Inside Roots Tech: The World's Largest Genealogy Conference

Written by Susan Huff, Icelandic Roots Genealogist

Susan Huff in front of waterfall in Iceland
Susan Huff

Be sure to wear your best walking shoes when you come to Roots Tech because you will be covering a lot of ground! Roots Tech 2020 was held in Salt Lake City, Utah on February 26 to 29—just before everything shut down because of COVID 19. It is estimated that over 30,000 people attended from all over the world.

This was my second year attending the largest family history conference in the world. Both years I spent one day as a volunteer in the FamilySearch area of the Expo Hall where I was able to help Roots Tech patrons learn more about FamilySearch and participate in some of the fun family history activities that FamilySearch provides. One very popular activity was where you could select a photo from different places in the world where your ancestors came from, project that photo on the green screen, and take a picture of you in that location as if you were really there. Then the photo is uploaded to your phone or email. You could record a family history story in a sound booth and upload it to FamilySearch. There were lots of interactive activities to learn more about your family tree. There were many computers set up where volunteers like me could help people learn how to use FamilySearch.

I helped a woman who was visiting from the Philippines find records of her grandparents and attach them to FamilySearch; she was so excited to learn more about her family and see how many resources were available to her through FamilySearch. Another woman I helped was from Houston, Texas. She was looking for her half-brother who was born in Salt Lake City whom she had not seen since she was a child. I found an obituary for her deceased sister-in-law that was loaded with family information for her. She was thrilled with all she was able to learn about that branch of her family tree.

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This year’s theme, The Story of You, was focused on preserving your own personal story for generations that follow. Family history starts with you—your personal history, your story. Next, family history includes your parents, siblings, children, grandchildren—your family of origin plus the one you created with your spouse. Then it includes your extended family back through generations. Roots Tech targeted all of these different aspects of family history.

Here’s why I love Roots Tech and family history work:

  • Family history is not boring.

  • It is not laborious.

  • It is not just for old people.

  • It is not just for someone else to do.

  • Family history is exciting!

  • It is fun!

  • It is for old people and young people—for all people!

  • Family history is for YOU!

And Roots Tech helped me learn new family history skills and knowledge

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Here are a few fun facts. There were 231 speakers at Roots Tech this year and 82 exhibitors in the Expo Hall. The three major exhibitors were FamilySearch, Find My Past, and Ancestry, but there were also many small exhibitors with commercial products to aid your family history work.

There were at least 80 classes to choose from each day; most sessions were 60 minutes with 30 minutes to get to your next class (thus the need for great walking shoes). Each day there was a keynote speaker/general session. On Wednesday, Steve Rockwood of FamilySearch keynoted a general session celebrating 10 years of Roots Tech. Thursday’s featured keynote speaker was Leigh Anne Tuohy. Her inspirational story of helping a homeless boy become an All-American NFL player (Michael Oher) was popularized by the book and film The Blind Side. Friday’s keynote featured photographer David Hume Kennerly. Saturday was a free family day with loads of family activities in the Expo Hall; the keynote this day was football legend, Emmit Smith. Friday evening’s entertainment was comedian, Ryan Hamilton. Our kids introduced him to us through his concerts on YouTube, and he is hilarious! I had great plans of staying in the city to attend his performance at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, but after volunteering in the FamilySearch area all day, I trudged back to my ca