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RootsTech London: my experience

Today I am sitting in a holiday house near the sea. It is raining cats and dogs. Not the best time to go out with the dog and walk in the dunes. Maybe later today. Instead I look back on my genealogy adventures from last week. I was in London (UK) for five days, attending the first European edition of RootsTech (24-26 October 2019). Here is a summary of what I did.

On Wednesday I left my house at 1.00pm. There was not too much traffic on the road to Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam), so I arrived two hours before my departure. After the security check I waited for more than an hour in one of the main areas at the airport. When it was time to board, I walked to the designated gate. Here I met Amberly Beck, who arrived in Amsterdam that morning after a flight from Salt Lake City. She missed her connecting flight and had to wait about seven hours for the next one. The good thing: we had some time to chat and we – more or less – traveled together to London.
After a pleasant flight, I arrived in London shortly after 4.30pm. Amberly and I took a taxi to our hotels. For the next four nights I would sleep at the Premier Inn Hotel near ExCel, the large venue where the RootsTech London conference took place. That evening I had dinner with a few genealogists: Heather Nowlan, Jane Sheehan and Karen Cummings from the UK, Roland Geiger from Germany and Yvonne Hausheer from Switzerland. Later that evening Kirsty Gray from the UK joined us. The genealogy fun had begun!

The next day I was invited for the Ancestry breakfast. Senior staff members told us about the product developments.
One of the things that I appreciated much was the new Ancestry feature to add more parents to an individual. Not only biological parents but – for example – also adopted parents or foster parents. Some genealogical software already had this feature, of course.
During the day I listened to a couple of talks. Lisa Alzo spoke about the use of research logs. Miles Meyer gave a tour of on-line European archives. Penny Walters answered the question: why are we searching for our ancestors? Finally, Daniel Horowitz showed websites with information about Jewish families.
RootsTech London offered a keynote session every day. After a warm welcome from Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch, MC Nick Barratt announced the speaker of day 1: Dan Snow. He showed a short video of how he visited the palace in France where his great-grandfather general Snow held office during the Battle of the Somme. Dan learned how his great-grandfather was partly responsible for the disastrous outcome of the first week of the battle. While he researched his great-grandfather he met a relative of one of the soldiers that were killed. Learning these details about his family history had a large emotional impact on Dan.

Between the talks I visited the expo hall, where many organizations and companies were present. They all showed their products, introduced new developments and gave demonstrations or short talks. A great place to meet people, as it turned out. Most of my time in the expo hall I spent on talking to fellow genealogists from all over the world. Some of them I met before, others I knew from social media only.
That evening I had dinner with my TGS Family. TGS is short for THE Genealogy Show, a genealogy event in Birmingham (UK) that we organized this year for the first time. The second edition of THE Genealogy Show is scheduled for 26-27 June 2020, again in Birmingham. Present were: Kirsty Gray, Nathan Goodwin and Robert Bristow (and Harisson) and Mark Daly from the UK, Liv Christensen and her friend Hans from Norway, Mags Gaulden from Canada and Jill and Robert Ball from Australia.

Friday morning started different than I had planned. When reviewing my presentation about genealogy in the Netherlands, the images seemed scrambled. Fortunately everything turned out to be fine when I played the PowerPoint presentation on the laptop in the classroom. I very much enjoyed my talk, with more than 60 attendees. Good reviews too, maybe because I offered them stroopwafels at the beginning of my talk.

Because of my unexpected panic situation with the presentation, I did not hear the keynote of the day, given by Kadeena Cox. I had the opportunity to talk to many other attendees. Again, meeting people is one of the most important aspects of these events. A great opportunity was the daily #AncestryHour meet-up at 3.00pm. It was good to finally see faces of those who are on-line every Tuesday evening. I did not have much time left to go to other talks but I listened to Ursula Krause and learned about German records.
The RootsTech program ended with a concert by Tre Amici. They sang a mix of classical and musical songs. Heather Nowlan and I enjoyed the concert very much, unfortunately not many RootsTech attendees showed up. That evening I had dinner with my hotel mates: Heather Nowlan, Karen Cummings and Jane Sheehan. Three other ladies joined us, but alas I forgot their names.

Saturday was a weird day. Not only because of the loads of people who attended Comin Con, all dressed up as their favorite superhero. Many of the RootsTechLondon attendees came this day to see Donny Osmond, who is still very popular in the US and in the UK. He had a great talk about his family history and about his own history, how he started at the age of five with his brothers for example. Large queues of attendees were waiting for a moment of meet and greet. Ambassadors were fortunate to interview Donny and to have a group photo. I spent more time on this ‘event’ than I had planned, but it was fun after all.

The only talk of this third day that I attended was that by Nick Barratt, who spoke about legal sources for genealogy. He explained very well how genealogists and academic historians can collaborate. There already is an interesting movement on Twitter: #HistorianCollaborate. Again, there was a #AncestryHour meet-up at 3.00pm. By then most of the RootsTech London attendees were tired, their brains were switched off or their feet hurted. Three exhausting days, but worth every minute and every Pound.
Again I ended the day with a nice dinner in our hotel, together with my three hotel mates.

The fifth day of this trip was all about: how do I get home as soon as possible? With a sick neighbor in the plane, huge traffic problems and trains that did not work it became a real challenge. At 6.00pm I was back home, very tired but also very pleased. My second RootsTech adventure was an amazing experience.

What I liked:

  • ExCel is a very good venue for an event like this.
  • The RootsTech crew did a very good job in organizing this first European edition.
  • Keynotes by Dan Snow and Donny Osmond were amazing. Not only entertaining but also genealogy related.
  • All the talks that I attended were of good quality, some better than others of course.
  • So many genealogists from Europe, America and Australia attended. It was great to meet them.
  • I made new friends, I spoke about new business opportunities.
  • Being an ambassador/speaker gave me a few extra benefits (the use of the media hub, the speaker ready room, reserved seats, and more).

Oh, and last but not least… Tyler Stahle (RootsTech’s marketing manager) interviewed me. I cannot wait to see how RootsTech is going to use parts of this video for marketing purposes. Stay tuned… I will let you know!