Feb 19, 2011

RootsTech 2011 Review

As I mentioned in my first post, I recently returned from the inaugural RootsTech conference. Over the next few weeks, I intend to write several individual posts on the sessions I attended and what I learned from them, or the kind of ideas they gave me. But first, I want to give my broad impressions of the conference as a whole.

Stereotypical genealogist
Overall, RootsTech was a great success. Especially considering it was their first attempt bringing these two, seemingly disparate elements together for one conference. Genealogy and technology might appear strange bedfellows to some people. Stereotypes about genealogy brings to mind images of really old people, searching through musty books with a magnifying glass, trying to prove their lineage from an illustrious ancestor, so they can join some exclusive society.
Stereotypical technology workerOn the other hand, technology is often seen as the domain of young, male nerds who stare at computer screens all day at work, play video games all night, and speak to each other in Klingon or an Elvish language. While there are grains of truth in these descriptions, both fields are far more diverse than outsiders realize.

Both sides also happen to be long-standing hobbies of mine. I've worked in the technology industry in the past, and now I'm thinking of ways I might make a living at genealogy. Combining the two was perfectly logical, almost obvious, to my way of thinking. When I first heard about RootsTech, I knew I had to attend it. I've never been to an actual genealogy conference before, but I've attended a few meetings of state and local genealogical societies, and frequented several history and technology conferences. In my (admittedly limited) experience, most people who go to genealogy events in Minnesota are members of the "greatest generation," or close in age. I've been, by far, the youngest person at every meeting I've been to here (by probably 10 or 20 years if I had to guess). The demographic at RootsTech was quite different, with ages ranging from babies in strollers to a rumored centenarian attendee. There were even plenty of people younger than me. I think many of the techies at the conference were already interested in genealogy, and many of the genealogists were already tech-savvy. As in any large group of people, there was a broad range of knowledge on both topics. People who attend conferences like this are already interested, and the enthusiasm showed. The environment at the RootsTech was closer to big technology conferences I've been to. I like going to history conferences too, but they're usually more staid and "serious." I think the mix was just about right for exchanging ideas. It's been over for a week now, and the buzz still hasn't died down.

The only major complaint I had about RootsTech was the session schedule. I had difficulty figuring out what many of the sessions were really about from the vague titles on the website. Most conferences I've attended posted schedules long beforehand, with either detailed descriptions for each session, or at least enough information from context so you can figure out what it's about. But I'm not going to dwell on this. It was one of the top comments to the organizers; I'm sure they'll fix it before next year's RootsTech.

I can't help but make a few comparisons to one of my favorite conferences, the International Congress on Medieval Studies. It's the largest gathering of medievalists in the world, held annually in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the last 45 years. Although it has a large head start, the average attendance was equaled by RootsTech in its first year! Admittedly, the audience and focus are very different, it's strictly an academic conference, and the topics must all be related to the Middle Ages. But I can't help but think many of the attendees from either conference would thoroughly enjoy the other. Another complaint I have is much more frivolous. Once I received the detailed schedule, there were too many sessions that sounded interesting. During most time slots, I had a hard time choosing between them.

I also want to say a little bit about Salt Lake City. I've driven across Utah in the past, but this was my first visit to its capital. I must say the weather was nice. When I left Minnesota, it was -5˚ F, so it was already 40˚ warmer as soon as I stepped off the plane. Getting from the airport to downtown wasn't fun, since the hotel I stayed at doesn't offer airport shuttle service, and I didn't feel like paying for a taxi. I ended up riding the bus, without knowing exactly where it goes, or where I needed to get off. I ended up dragging my luggage several blocks around downtown searching for my hotel. It looks like they're constructing more rails in the direction of the airport. Based on <SARCASM>extensive research</SARCASM>: they're extending the train to the airport, with an estimated completion of 2012 or 2013. Alas, probably not soon enough for next year.

There's more I'd like to say, but I'm going to leave it there for now. I've already been working on this post for a few days, and there are another half dozen posts in draft, about individual sessions and such. If I wait until I'm completely satisfied with the content and writing of my posts, I'd never publish them. I'm sort of a perfectionist like that.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
    and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"