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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 car at 6:00 p.m. and headed for home, but I was ready to return the next morning at 7:00 a.m.!

Although I attended a lot of great classes at Roots Tech, my favorite class was an intermediate class on the Family Tree App. I learned how to attach records to my ancestors and do family history research right on my phone. If I have a block of time for family history work I’m still definitely going to go to my computer to work, but the Family Tree App is a great way to make good use of your time if you have 5-10 minutes waiting in your car or waiting for an appointment (in the days when we actually go to appointments again). On the app there is a feature where you can Find Relatives Around Me. You can turn this on in a group and see how everyone in the group is related. At Roots Tech, we could turn on Find Relatives Around Me at Roots Tech and see who of the 30,000 Roots Tech patrons are related to you, and then you can send those people an email if you wish. I met up with two Icelandic relatives through this app, and we shared stories about our common ancestors!

In my visit to the Expo Hall, I learned about Goldie May, a free download that creates a research log for you, saving your searches and visits to all websites. In your research log you can comment on what you found or mark particular pages as helpful or not helpful. You can take screenshots of paragraphs or images you find helpful and save them to your log. This computer extension is currently available for free at I started using this extension to help me keep track of which of my ancestors I have worked on and what I discovered.

I’m looking forward to next year’s Roots Tech; hopefully COVID 19 will be a thing of the past by then!


Get inspired!

Three genealogy activities inspired by the Roots Tech conference that you can do from home are:

  1. Record your own stories of family on your phone or computer. Whether it is fond memories or how you are coping in the current global situation.

  2. Write down some family stories. Either your own, or from someone else in your house.

  3. Call a family member and ask them for stories that you can either write down or record.


Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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