There’s Room for Everyone in Genealogy: RootsTech 2016 Musing

Room for EveryoneInformative. Energetic. Inspiring. Thought-provoking. Loud. Exhausting. Those are just some of the ways RootsTech has been described. I’d like to add one more adjective to the list: Inclusive.

As at past RootsTech conferences, the expo hall had everything from the “big guys” — Ancestry, FamilySearch, etc. — to the start-ups and the one-person operations. There were scanning operations of all sorts along with paper scrapbooking. There were genetic testing companies and storytellers. There were the old, the young, the experienced, the novice, the techies, and the technologically-challenged.

In short, RootsTech looked like genealogy. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the divisiveness of today’s society — the “us vs them” mentality. But as A.J. Jacobs pointed out in his keynote, “It isn’t us vs. them. It’s just us.”

I had hoped that after this year’s RootsTech, I wouldn’t hear the refrain that I’ve heard after the previous 5. “There’s too much ‘story’ and not enough genealogy.” “There’s too much genealogy and not enough tech.” “There are too many new people.”


Nothing can be all things to all people. To me, the beauty of RootsTech is that it comes closer to reflecting the genealogy community than any other event. There is something for everyone.

That exhibitor over there doesn’t have something of interest to you? That’s fine, there are 300+ more that might. That session is too basic for you or not techie enough? There are other sessions to go to that might better suit your interests.

Genealogy and family history are inherently personal. Because of that, each person comes to it with his or her own motivations and goals. The reason I do a DNA test might be different than the reason you take one. You might blog about your everyday life and the family stories you’re making now; I do not. I might want to track down all of the descendants of my great-great-grandparents; you might not.

And you know what? It’s ok.

The fact that someone over there prefers not to use DNA testing doesn’t make them bad. The person who delves deeply into recording the family stories doesn’t diminish the person who writes scholarly articles. It isn’t us vs. them. It’s just us.

I learned a lot about different apps, websites, and genealogy sources while I was at RootsTech. But for me, the biggest takeaway from RootsTech was a reminder that there really is room for everyone in genealogy.

FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood shares the words he's heard describe the feeling when a person shares family history.
FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood shares the words he’s heard describe the feeling when a person shares family history.

You can view all of the recorded sessions including the keynotes for free on the RootsTech website.

Posted: February 10, 2016.

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  • I enjoyed you so much. You made my 1st Time as a Newbie memorable! Next year I can solely concentration on my Genealogy needs. Even tho I took advantage of ways to make myself grow. This time around I was like a kid in a candy store for Genealogy. You were right on point! There’s something for everyone! Just go for it! Thanks Amy!

  • Excellent post Amy. You are right – there was something at RootsTech to appeal to anyone whatever their interest was. I was so impressed with the FamilySearch volunteers who put in so much time – before, during and after RootsTech – to help it come off. The keynotes were excellent and the sessions had such variety. The exhibit hall was well done and the demo theater also had a wide variety of presentations in snippets. Thankful that we have so much inclusiveness in our genealogy and family history community. Cheers to all who made it so memorable.

  • As a newbie to the world of genealogy this article couldn’t have come at a better time! thanks for posting such a nice perspective 🙂

  • Here! Here! I can’t count how many times I said that to people this past week. Everyone bring a bit of their knowledge and expertise to the table. And, it’s all valuable. And, it’s all good.

    • Yes! Everyone has something to contribute! How boring would it be if we all had the same experiences and the same perspective? When we all bring something different to the table, it makes for a much more interesting meal 🙂

  • Bravo Amy, I totally agree. I have been to all 6 RootsTech now and this was vastly different from the first one, but they have all been wonderfully energetic. RootsTech is not NGS or FGS or SLIG or any of the others. It is entirely different, but as you said, it’s not us vs. them, it’s just us.

    I am LDS (boy, I am using a lot of 3 letter acronyms here!) and I have felt the divide – the secular genealogy community vs. the LDS genealogy community – and I think that is how I am going to view the two different communities from now. It’s not us vs. them, it’s just us. We all have a place and we can all learn from and contribute to each other. Thank you so very much!!!

    • Thank you, Clytee. Yes, NGS, FGS, SLIG, RootsTech and any other conference/event you can think of are all different. That doesn’t make any of them better or worse than the others. Just different. “We all have a place and we can all learn from and contribute to each other.” I couldn’t agree with you more 🙂

    • If you can’t find something of interest at RootsTech, you’re not looking. Will everyone like everything? No. Just like in genealogy itself. There are things in the field that I am not at all interested in. (True confession: I cannot get into heraldry or medieval research. It just doesn’t float my boat. But that doesn’t mean that the people who do like heraldry and medieval research are bad or wrong. It just means that they have an interest that’s different than mine.)

  • I couldn’t agree more! Sometimes it is so frustrating over here in Germany to hear the volunteers vs. corporates or anyone else who earns money with it, that is really a big one. Or the experienced vs. the newbies.
    Nobody is forced to do anything. Why not just follow our own path and let the others do as they like? I will never get it.

    • That’s a pretty big thing here in the States, too, Barbara. (Not sure if that makes you feel any better about it!)

      • let me think.. naaaa 😉 I wouldn’t have thought that, to be honest.. I thought it’s a typical German thing.. everyone vs ancestry and myheritage.. oh, and familysearch is obscure anyway 🙂

  • Very well said. We each have a picture of our genealogy in our minds and learning from a professional or a more seasoned genealogist just makes our journey much easier. Thanks for all you do.

    • Thank you, Mary! You know what — it isn’t just the “less experienced” people learning from the professionals. The pros learn from the less experienced folks, too!

  • Exactly Amy! I wrote a similar blog post last year. We have to welcome everyone–you never know who might have that box in the attic you need. And the more people we have, the healthier the companies are that serve us. I’m so thankful for conferences like RootsTech and other things that attract more people to family history. The more the better.

    • You’re right, Janet. We don’t want to scare off the person with great-grandma’s family Bible or photo collection! The more the better… and the more the merrier 🙂

  • I’ve missed the last 2 Rootstechs and I’m determined to get there 2017. I was so bummed to have missed Doris Kearns Goodwin. But I loved your periscopes!

  • It’s a shame that it has to be said year after year, Amy, but thank you for saying it so well here. We are not a closed community. No one is allowed to come in and take up the drawbridge and say nobody else can join. As part of the community we are all obliged to welcome newbies and to refrain from denigrating someone else’s focus because it’s not ours. We should celebrate the fact that our community encompasses all skill levels and many different, but related, activities.


  • Amy, Yes inclusive is a great word to describe the people I met at RootsTech. While you always get the moaners. Fortunately they were not an overwhelming group. I feel that we all do it the way we want. I accept those that want short cuts, those that are perfectionists and even the ones that are running a business. All are welcome. Fran

    • I’m glad to hear that you accept those of us who are running a business 🙂 (Seriously! I am glad to hear that!)

  • I could not agree more! RootsTech is certainly a place where you can feel the genealogy love. There are so many ways to be a good contributor to the preservation of your family’s genealogy. It does not have to look the same as the next person’s effort. And that is a beautiful thing. Thank you for your insightful post.

  • Thank you for sharing this. As I’ve heard push back about my style of genealogy blogging or focus, I’ll remember this. Peggy told me the same thing personally at Rootstech. It’s reassuring that there are people who are supportive of embracing all aspects and people in the genealogy community. Thank you.