Jen Allen: The Woman Behind the RootsTech Magic

February 17, 2021  - by 
Jen Allen, head of the RootsTech Team

Organizing the annual RootsTech Conference is no small order—and RootsTech Connect has been a challenge in its own right. It takes someone of phenomenal skill to organize something so grand—and that’s where Jen Allen comes in. Think of Jen Allen as the conductor of a grand orchestra, making sure every string is tuned and every performer is ready to bring the symphony of RootsTech to life each year for the entertainment and edification of thousands of family history buffs.

Who Is Jen Allen?

Allen is a hometown girl who grew up in West Jordan, Utah, a small suburb about 25 minutes southeast of Salt Lake City. When she graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English, she says she “expected to teach high school English for the rest of [her] career.”

It didn’t work out that way—but for Jen, that was probably a good thing. She has always had a passion for organization and management. In fact, if there had been an “events planning” major when she was in college, she would have been first in line to sign up.

Jen Allen as a young girl

Before she became involved with FamilySearch, she was sidetracked from teaching English into scrapbooking—a hugely popular hobby at that time—where she managed events in the craft industry for nearly 9 years. She says, “Jumping from scrapbooking to family history really is not all that different—both are preserving family stories, just with less glitter and stickers.”

Now, Allen is head of the 9-member RootsTech team—and has been for 9 of the 11 years of RootsTech’s existence. After being involved with RootsTech for so long, Allen has learned to value her ancestry more deeply and knows a great deal about her own ancestors. In fact, her family now looks to her as the “go-to” person when genealogical questions arise.

Jen Allen’s Work with RootsTech

RootsTech is a massive genealogical conference hosted by FamilySearch. Typically, it takes place in the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah—though 2019 saw RootsTech spread to London as well.

This year’s global gathering, however, is a decided departure from the past. The coronavirus pandemic has caused us all to look at things differently—this year, there will be no streams of enthusiasts headed for the Salt Palace Convention Center.

Instead, the streaming will occur via computer, phones, or other portable devices with internet access as a virtual program that reaches beyond Salt Lake City into the far corners of the world.

“COVID changed everything,” Allen said.

What has been lost in the traditional “warm fuzzy,” in-person atmosphere that has meant lots of shoulder-rubbing with like-minded enthusiasts in the confines of the Salt Palace has been gained in greater numbers of participants, she noted.

Jen allen with her family

RootsTech 2021 is expected to draw more than 250,000 people to the online event, compared with some 30,000 who were in the Salt Palace Convention Center for last year’s event. And nearly 90 percent of them have never attended RootsTech before. Over 1,000 sessions will be broadcast by hundreds of presenters in multiple languages.

Global pandemic or not, the show is going on.

Leading the RootsTech Connect Charge

A bigger event means more to manage—but Jen has lots of support. Scores of FamilySearch employees have responded to the call for help under tight deadlines and will be unsung heroes as many happy viewers tune in to learn, be entertained and inspired, and make new personal and family discoveries when the curtains of RootsTech 2021 open to a global audience.

Allen estimates that through the duration of the 2021 RootsTech event, slated for 25–27 February, more than 900 people behind the scenes—a combination of volunteers, temporary hired hands, and many FamilySearch personnel—will have contributed an unbelievable effort toward a one-of-a kind, very successful conference.

RootsTech Speakers from a previous year on stage.

The contributors to this year’s virtual event range from FamilySearch directors, managers, and employees to third-party vendors, hundreds of notable speakers, and the FamilySearch technology experts who will have an enhanced role this year trying to create the event’s signature in-person magic and vibrancy in an entirely online environment.

Those are a lot of strings to tune and orchestrate. Knowing which one needs tweaking at which time is something Jen has learned over the years with RootsTech, which has easily grown into the largest gathering of family and genealogy enthusiasts in the world.

Not bad for a woman who had never signed in to a family research site until she “got the job”!

New Ideas Pioneer RootsTech Connect

Planning RootsTech Connect 2021 has been based on a new concept—a free, full schedule of virtual gatherings that will allow participants to stay at home and take in their personal choice of selections. The focus, as always in all things RootsTech, is on helping people learn more about their own ancestry and on cementing generations as families.

“We have experiences planned in 11 languages, but even more than that are coming in,” Allen said. “It makes it more complicated, but it brings in more people who can participate from all over. You might even discover you have a cousin in Ireland.”

Planning for each annual RootsTech event occupies all the one-year interval between events. There is no rest for the weary. As soon as the current year’s event is over, part of the “sweeping up and clearing away” will include an in-depth analysis.

Jen Allen at RootsTech

“We’ll spend a couple of weeks learning what we can from this year’s event and then begin planning for next year’s program,” said Allen. How much the unique circumstances that guided planning for the global 2021 session will spill over into future events remains to be seen. Even if the pandemic eases and a large gathering is approved, elements of the virtual format are certain to be incorporated in future RootsTech events.

“Virtual will never go away,” said Allen. She acknowledged that vendors who love a face-to-face opportunity to tout their genealogy-related wares are hoping for a live event. And many enthusiasts are longing for the shoulder-rubbing opportunity again.

Jen Allen’s Life outside of RootsTech

With a commitment to RootsTech that seems likely to stretch a long way into the future, Allen hopes for some travel time. She and her family spent some time last year in Amsterdam, and found it a real “Dutch treat,” she said.

But when travel is not on the agenda, Jen and her family enjoy watching movies, particularly action films and comedies. And there is always the search for those who went before.

Although genealogy has traditionally been perceived as an activity for elderly persons, Allen notes that more and more children and teenagers are finding it to be an interesting and rewarding pastime. Her own boys, ages 13, 12, and 9, “are growing up with it.”

A girl participates in RootsTech from a previous year.

“They think their mom has an important job,” she said. Her husband too is a RootsTech fan. “He goes to classes and loves the events. It all helps create an experience for our family.”

With Jen and everyone else who has contributed to this year’s event, RootsTech Connect is shaping up to be a conference you won’t want to miss. Be ready to visit the site on 25 to 27 February to take part in all the excitement.

Twila Van Leer

Twila Van Leer is a volunteer features writer for FamilySearch. She is a retired Deseret News editor and staff writer.

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  1. Twila, great blog. You get all the fun writing assignments. How did you land this one? I love your energy and big heart. You love doing fun things. Proud to know you.

  2. I have signed up but will be working on Thursday and Friday. Will Roots Tech be recorded and if so how do I access it later?

    1. Hi Lori! Thank you for your question. All the RootsTech content is available on demand. You will be able to access the sessions over the course of the next year. You can login to the website beginning on 24 February 2021 and build a playlist of content you are interested in watching.

  3. How do you go against unproven “facts” about who your ancestor is? So many people say Blah blah blah is my ancestor, but nothing seems to jive.

    1. Hi Dorothy! Thank you for your question. Keep focusing on using source documentation and reason statements in the work you are doing and encourage others to do the same. Many people are very new to family history and genealogy research and everyone is at a different place in the learning curve.

  4. This is a fabulous opportunity!! So exciting all you and your team have accomplished. I have two questions, how do we connect to our other cousins besides the 300 that is shown. I have over 51,000 and cannot find a way to connect and see who they are. Second, my biological father’s side which is Puerto Rican is not showing any relationship matches. Why?? That is the side I need to work on and am not finding any connections. HELP PLEASE.

    1. Hi Debra! Thank you for your question. The Relatives at RootsTech feature pulls relationships based on what is in the FamilySearch Family Tree. You need to have generations of deceased family members and living relatives of these people would need to be signed into the feature and participating with RootsTech in order for you to see matches and the relationships. You can use the search filters and filter on names in order to see more of your connected relatives. Due to the hundreds of thousands of participants, it is too taxing on the resources to show more than 300 relatives at a time to each user. Also, if you have multiple parent relationships in the FamilySearch Tree, the feature is following what relationship you have marked as preferred. So if you have two father relationships (biological and adoptive), you will want to mark the preferred relationship to the biological relationship in order for you to potential relatives of that relationship. Then toggle back and forth as needed.

      1. Debra! Another way you can see more relatives than the 300 is to narrow now the locations of your relatives. So take United States, then select a specific state. You’ll be able to see more than the 300 this way.