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Looking Back on RootsTech 2020

It seems so long ago… RootsTech 2020 took place in the last week of February, but since then the whole world has changed. Actually, the majority of our world has come to a standstill. Most of us are staying at home, we are no longer allowed to travel. Looking back on this situation, we are so lucky that we could fly or travel otherwise to Salt Lake City in February. It looks like RootsTech is going to be the only big genealogy event that survived this year.

Although the participants of RootsTech had heard of the new coronavirus, we had no idea it would change our lives so drastically. The family history conference in Salt Lake City had warned the attendees: wash your hands frequently, sneeze in your elbow and do not come to the convention center when you are sick. Nevertheless, thousands and thousands from all over the world came to the world’s genealogy capitol to celebrate the tenth edition of RootsTech.

This was my second time that I attended RootsTech and before I arrived in SLC I had decided to do a few things different than in 2019. First of all, I chose a different hotel. My hotel in 2019 was a very nice one, but too far from the conference center and situated in a bad neighborhood. This year I stayed in the Holiday Inn Express hotel, right opposite of the Salt Palace Convention Center. A good choice.

Second, I changed my primary goal for the conference from learning to networking. When I attended RootsTech for the first time in 2019, my schedule was filled with 5 or 6 classes per day. I remember that at the end of the conference I came to the conclusion that I had seen only half of the expo hall and met only half (or less!) of the people that were on my list. This year I decided to focus more on the exhibitors and less on the talks. And I spent a few hours on volunteer work.

Also new to me, was the role of ambassador and speaker. I was already ambassador and speaker for RootsTech London in 2019, but this was my first speaker/ambassador experience in SLC!

Those who are not familiar with family history or genealogy often ask me why I go to Salt Lake City and what I do there. Let me give you an idea with this review of the days.

Friday 21st
After a flight of almost eleven hours it felt great to be in Salt Lake City again.

Saturday 22nd
I went to City Creek Center and got groceries from Harmons. For lunch, I met genealogists from Belgium and the UK at the Nauvoo Café. In the evening I ate at the restaurant Red Iguana II with some genie-friends from the US, the UK and Norway.

Sunday 23rd
I attended Music and the Spoken Word and went to church in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. That evening I met one of the genealogists from the UK and we had dinner in the restaurant of the Radisson Hotel.

Monday 24th
Time for client research in the Family History Library. I appeared in Monday’s with Myrt, a weekly internet show and I attended the Commonwealth dinner at the Blue Lemon.

Tuesday 25th
RootsTech started officially on Wednesday, but as a speaker and ambassador I was invited for two social activities on this Tuesday. First I was at the speakers social where all speakers got the opportunity to have a new headshot taken by professional photographers. Big announcement: RootsTech is coming back to London in November 2020! Wonderful news, an extra event in the second half of the year. (Little did I know about what was to happen to all the events in the rest of the year!)

After the drinks I moved to the next room where dinner was served for the ambassadors. We heard from Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch and Jen Allen, event director of RootsTech how this conference developed over the years from a small meeting of genealogists and techie’s into a major event with 30,000 attendees in four days. Some of the ambassadors were lucky enough to win prizes in a quiz. I did not win anything, but I had very interesting table companions. One of them served his LDS mission in the Netherlands, and in my hometown Tilburg! Coincidence, faith, planned?

Wednesday 26th
I was so honored and pleased to be selected as a speaker, for the first time in the United States! I had no idea how many people would be interested in Dutch websites for genealogy, but apparently quite a lot! Almost 100 attendees came to my classroom, enjoyed the babbelaars (no stroopwafels this time) and listened to my talk. Some of them found distant relatives in the room through the FamilySearch app! Afterwards people were queuing to ask me questions about genealogy in the Netherlands. I did not have much time then, because I was supposed to give two short interviews for Family Tree Magazine. This US based genealogy magazine published my article on Dutch websites the same month and this was an unique opportunity to promote my article, and their magazine.

In the afternoon the conference was officially opened by Steve Rockwood and others. As this was the tenth edition we learned about the highlights of previous editions. Not only the past of the conference was discussed, the focus was also on the future, on the next generation. Children were handing out a special pin, showing the logo of the conference: a big 10.

It was a long day, with lots of talking. In the evening I had dinner with members of the Virtual Genealogical Association (at restaurant Gracie’s).

Thursday 27th
I started the day not feeling well: dehydrated! Fortunately I was able to recover rather quickly by drinking lots of fluids. The same morning I spent some time in Coaches Corner, where I helped one of the attendees with his Jewish ancestors from Amsterdam. Later on, I volunteered at the booth of the Association of Professional Genealogists. The day ended with a nice dinner: a group of locals, all sharing a special love for genealogy and for the Netherlands, gathered at restaurant P.F. Chang’s.

Friday 28th
It was time to walk around in the expo hall, meet vendors and spend some time in the media hub. This is a great place, where ambassadors can sit and relax, work on blogs, have interviews with celebrities. Many of the ambassadors and media experts grabbed the opportunity to talk to the keynote speakers (Steve Rockwood, Leigh Ann Tuohy, David Hume Kennerly, Emmitt Smith) or to leaders in the genealogy business. I have to admit, I had never heard of any of the keynote speakers (except for Steve Rockwood) and therefore I did not sign up for any of the interview sessions. Maybe next year, when I do know the keynote speakers?

Saturday 29th
The last day of the conference is a crowdy one, with thousands and thousands of attendees. Families with children come for special activities, organized by the LDS church, and for the expo hall. Like on previous days I spent some time at the APG booth and on walking around and meeting people. That is why conferences like this are so useful: you get to meet people that you normally only ‘talk’ to on social media.

Sunday 1st
Snow in Salt Lake City! This changed my plans. I decided to go to Music and the Spoken Word, but not to church. Instead I spent the rest of the day in my hotel room. I reflected on the words that I heard at Temple Square that morning and did some genealogy.

Monday 2nd
It was time to jump on the plane, back to the Netherlands. The flight home is always overnight, so I arrived the next morning at 8.00am in Amsterdam. Feeling healthy, but suffering from a major jetlag!

Overall, it was great to be at RootsTech again. The (small) organizing team and all the volunteers did a great job: the tenth edition was an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to educate attendees, to promote my business, to learn from peers and to meet wonderful people. The combination of this event and the very special location (Salt Lake City) make the (long) trip more than worth it.

In the weeks after RootsTech each and every major conference was cancelled. My plans to go THE Genealogy Show (Birmingham, UK), the APG Professional Management Conference (Portland, US) and RootsTech London (UK) later this year have evaporated. I truly hope that the world will be ‘normal’ again in the beginning of 2021 because I really want to go back to SLC and to attend RootsTech for the third time. We will see…