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The RootsTech Revolution – Woodstock or Waterloo?

RootsTech 2011

[Editor’s Note: Yes, believe it or not, I did attend RootsTech 2011 in Salt Lake City, February 10-12, 2011. Many have asked why I am silent about RootsTech. If it weren’t for the terrible cold I caught at the end of RootsTech, many of the upcoming posts about RootsTech 2011 would have appeared last week. Look for more posts here at GeneaBloggers, on my genealogy industry blog High-Definition Genealogy and on my personal genealogy blog Destination: Austin Family.]

On my flight back from Salt Lake City to Chicago, I spent most of my time pondering a post-RootsTech world for the genealogy industry and the genealogy community. My head was spinning and not from the lack of sleep or from too much socializing with genealogists from all over the world. The cause of the spinning was the information overload, the proliferation of ideas and concepts, the realization that something fantastic had just happened. And that I was witness to it.

Over the next few posts I hope to de-construct what I learned, what I saw, what I absorbed at RootsTech and give me take on the entire experience. For now, I’m trying to figure out whether RootsTech was our Woodstock or whether it will be our Waterloo.


I have to preface this discussion with the fact that I grew up 10 miles from Bethel, NY where the Woodstock Music Festival took place in August, 1969. I was very young but I do remember most of that weekend. You could just “feel” that something special was happening.

I got that same feeling the minute the keynote speeches with Shane Robison of HP and Jay Verkler of FamilySearch started. The room was packed and rumors were swirling around that there were 3,000 attendees. The event started with rock music, multimedia screens, stage lighting and more. And just to clarify, there were no rumors of babies being born during the entire Rootstech event. Some people did overdose on too much fun and too much technology as well as vendor swag.

By the end of this 3-day genealogy and technology festival, many came away with the sense that they had just witnessed something special. A bend in the road. A light in the tunnel. A happening. An event that couldn’t be described adequately even with words.

I heard someone use the term “an awakening.” I agree with that. I contend however that RootsTech represented a high point in what I feel is the Third Great Awakening of Genealogy*.  As I’ve said before, this is a great time to be involved with genealogy due to the convergence of certain technologies as well as certain viewpoints and practices as to what constitutes genealogy.

If I were to walk away with anything from RootsTech, it is this: now is the time to leverage existing and emerging technologies to bring a greater awareness of family history to the masses. Genealogy can be more approachable, more accessible and more meaningful. The key word is technology.

Genealogy vendors can reach more potential customers in more ways than ever before with judicial and adept use of technology. Professional genealogists can expand their client base rapidly by learning and using social media and technology. Genealogy societies can expand their membership and offer a greater variety of services more efficiently by being keyed in to technology. And the amateur researcher can do more than ever before both from the comfort of their own homes and at repositories and archives around the world due to technology.


But it is easy to get mired down in discussing concepts and ideas that each of us brought back from RootsTech. If we don’t work on our action plans, our methods of implementing what was learned, our Woodstock will surely be our Waterloo.

Organizations like NGS, FGS and APG will need to adapt and adapt quickly otherwise the parade will pass them by. While I have confidence that most, if not all, of the largest organizations and societies are on the same page and struggling to incorporate more technology into their offerings and services, those who come out of the gate first and come out with a strong gallop are certain to lead the way.

Take a look at the Southern California Genealogical Society (SCGS) with its announcement this week on virtual presentations and its Jamboree Extension Series of webinars.  This happened right after virtual presentations were not just discussed at RootsTech but actually were used via live streaming of various key lectures. SCGS and vendors like Legacy Family Tree Webinars are leading the way in offering convenient, virtual genealogy education to individuals.

Yes, it takes time, money and commitment to turn these concepts into actual products and services. But it is obvious that the time is now, not next year. Every society, every vendor, every organization should not just be discussing the incorporation of technology into their long term planning, but also start to take steps – even baby steps – to acknowledge the Rootstech Revolution and at least start to embrace technology.


Something happened at RootsTech. What it was and its impact will continue to be discussed and debated for weeks and months to come. That is the power of an exceptional game-changing event in an industry and a community.

But in discussing what happened and what bounty RoostTech has brought to the table, let us not forgot to forge our action plans and make those concepts and those issues a new reality for genealogy.

* In my opinion, the First Great Awakening started with the work of Donald Lines Jacobus in the 1920s and 1930s. The Second Great Awakening began with the broadcast of the miniseries Roots on US television.

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Disclosure statement: I am a member of the Southern California Genealogical Society, a compensated speaker at their upcoming 42nd Annual Jamboree in June 2010, and I am presenting the inaugural webinar in the Jamboree Extension Series on Saturday, March 5, 2011 for which I will be compensated. In addition, I also present webinars for Legacy Family Tree Webinars for which I am compensated by way of a speakers fee and CD sales royalties. To review the other material connections I have with genealogy vendors and organizations, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

11 thoughts on “The RootsTech Revolution – Woodstock or Waterloo?

  1. Excellent post and worth the wait – hope you are feeling better! Am interested in hearing more about where we go from here.

    There is definitely a need to get on this train or be left at the station. I agree that Legacy Family Tree webinars are an excellent example of a software vendor providing information useful to all genealogists WHETHER OR NOT THEY USE THAT PARTICULAR PROGRAM. This is very important as it cannot always be about selling your product. You need to show that you are furthering genealogical education and information.

    Another excellent example of this is Genealogy Gems podcasts and website. Of course we expect people in this field to make money – but it certainly helps if they are also providing service, hence the free version and the premium version. Dear Myrtle’s monthly organization calendars are another excellent example of providing assistance with some fun. Anyone who has been to one of Josh Taylor’s presentations walks away with lots of information and some great technology handouts. (There are several other examples out there – and the discussion of technology and source citations over at Clue Wagon’s blog is another example of robust online discussion). Kudos to all of you.

    I have found that the best seminars, conferences, and fairs/fests – are those that are changing with the times. We need to learn how to use technology and encourage vendors/software providers to make it consistent and intuitive to use.

    We also need to encourage new people (I am relatively new with 5 years in) in this field. Sometimes when I go to a conference or seminar, the people there are already in their own group (reminds me of high school). It sounds like RootsTech was quite different and this is something I would check out in the future. We need to embrace technology (and I think most genealogists do) and encourage others with fun, informative and meaningful courses and presentations – and definitely include webinars, wikis, blogs, and social media.

    It was good news to hear that WDYTYA was already given a go-ahead for a third season. Now we just need to get into the schools, scouting, after school programs, etc., to try to encourage young people to figure out how they and their families fit into their community, their state, their country and their world. This might be one of several ways of giving back and moving ahead with technology and encouraging history, geography, research, writing and the use of technology.

    So – where do we go from here and how do we get there?

  2. I agree with the Woodstock or Waterloo analogy.

    Convergence was a word used often at Rootstech. It is an exciting time to be a genealogist and to be part of forward thinking genealogical societies who embrace the technology.

    Looking forward to more Rootstech Roundup posts. Glad you are feeling better.

  3. I think it’s Woodstock. I really do. I am optimistic everyone WANTS to move forward…it’s just a question of how to do it. Also those of use who want to see change need to make sure we’re extending our hands to the folks to those who need help making it happen. This is absolutely a community event, and that’s a good thing.

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