7 Lessons From RootsTech 2016 That Can Lead to Family History Breakthroughs

February 26, 2016  - by 
A Family Laughs While Attending RootsTech

At RootsTech 2016, thousands of family history lovers and genealogists from around the world came together to share, learn and be inspired. However, with hundreds of vendors, presentations and speakers, you may have missed a little something. Or perhaps you’re wondering how you can take what you learned and use it.

FamilySearch—and some of your fellow genealogy lovers who attended RootsTech—can help.

We followed up with RootsTech ambassadors and presenters to get their top event takeaways and lessons learned, and we’ve compiled them below. Our hope is that these tips will help you achieve some research breakthroughs as you build out your family tree.

  1. Make an Action Plan

Genealogist Thomas MacEntee

After an epic four-day event, you probably have a lot of information and thoughts going through your mind. Genealogy professional and founder of GeneaBloggers, Thomas MacEntee, said his best advice is to create an action plan.

“So many of us attend genealogy conferences or watch online webinars complete with handouts, but do we ever act upon that valuable knowledge?” MacEntee asked rhetorically. “Make good use of your invested time by writing out a simple bullet point action plan.”

Here’s how he suggests organizing your plan:

  • Start with: “At RootsTech I learned ______.” Then underneath that statement make a short list of topics.
  • Next, write this statement: “I am going to use this knowledge in my own genealogy research by ______.“ Then create another short list of action items.
  • Finally, place your action plan somewhere you can see each such as on your office wall or near your computer.

“As you complete each action item, cross them off and you’re on your way to putting your RootsTech experience to work for you and for your family history,” MacEntee said.

  1. Don’t Forget About Genealogical Societies

Genealogist D. Joshua Taylor

One of D. Joshua Taylor’s presentation encouraged people to get connected with local genealogical societies. He says that even as more materials move online, those societies have an important role in family history.

“The most important point I would share (and one that seemed to resonate with attendees) was the need to still have human interaction with the ‘boots on the ground’ organizations,” the author, speaker and genealogist said. “You can use technology to reach out and connect, but there are few substitutes for a dedicated society that works hard to preserve and make accessible records within their own communities.”

  1. Make Your Family Tree a Family Affair ­

 Famicity Co-Founder Guillaume Languereau

Entrepreneur and co-founder of Famicity.com, Guillaume Languereau, believes encouraging the whole family to participate in researching and building the family tree is key, which is what Famicity aims to foster.

“Create a living family tree where the whole family is able to work together to collaborate, share, and preserve the story of each and every person in their tree,” Languereau said.

  1. U.S. Special Censuses Offer Fantastic Insights

Genealogy Professional Sunny McClellan Morton

In her presentation, “What’s Special About US Special Censuses” Sunny McClellan Morton, contributing editor to Lisa Louis Cooke’s Genealogy Gems, dove into the additional—and often unknown—special censuses that started in 1810 and continued into the 1900s.

“The census forms we most-commonly recognize and use are actually just ‘Schedule 1,’ the population schedule,” she explained. “Doesn’t that make you want to ask, ‘Wait, if there’s a Schedule 1, shouldn’t there be additional schedules, too?’”

Morton said that for many years additional schedules were filled out for those who qualified. But what’s in those special census schedules?

“Depending on the year and the schedule type, you may discover information about recently-deceased ancestors (in the mortality schedules, 1850-1880); disabled or institutionalized ancestors (in the 1880 DDD schedule); enslaved or slave-holding ancestors (in the 1850-1860 censuses); Civil War veterans (1890 only); farmers (1850-1880) and more,” Morton said. “Many of these schedules have been digitized and indexed and are available online.”

“Because of the unique information these special schedules may contain, it’s worth searching them for your ancestors for each decade available,” she added.

Check out Morton’s lecture syllabus for a detailed summary of what’s in each special schedule, where to find them online and offline, and additional tips that may help you get the most out of them.

  1. Make Your Family Tree Public

Accredited Genealogist Peggy Lauritzen

Accredited genealogist Peggy Lauritzen said she took home nearly a dozen lessons from attending RootsTech 2016.

“I learned to listen … I learned to set a goal … I learned that people really want to talk about their families,” Lauritzen recalled. “I [also] learned that these ancestors are very, very close to us. I could almost feel them beside me as I gave my recorded presentation.”

And one central thing she learned was the importance of a public family tree. A public family tree allows others—usually your own relatives—to make contributions and connections, too.

“Because of my public family tree on FamilySearch, I made a connection with a cousin who shares the same great-great-grandfather as me,” Lauritzen said.

  1. Slow Down and Enjoy the Present.

Family History Lover Carissa Rasmussen

As a millennial mom, family history lover Carissa Rasmussen had a special takeaway for other moms: slow down. Remember, you and your family are making your history in this very moment.

“Rather than focusing on lighting and the perfect moment, I’m hoping to help more moms feel courageous in their pursuit of raising children in a world that’s constantly trying to tear us down by spreading the Joy of Family,” she said. “The beauty in the simplicity of life is there to see when we slow down. Making sure I take the time to capture this beauty before it’s swept away is the most important thing I learned at RootsTech 2016 this year.”

  1. Family History is For Everyone

Just as this quote from D. Joshua Taylor states, genealogy and family history is not just for the older generations.

And RootsTech proved just that, with people of all ages participating in this year’s event.

“Nowhere else could you get 4,000 teenagers to give up a Saturday morning to learn about genealogy,” Lauritzen said of the youth at RootsTech. “Their minds are quick, and their fingers fly.”

What are some of the lessons you learned at RootsTech 2016? Is there any advice you’d give to other family history lovers in their quest to build their family tree? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments section below.

Have you started a public family tree on FamilySearch? Get started by signing up for a free family tree maker account today.

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  1. Siempre leo los blogs. Todos tienen aportes muy interesantes para aplicar en nuestra búsqueda, y un montón de informaciones tan útiles. Muchas gracias por todo!

    1. English Translation:

      I always read blogs. All have very interesting contributions to implement in our search, and lots of information that’s so useful. Thank you so much for everything!

  2. These are really good points and I like Thomas’ idea very much. While I enjoyed my first RootsTech, the one thing I did learn was, what is written about the talk/seminar is OFTEN NOT what it is really about. For example, The talk by Roger P Minert, on German Census records, wasn’t about that but how he researched the topic and published a book. Not helpful at all.

  3. I learned as a 1st Timer what I Was doing right in my Research and what I needed to be doing that I wasn’t. I’m taking my Experience and building on what I have. Hoping that someone will want to go and learn from Conference experience.

  4. I need to learn more about my family in Germany. Everything just stops with my great great grandfather . It seems like their is a lot of information for the States which is wonderful ,I have used many resources .Thanks for all you do to help us find our ancestors, I love Roots Maject still learning .

  5. I liked the comment about your current history. Use your facebook records, record your parents stories, write about the current culture, your successes, failures, what you learned and didn’t, what you cried and laughed about, where you went, your hobbies, your travels, the good, the bad, the ugly and beautiful, save the journals, diaries, your friends and enemies, what you heard at the reunions, your collections, etc. Your descendants will LOVE you for it. Literally anything that offers insight about you will be gobbled up!

  6. This tree allows others to log on and change information you have put in. I have someone who looks like they are deliberately doing this with incorrect information, from changing my sister’s death date to changing information I have put in from birth, death, marriage certificates.

    1. Ernestine, Have you tried to contact the person through the Family Search message system? Don’t attack, just start with something like “Hi, I noticed we are working on the same family. Lets figure out how we are connected.”
      After you establish a relationship, you ask them where they got the information they entered and explain how the information you have is supported by sources (historic documents or personal knowledge). It doesn’t always work but it is worth a try.