Monday, March 03, 2014

Some Things I Learned at RootsTech 2014 by Donald R. Snow

by Donald R. Snow, 2014-03-02

This article is printed in the Mar 2014 issue of our Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group newsletter TAGGology and is posted with active Internet links on my Family History Class Notes webpage  .  These items are not in any special order and if I took more time I could come up with this many items more.  Items 22 and 23 about Provo's Google Fiberoptics and the St. George FamilySearch Library construction site, weren't from RootsTech, but were at the same time.

The RootsTech 2014 syllabus material, the notes for more than 150 of the 200 classes, are posted online at  and can be downloaded one at a time or else the entire collection all at once.  Downloading everything at once gives a zip (compressed) file that when expanded has each set of notes in a separate folder.  A freeware program to extract all of these from their folders without having to do it manually is called Suction and can be downloaded  from .  It will extract all the files, put them in a single folder, and delete all the old folders.  The RootsTech web page says the notes will only be available for a limited time, so if you want them, download them now.

The main emphasis at RootsTech this year, as it was last year, was on stories and photos.  FamilySearch hopes that these will get more people interested in working on FH.  They showed ways to add stories and photos to Family Tree and how to use them in classes, family home evenings, and other ways.  Many of the more than 100 vendors had different approaches to doing exactly this and there must have been 10 or 15 new websites that I had never heard of before, each with a slightly different program and ways to save and use stories and photos, many of them completely free. 

Three General Authorities of the LDS Church spoke and talked about family history, Elder Bradley D. Foster 2Q70, Elder Allan F. Packer 1Q70, and Elder Neil L. Andersen Q12.  Also, Brother Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch spoke.  Their talks were all good and were recorded and are or will be available online.  Some of the recorded talks are listed at --  , , and  .       

It was still held in the Salt Palace, as before, but this year was in a different section and some rooms were larger, but others smaller.  We liked the new venue more than in previous years since there were both elevators and escalators to get between floors.  But it was more spread out and you had to walk further.  The vendor area was much larger this year and because the aisles were wider, it was much easier to get around.  Parking was more expensive this year ($12/day), if you didn't want to walk very far, but you could park right under where the conference was held.  For us "old-timers" the close-in parking, even though expensive, was desirable.  It was also good to park under the Salt Palace when it rained and snowed.

Over 600 stakes plan to use RootsTech videos in their Family History seminars this year, so FamilySearch estimates that more than 100,000 people will be helped world-wide by RootsTech this year.  I think stakes can still sign up to use the videos.  Dennis Brimhall, CEO of FamilySearch, gave several estimates in his keynote presentation Thursday morning of what's happening now.  RootsTech is now a very large program with lots going on and its influence is being felt world-wide.  Brother Brimhall's video was streamed live on Thursday morning and I think it's still available.
My daughter, Linda Snow Westover, and I gave a presentation on PRESENTING AND PRESERVING YOUR FAMILY HISTORY:  YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU, SO HOW DO YOU LEAVE IT?  The notes are posted at the RootsTech 2014 website and on my FH Class Notes webpage . My wife, Diane, died a year and a half ago and that caused our family to think more seriously about all of our FH information and what we needed to do so it would survive longer than we did.  In our class Linda and I discussed things like research collaboration, working so your descendants and others can tell what you did and where you found it, how to scan and label documents so they are understandable and searchable, ways to present your photos to catch attention, and other things.  Ours was on the last afternoon of the conference and we didn't now if anyone would be there, but again this year every seat was taken.  But this year they wouldn't let anyone stand in the aisles, so some stood outside the doors listening.  We needed a larger room.  After the class we got comments like, "This was the best presentation I heard at RootsTech this year.", "This one class made it worthwhile for me to drive all the way here from Portland, Oregon and attend RootsTech.", "This was the best FH presentation I have ever heard in my life.", "Do you have a FH company or something?", to which Linda responded, "No, we're just FH fanatics like you are." :=)  Linda and I felt very good about how it all went and we wish it had been recorded.  Our notes are still online at the RootsTech website, but we don't know how much longer they will be there.  They will always be available, and in updated form, at my FH Class Notes webpage above.

7.     GENMERGE -- 
GenMerge is a good commercial program to find problems, connections between GEDCOMs, duplicates, and loops and we used older versions for several years when we were compiling our Early LDS database with 57,000 names of all the early LDS Church members, our assignment while missionaries in the Illinois Nauvoo Mission.  This is now posted online at .  I learned at RootsTech 2014 from Sue Dintelman of Pleiades Software, who distribute GenMerge, that they also have an in-house program that will convert a flat file, e.g. a birth certificate list, to a GEDCOM.  That could save someone lots of work typing in the data from such a file.

8.     BACKBLAZE -- 
This is an online backup company which only charges $5/month or $50/year for unlimited size backups from one computer.  Right now I'm paying 4 times that much to back up 2.5 terabytes of stuff online.  I asked where their backup servers are located and they are all in Northern California within 100 miles of the Bay Area, so if the San Andreas Fault slips and they have an earthquake there or they have a typhoon like in the Philippines, all their servers are gone.  But the fellow pointed out that I would still have the data on my own computer in Utah, so only the backups would be lost.  I think I'm going to switch my online backup company since this is the cheapest I have heard for unlimited backup space.

FamilySearch has a new emphasis to index obituaries since there are millions of them in the U.S. alone and they are full of genealogy information.  This will be a really helpful FH database.  They had clever skits and brochures about "Dead Men Tell No Tales, But Their Obituaries Do!"  Indexers can select obituaries from various newspapers to work on, but I have heard complaints that they are so full of genealogy information that it is hard to capture it all.  At least they are in printed form and not handwritten.  FamilySearch is working on a new indexing program on the web that can be used on computers and mobile devices connected to the Internet.  The Ancestry Insider blog has more details.

FamilySearch is "partnering" with these and other commercial firms and some of these were announced at the conference.  It means that some of us will have access to more databases through FamilySearch sometime soon.  We also learned that MyHeritage has a better search engine than some of the others and that it will be available to us through FamilySearch soon.  There is further information on partnering on the FamilySearch blog .  

Ron Tanner is Project Manager for Family Tree and talked about using it and some new ways to edit things in it.  His talk was video'd and is available online to watch.  We learned some new ways to edit some FamilyTree relationships.  These are discussed more in James Tanner's (no relation) Genealogy's Star blog .  The video of Ron Tanner's talk is at .

One of the vendors was demo'ing a new type slide scanner, the SlideSnap Pro, that will scan slides at 4000 dpi in just a few seconds.  That's much faster than the slide scanners I've been using for that resolution which take about 2-3 minutes per slide.  The new devices look like a Carousel slide project with a high resolution camera fastened where the lens was.  In fact, it will take a Kodak Carousel tray loaded with slides and scan them as it rotates like the old slide projectors did.  I was really impressed since I've got 20,000 slides that need scanning.  I started using the slide scanner at the BYU FH Library and that does a good job, but is very slow.  This new one says it will scan a slide in 2 seconds; that's a lot shorter time than 2-3 minutes!  

BillionGraves -- -- has a new program out now and allows uploading of images of documents, besides the tombstones.  And it is all indexed on FamilySearch.

14.     PLINKBOX
PlinkBox -- -- is an example of one of the many new websites that stores your photos and allows you to add links to the individuals in the pictures with stories, text, audio, video, and other URLs.  PLINK = Pictures + links.  You upload photos and can then add the links.  It's free and this one is operated by a fellow in St. George, Utah.

WorldCat -- -- run by OCLC (Online Computer Library Center), is an online catalog of many library collections.  The FamilySearch Catalog (what used to be called the Family History Library Catalog) is now indexed in WorldCat, so searching in WorldCat brings up information in the FSC, as well as in other libraries.  This is the first time the FSC has been included in any other catalog.  Now if you find something in WorldCat that you want see in the FHL, clicking on the link will take you to the FSC for the details.  If a digital copy is available, you may be able to download the pdf and, unlike Google Books, these book pdf's have the text layer included so the download is completely searchable itself.  Even if there is no digital copy available on the FSC, you can see the FSC description and the format it is in, e.g. hardcopy, microfilm, etc.  On WorldCat there is also the ArchiveGrid discovery interface which helps in FH research.  More details are at .  Wikipedia information about OCLC and WorldCat is at .    

Some helpful ideas on scanning and preserving were given in a class by Denise May Levenick with a title of something like "Scanning an Elephant".  And her website --  -- has some good helps.

17.     WIKITREE     
The WikiTree website -- -- is a free world-wide collaborative family tree where you can post your family tree and decide who can see it or not.  See a review of WikiTree at . 

I got enough information from classes, notes, and vendors that it will take me several months to go through it all and see what I really want to use and do.  Every large FH conference is like that for me.  I use Evernote to keep track of the notes and ideas I get.  Before the conferences I form an Evernote notebook with the syllabus notes so it is searchable and I can find the notes for a class I am attending.  At the conference I write my own notes about the class in an Evernote note so I can remember what I learned or want to follow up on.  The notes for a class that I give on Evernote in genealogy are posted on my class notes webpage .  As an example, I am writing this article of SOME THINGS I LEARNED in Evernote right now.

They had a mobile app we could download for our tablets and smartphones this year, but it didn't show enough information to see at a glance who the speaker was in each class.  Also, even though the notes for 75% of the classes were online, there was no link to them in the class schedule on the app.  It would have been nice to be able to see the speaker's name and whether there were notes for that class and have a quick way to get to the notes.  Maybe next year.

Many classes didn't have notes at all and as presenters we were told that if we didn't have our notes in by a certain date our class might be canceled.  For classes without notes you had no idea of what they were going to talk about unless you attended the class.  They also told us to limit our notes to 2 pages, so Linda and I shrunk ours down from 4 pages to 2 pages and included a link to where the full set of notes is online ( ).  But when all the notes were posted online a week before the conference, we discovered that most had 4 and more pages, so we shouldn't have bothered to follow the rules and should have sent in the full set.  Regarding classes where the speaker does not send in notes, or only very sketchy notes, perhaps those should be considered for cancellation, since if the speaker hasn't taken the trouble to write informational notes, they really aren't very prepared.  For me classes with good notes are the ones I learn the most from and it shows how much trouble the speaker has really gone to in preparation. 
21.     ROOTSTECH 2015
RootsTech 2015 will be 12-14 Feb 2015 with the Federation of Genealogical Societies meeting before it on 11 Feb, all in the Salt Palace.
I didn't learn this at RootsTech 2014, but learned it at that time when at my home in Provo.  The city of Provo signed a contract with Google Fiberoptics to let them use the fiberoptics system already in the streets in Provo and just charge people to connect their homes.  They charge $30, a one time fee, for this connection.  Then for the next 7 years Internet will be free to you at speeds of 5 gigbits per second upload and download.  The next category up is $70 per month for 100 gigbits upload and download which is super fast.  To include TV through this system costs another $50/month or a total of $120/month.  Because of the competition Comcast is setting up cheaper rates with Internet, but not at the higher speed. To sign up for the fiber optics service you go to the website -- -- and type in your street address and you can pay with a credit card.  You can sign up now and then installation will take place sometime this summer.  If you don't sign up by the deadline for your area of Provo, you may never be able to sign up again since it requires their equipment.  The 3 US cities that Google has signed with are Austin, TX; Kansas City, MO; and Provo, UT. They told me that in Kansas City Google had re-opened the sign-ups a couple of years later, but only for a few days.  With the $30 installation fee you can stay with the free 5 gigbit version for the next 7 years or you can change to or from one of the higher priced options whenever you want, but you have to have the fiber optics line into your home to be able to do anything with it.  I decided to sign up and have already done so.

This month the St. George City Council voted to allow rezoning of the lot on the corner of 200 East 600 South for the construction of the new FamilySearch Library in St. George.  This lot is the south half of the block immediately south of the St. George Temple.  The FamilySearch Library in St. George is now in a rented office building and is becoming quite popular.

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