to do so. However, we stand only on the threshold of what we can do with these tools.

I feel that our most enthusiastic projections can capture only a tiny glimpse of how these tools can help us-and of the eternal consequences of these efforts.” (Howard W. Hunter, “We Have a Work to Do,” Ensign, Mar 1995, 64-65)

What can we learn from RootsTech 2012?

Genealogy research and record keeping is heavily dependent upon access to early original records, and to the technology which allows us to gather, interpret, use, keep, and store the information we find about our ancestors. Researchers and users, such as myself, focus on exploring early records to identify and learn about ancestry and the historical past, and documenting and authenticating the truths that we find. Technologists from all aspects are seeking ways to deliver bigger, better, and best genealogy and technology for the future of this work.  

The RootsTech 2012 Conference was created as an opportunity of innovation through collaboration for technologists and users at all levels. Topics were addressed such as the New GEDCOM, DNA Applications, Collaborating via P2P, Social Media, Indexing, Preservation of Digitized Data, Googling Genealogy, FamilySearch Web Architecture and Development, OpenSource Genealogical Search Engines, and The Cloud along with many more new and exciting technological and user relevant issues and innovations. The following selected comments from conference participants give a flavor of the tremendous knowledge and exchange that went on during the three days. And should encourage many of Meridian’s readers to want to attend next year!

Social Media Technology Use in Genealogy

What we don’t realize are the many aspects of social media present in our modern day communities. Google, Google+, Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, You Tube, and many more such programs, are but a few of the hundreds social media applications available in our everyday cultural contact. All of these well-known public facilities and others were discussed in classes during RootsTech 2012, teaching how these features, applications, and concepts can be utilized to promote, communicate and collaborate genealogy with friends, neighbors, family, and even with people we have never met.

Thomas MacEntee, from Illinois who presented several classes on social media and genealogy, shared this about the conference:

“For me, RootsTech was the equivalent of Disneyland for genealogists: the happiest place on earth.


I was able to meet with other genealogists, family historians and technology enthusiasts from all over the globe. We discussed the challenges that face the genealogy industry over the next 5-10 years and how technology is destined to change the way in which we pursue this unique passion of finding our roots, and ultimately finding ourselves.”

Torill Johnsen, a genealogist who had traveled to Utah from Norway to speak on ” A Genealogical Society Using Social Media”, said: RootsTech was an experience, meeting so many people interested in genealogy and also people willing to develop tools for our purpose is very positive. I think it is important to bring genealogists together with developers in order to make better tools. We are supposed to use the inventions, but I think the genealogist has a lot of experience to pass on to the more technical part of the society. By being able to include this experience in the further development of tools they will serve genealogists to a higher extent, be more useful and easier to adopt the inventions. It was also great to meet people whom I have “met” previously on the net. Connecting and contacting digitally is a great advantage, but physically meeting is also important to develop relationships and become even more useful for each other in the future.”

Technologist Views Intersect with the User  

James Tanner of the Genealogy’s Star blog wrote:

RootsTech, now in its second year, has assumed a somewhat unique position in the genealogical community by attempting to combine both technology and genealogy. As a Blogger, I spend an inordinately large amount of time writing, usually alone. RootsTech’s sponsor, FamilySearch, has reached out to the blogging community and provided a forum enabling bloggers around the world to come together and meet on a very personal basis. At the two RootsTech Conferences that have been held so far, bloggers have been placed in the middle of the Exhibit Floor in a very prominent location. The Bloggers have been given the opportunity to interview prominent participators in both the technology and genealogy worlds. I have been privileged to play a role in that process of synergistic cooperation between two apparently dissimilar interests.    

RootsTech gives me a perspective of the global reach of genealogy and does that in a way that is both interesting and challenging. My own interests are primarily in the technology and there is really no other large conference that emphasizes technology and genealogy. It is amazing to see that the Bloggers from around the world have similar personalities and interests. Although we come from extremely varied backgrounds, we can interact with each other just as if we had just finished speaking a few moments before rather than meeting for the first time. RootsTech has become the highlight of my genealogical year

John Niels, a young programmer and web designer expressed:

The conference was a very exciting opportunity for genealogists and technology providers to come together to share and learn about the future of genealogy and technology. It was not a perfect meshing of the two groups, but the energy was great as everyone shared a common love for genealogy. There was a disconnect between the two parties, and all expressed a desire that someday a platform would become available where all could participate in and collaborate with the many different groups involved in the various aspects of genealogy.

Overcoming this disconnect was very much described as part of the vision outlined in the opening keynote address by Jay Verkler of FamilySearch.org. In this address Jay expressed a future where technology companies would develop and adopt common practices and technology that would allow for fluid collaboration. It also expressed a desire to provide the genealogy researcher with the technological tools to enable long term preservation of genealogy and family history.  

We learned of this disconnect that John Niels spoke about as the consequence of a new frontier in genealogy and technology. Emphasis of this was made in Jay Verkler’s address about technicians who are developing a new gedcom program, and computer programers from around the World who are seeking ways in which they can come to agreement about standards in genealogy computing, so that providers can “talk” together with their technology. We were reminded in several of the classes that in the long ago, we once spoke about “kilobytes” and “megabytes”, and now about “gigabytes” which are terms describing storage space in our computer systems. Where we once operated with screens filled with little green “ones” and “zeroes” on a black backdrop, we now expect our computers to display photographic quality pictures on our digital tools. To do that, we have to have more and more workable computer data space. Instead of “gigabytes” (billions) we are now moving on to “terabytes” (trillions), and on to quadrabytes, and even to exobytes (which are compared to the number of grains of sand on earth – Abraham, here we come in one more way!).

The Cloud and the People

The discussions about usable storage for genealogy and technicians was a prominent theme in the conference, with many classes and talks centered on the subject of “The Cloud.” Cloud technology is a hot topic of the day because it provides the concept of unlimited storage for both private and public computer users. Instead of retaining all of your stored information on a designated hard drive, much less on outdated mini-floppies or cd’s, the Cloud allows you to purchase on-line space where you can store, or store and share information. For instance, as a professional genealogist, I use a site called “DropBox,” which is a “Cloud” based web-site. Research agents that I work with in Hungary, and Russia, and around the world, rather than make time consuming photocopies of documents and then mailing them by traditional correspondence, simply take pictures of manuscript pages, and download them to an account on “DropBox.” They notify me by e-mail, and I open “DropBox” and access the photographs they put there. This innovation saves dozens of hours of valuable time in my research business, and money!.

Claire Brisson-Banks, a British-Isles consultant at the Family History Library, and author of The Social Media Guide for Ancestral Research: Using Web 2.0 Strategies was working as a representative of the Family History Library at the conference. She said:

As I stepped into the elevator with an attendee today, she looked at me in my FamilySearch shirt and thanked me “for a wonderful conference.


” She had attended as many of the user’ classes she could and wished she could have attended more. She is looking forward to helping out with the 1940 US Census and again thanked me for “all FamilySearch had done for all who are researching their ancestors”. As I left the elevator, I came to the conclusion that those who participated surely came away with not only new knowledge but new friends and a better understanding of the cloud’.”

New Useable Information

Alvie Davidson, a prominent Certified Genealogist from Lakeland, Florida expressed how impressed he was with information gained in classes at RootsTech 2012:This is my second RootsTech conference. The conference held in 2011 seemed to have been unbeatable but when I watched the presentation by Tim Sullivan of Ancestry.com along with his staff I realized this 2012 revealed the collaborative effort to help the ordinary researcher.   Their engineering staff revealed a way to overcome the problem of electronically reading the hundreds of city directories already digitized that made my eyes pop wide with interest. Adding to this was all the new applications elicited from the many entrepreneurs to make the world of genealogical research so much better for the future.”

Alexa Merrill – A Family History Consultant really went techie, by watching sessions online at her home computer in Indiana. Here are her feelings about the RootsTech2012.

As you know I was hoping to be there but life got in the way. I was so excited to be able to catch so many of the sessions online!  It was icing on the cake to be able to print out some of the classes and follow along during the live broadcast!  It was wonderful to know, that since this was a conference about getting the users and developers together, that RootsTech used technology to make so much of the conference available to the global audience

All the Keynote speakers were inspiring and it was really interesting to me, a family historian, to learn so much of the “behind the scenes” technology that is happening so that I can just go to my computer and “find” information to further my research!  The collaboration between the developers of all these wonderful genealogy applications and genealogists is truly wonderful and exciting.  I am becoming familiar with cloud computing in my business and the benefits to family history are limitless!  I can’t wait to try out Barbara Renick’s “Eleven Layers of Online Searches” on my brick wall problem of trying to find out who Morris Merrill’s parents were…or to start a Blog on Merrill research with the help I learned from Lisa Cooke’s presentation!  As soon as I have a moment, I plan to go to her Genealogy Gems Podcasts and learn how to do that

I enjoyed Josh Coate’s presentation on Exabytes, Social Networks and Other Monstrosities so much I passed the info along to my family members and when it was repeated, Rob watched it in Provo, and we all watched it again here in Indy…and it generated a great discussion! I could have watched Dave Barney’s presentation several times and hope to catch it again online…Google offers so many tools and apps…I want to learn to make use of these tools in my research and I wish I could “go mobile” with Sandra Crowley…I have a new smart phone, that is smarter than I am, and am going to make my way to You Tube and try to find some gurus there to teach me how to actually use all these new ideas and tools I learned about!

Youth and Tomorrow’s Genealogy

In the 2011 October Semi-Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder David A. Bednar, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, spoke to the subject of introducing the young people of the Church to genealogy research using the social media and technology of our day, because the youth already are well acquainted with the equipment of this modern communication. He suggested that because of their familiarity with Twitter and You-Tube, and the like, they would be able to discover many new applications for accomplishing genealogy than have been thought of before by the older generation genealogists.

Brenda Darrington, a BYU Family History student from Idaho described her experience at Rootstech:

RootsTech was such an awesome experience. It combined two of my favorite things: technology and family history research. But the best part was to see a blending of generations. Technology isn’t just for us young pups anymore. Older generations are embracing the new tech resources available to enhance genealogical research. On the other hand, technology is sparking a desire in the younger crowd to learn more about their ancestors. RootsTech is essentially living up to the purpose of family history – bridging the gap between generations and helping them become one.

Genealogy Education

Young and old, genealogists and technologists all require training and education to develop their understanding and skills of new knowledge. RootsTech 2012 was a unique educational opportunity for all in attendance.

Darris G Williams, Wales Page Moderator for FamilySearch Wiki shares:

RootsTech 2012 was an outstanding opportunity to learn, network and to have my thinking stretched. The number of family history leaders available to learn from made it a nonstop feast. The variety of classes made it difficult to choose only one class to attend each session but being able to watch recordings of some classes later helped a little.

Dr. Paul Daniels, President of Heritage Genealogical College, while attending the Friday sessions of the conference talked about these educational opportunities:

Networking with those involved with the technological part of the program was exciting and very helpful to us. Future projects at Heritage Genealogical College (www.Genealogy.edu) would like to be involved in promoting genealogical education of all types.


Make New Friends But Keep the Old

Darris G Williams goes on to say

As much as I loved the classes the best part was the chance to meet friends from near and far to discuss new resources and ideas.Networking with new and old acquaintances at RootsTech is the most valuable benefit for me personally. Face to face interaction still beats Facebook, Twitter and Google+. I connected with a few vendors and professionals along with lots of attendees and feel inspired to work better and harder on my own genealogy now.

Mary E Petty – Professional Genealogist – For me – what made it special was meeting with all the fascinating people from so many corners of the world with so many varied ways of contributing to the Family Tree of Man, either through research, technology, business, blogging, accessibility and availability of records, resources and innovations in genealogy. What an exciting future is ahead of us as we collaborate together in this grand adventure! Thank you to all of you for the wonderful times we shared!      

Have Faith – Use Technology

1 Nephi 27:23 For behold, I am God; and I am God of Miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.

We are already in the future of genealogy and many people are just struggling to get out of the past. If we exercise our faith and use the technology of today, we will move forward the great work of genealogy and family history.

We encourage all to come to RootsTech next year – in person or online. And through faith and technology, become a part of turning the hearts….

James W. Petty, AG, CG is the Board-Certified and Accredited Professional Genealogist, “Climbing the Family Tree Professionally Since 1969”. He is President of HEIRLINES Family History & Genealogy, Inc. (www.Heirlines.com), the “Salt Lake City, Utah BBB Accredited Business” trusted professional genealogy research services firm, providing US and International genealogical and historical research for a world-wide clientele.

For Heirlines-Quality professional genealogy services, resources, and products including free genealogy, LDS Family History advice and expert answers to commonly asked ancestry questions, visit Jim’s website www.Heirlines.com for free consultations and ordering custom family tree research services, and his genealogy blog ProfessionalGenealogy.com.