Genealogy and technology—it’s a perfect blend. And where better to celebrate this blend than at the RootsTech Innovation and Technology Forum?
An attendee favorite, this forum at the RootsTech genealogy conference in Salt Lake City is where industry leaders share insights about innovation and their vision for the future. Attendees also get to see demos of exciting new technology that will make family history more accessible and engaging than ever before.
From Industry Leaders
Steve Rockwood, president and CEO of FamilySearch International, introduced this year’s forum with a reminder that, ultimately, technology is about people. “Technology is the great enabler,” he said, but it needs to “know its place.” He characterized the forum presenters as inspired genealogists and technologists who have both brilliant minds and sensitive hearts.
What Keeps Us from Innovating
Clark Gilbert, president of BYU–Pathway Worldwide, made the audience laugh by opening his keynote address with a comical episode of Candid Camera. After the video, which showed people responding to odd social cues inside an elevator, Gilbert discussed five ways our natural tendencies can keep us from innovating:
- Peer pressure—We fear losing the approval of others, so we stay with the status quo.
- Familiarity failures—We can’t see past our familiar worldview to innovate.
- Hardened habits—Habits may make us efficient in some settings, but they can keep us from innovating when new opportunities arise.
- Everyday decisions—Referencing Clayton Christensen’s book How Will You Measure Your Life, Gilbert described how seemingly small, everyday decisions can lead us away from innovation.
- Different performance criteria—To succeed at innovation, we must find new ways to measure success.
Giving Feedback is Key
Joshua Taylor, president of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, spoke about how his life changed 10 years ago when he began speaking with technologists. His advice to genealogists? Don’t just complain about what isn’t working; instead, provide feedback to technologists. Innovation is more likely when both try to understand each other’s worlds. Innovation starts with questions.
Taylor shared what he feels are the top five genealogical innovations of the past 10 to 15 years.
- Online access to the United States census.
- The FamilySearch record pilot, which changed how we access records online.
- Crowd-sourced indexing.
- Automated hints and matches.
- Consumer DNA tests, which sparked not only new audiences, but new tools.
And his wish list for the future? Tools that do the following:
- Make family history more accessible. For many around the world, access and opportunities are limited.
- Help us interpret and understand historical records, not just read the words.
- Help us learn. Family history is a constant process of education, so technology should teach us as well as help us discover.
- Enable us to share and preserve our family history. Sharing today is typically done in siloes; we need a way to connect these siloes.
The Latest Innovations
Here’s a look at the exciting new technology from the forum.
Ancestry.com showed a beta version of StoryScout, a tool that invites users to search for an ancestor. Using the ancestor’s historical records, StoryScout creates an engaging narrative that includes not only events in the ancestor’s life, but facts about the ancestor’s time and place.
Treasured enables users to create appealing 3D online museums to showcase family photos and documents. Museums can be shared with family and friends. Virtual reality is in development.
Explore Historical Images
The first digital record collections published by FamilySearch in 2007 contained around 100,000 images. That number has now skyrocketed to over 4 billion. Until recently, FamilySearch needed around 249 days to make a digital image accessible online. Innovation has now reduced the time to 24 hours. Check out the real-time image counter on the Explore Historical Images page.
Filae presented GeoSearch, a tool that plots historical record search results on a map. These visual search results provide an enlightening context that can help answer questions and break through brick walls.
Expanded 1939 Register
When findmypast initially published the 1939 Register, about 10 million names were redacted to protect the privacy of those who could still be living. Findmypast developed technology to identify which of those individuals are deceased, resulting in redaction being removed for about 4 million names. Findmypast’s British newspaper archive now contains over 36 million pages, each with the potential of close to 90 names per page.
The Time Machine project was created to combat the ongoing loss of historical data. It is a collaborative effort between universities, archives, and private companies to preserve information documenting Europe’s past.
Steve Rockwood concluded by asking attendees to consider how to help people learn to do family history, a different matter from simply training or teaching them. We need a paradigm shift from traditional ways of teaching genealogy. The innovations presented at the Innovation and Technology Forum help people learn by experience as they discover, gather, and connect their families in the past, present, and future.
We are stewards of our time and place, Rockwood said. We need to honor those in the past on whose shoulders we stand; we also should honor those we will serve in the future.
RootsTech began 10 years ago in an effort to spark collaboration between genealogists and technologists. The Innovation and Technology Forum provides evidence that both groups have benefited and will continue to benefit as they work together, moving family history forward in exciting and innovative ways.
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