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Is anyone out there going to Rootstech this year?

Rootstech is the world’s largest convention dedicated to family history. From all over the world people gather to learn more about family history research and to connected with resources, vendors and experts related to geneaology.

It is held every winter in Salt Lake City, Utah and now another event is planned for the fall of 2019 in London.

Rootstech is not cheap. It costs about $200 for entry to the four day event, although it is quite easy to score free tickets for the usual Family Discovery Day offered on the last day of the event. The event offers classes on a number of family search related topics as well as speakers from all over who provide instruction and motivation. I am lucky enough to live close enough to Salt Lake to attend Rootstech most years and I will be going again February 27th through March 2nd.

I know there are others in the family who either attend this event each year or hope to attend it in the future. I have a hope that we can someday gather whatever family can attend Rootstech to meet up and share resources.

My vision for it would extend to something even greater if we could drum up enough interest. On the Sunday after Rootstech I would like to see us host our own family gather dedicated to our family history. This could be held close to Salt Lake City and live-streamed to family anywhere. The combination of Rootstech the conference with a family event dedicated to family history would be a great way to improve our collective efforts, to foster greater momentum in pushing the work forward and to build a love for our heritage with our children and grandchildren.

Such a family gathering could showcase talks given by family members, especially the elderly who cannot travel but want to contribute. It could easily share gathered information, photos and videos that others perhaps have not seen and it could generate ideas from family folks engaged in the work from all over.

That would be the eventual vision. For now I would settle on just knowing who would be at Rootstech this year and who wants to meet up if you are going. If you are, please fill out the information below so I can contact you:

The final day of Rootstech is known as Family Discovery Day — a day when the Church sponsors the event for youth and families. I was able to get two of my daughters to come for a visit.

The effort is obvious. The more we engage our youth in family history they more inclined they are explore it on their own. There were a variety of activities set up, my favorite being a booth where the kids could call a grandparent or other loved one to hear a story. Here is my daughter Allie hearing a famous story from my Dad:

The preservation of stories — even simple goofy stories like this one — helps to connect our generations. In fact, the telling and the re-telling of stories was the constant theme of the entire conference. That is one of the more powerful ways that family history touches the hearts of every generation.

We also got to hear a presentation from Elder Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve who told us that engaging in the work of family history would give us the promise of protection in these Latter-days:

“Brothers and sisters, I promise you protection for you and your family as you take this challenge, to ‘find as many names to take to the temple as ordinances you perform in the temple, and teach others to do the same.’”

How does this happen? Elder Renlund and his family gave an entire presentation, which is summarized at this link.

But for me the protection that comes from doing family history is achieved by recognizing how it connects to nearly every aspect of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In all my studies of Christ family is squarely in the middle of it. He taught of love and being like His Father. The scriptures, which at the end of the day end up being nothing more than the history of families, continually emphasize the idea of being perfect. The Prophet Joseph taught that when Christ said “Be ye therefore perfect” a more correct translation of the word “perfect” would have been “complete”.

That changes the whole phrase — “be ye therefore complete” — can you indeed be complete without your family?

For me, doing family history is gospel living. It allows the life lessons of those we love from the past to be shared with us. We gain from them their wisdom as we come to recognize their trials and challenges in their efforts to build a better life for us.

My experience last year of running into the man in the wheelchair remains a pivotal moment in my family history experience. Like last year, I heard at Rootstech this year the testimony of the unbaptized and the unconverted of doing family history. They cannot fully explain their drive or desire to do the work.

But they do it.

As members of the Church, we have some context for that. And I’m grateful for that knowledge.

I may not yet have my children fully engaged in this work — or even have captured that vision entirely for other members of our family. I feel sad they don’t have this element in their lives and not just for safety’s sake alone. There is a level of happiness that comes from doing this work that would bless the life of anyone.

We will press on. Hopefully in time others in the family will come to grow in awareness of the treasure that this work is.

Today was another inspiring day at Rootstech. The best featured keynote of today’s conference agenda was Daniel Isay of StoryCorps.

You might recall a posting we made on our Facebook page about them around Thanksgiving. At that time they were driving an initiative to get kids to record talking to their grandparents about their memories.

That was just part of an overall ongoing project by StoryCorps. For more than a decade they have recorded the stories of people from all over – just two people talking, in most cases, about their lives and experiences. They take these usually brief conversations and stories and send them to the National Archives, where they have stored 65,000 stories like this one:

It is pretty clear to see how such recorded memories are such a powerful family history tool. It is inspiring a lot of ideas within me.

But as I attended today’s events with the present on my mind as much as the past I had to wonder – who are the natural storytellers of our family?

Well, obviously, we’re all storytellers in our own right.

We each have memories of times, places and people we eagerly recount. The closer to any such situations or people that we are the easier it is for us to tell the story.

But some just seem to have a knack.

One of the best storytellers I know is my father-in-law, Gary Gillen. He’s a legend with my kids for being able to tell the funniest stories. Of course, what makes the stories so much fun is the fact he can’t get through them without laughing like crazy himself.

Another who comes to mind is Gerald Quilter. My experiences with him were quite limited compared to others but he could tell great stories. He had the twinkle in his eye that always kept you on the edge of your seat. Long before I met my wife he told me the story of his rock garden, a story I thought for a long time was exclusive for just me but that I later learned was legendary among many in the family.

These thoughts and memories were all over me today as I explored the topic of our present Westover Family History. While our first year last year produced a lot of our family past we didn’t do a good job recording our family present. We lost a few last year but also saw a good share of new babies, graduations, weddings, missions and travels – all that should be noted in family history for generations to come.

I thought today how we can address this. It’s a big job. Some of the classes I took today talked about that and especially how to reach out to the Millennials in our family who can help preserve our present happenings. More on this down the road.

One of the great diversions of the day came from previewing the first episode of a new reality game show produced by KBYU called Relative Race. What a kick in the head.

The premise is this: four couples compete in a race across the country by first taking Ancestry DNA tests that are used to identify relatives unknown to them across the USA. Each day they are given a destination and a challenge that will lead them to the doorstep of these unknown relatives – where they will then spend the night. They are racing from San Francisco to New York and the prize is $25,000.

The show is a hoot, if just for the married people dynamics alone. But when you toss in the mysterious element of family connections a lot of magic happens. KBYU is putting out some creative stuff and this one is a lot of fun and should do well. It debuts on Sunday evenings starting February 28th.

I spent plenty of time today again learning about Church history resources for family history research. The Joseph Smith Papers are included via a Family Search integration now, a tantalizing prospect for the future as they are now starting to work on the Brigham Young Papers project. I find that a tantalizing prospect for years to come as these resources come out that could help tell even deeper stories from our family members whose lives were so connected to early Church history.

In all, today was a day that left me bursting with ideas. It also left me painfully aware that I need help – and a lot of it.

It was an emotional day for me at Rootstech. One filled with inspiration.

Things kicked off with the keynote addresses of this first official day of the event. Two presentations stood out for me. Steven Rockwood, head honcho at Family Search talked about the need to focus on the stories instead of the data when sharing our family history.

That’s pretty interesting considering that FamilySearch is all about the data. But his point is a recurring theme that I’ve felt keenly for many years now — and it was repeated over and over today.

The Spirit of Elijah comes from the stories, not the cold hard facts of names and dates. What inspires, uplifts, teaches and humbles one are the lives lived by those who came before us. They in part define who we are and that emotion comes back to me time and again.

In fact, that was the story shared by Paula Williams Madison, a retired NBC Universal Executive of black and Chinese descent. She told her story featured in this preview of her documentary – click here to see the trailer.

Fascinating tale of how family — no matter where or how — touches us.

Her point in speaking at Rootstech was to say “thank you” to the world of researchers who helped her bridge the gaps between Harlem and China. Quite a tale.

That was a good foundation for what followed for me today.

My morning after the keynotes did not start well. I attended a class that was supposed to instruct us on writing our own family history. I’ve been unsettled about that topic because it is easier for me to write about others than it is to write about myself.

This class was not as advertised, however. It was “taught” by an exhibitor who was there to pitch websites, family charts and custom books. It was more sales than practical advice and I quickly bailed on the class, more than a little annoyed.

I jumped into a Family Search class that gave tips about using Family Search. Fantastic class, even if some of the information was stuff I already knew.

I noticed something. Everything associated with Family Search in some way was packed – crowded to standing room only.

There’s a reason for that.

Family Search isn’t in the business of making money. The entire site is free.

This is important to recognize as you take inventory of the prodigious amount of progress Family Search is making. The emphasis on stories over data, as Rockwood explained, shows just how much Family Search has mastered the mechanics of tying together the available data.

The hook of it all – the meat – lies in the stories. And to get to the stories you’ve got to use the many beneficial features of Family Search.

From that class I learned to pretty much keep my eye on what Family Search is doing – and right behind that, what the Church was emphasizing.

Even though I’m not a family history consultant and I’m not in ward leadership I decided to attend the Church Family History department presentation about the vision of the Family History Department.

What a wise choice! And what an inspiring hour that was spent. It was every bit as good as anything you’d see in General Conference.

Elder Stephen Snow – yeah, we’re related – first announced ways the Church history department is interfacing with Family Search efforts. He announced the release of a database of early church missionaries dating from 1830 to 1930.

If one has ancestors who served a mission during that time frame we can get new information about them. I couldn’t wait to get home to check it out.

But then Steven Rockwood came back – this time in a tie and addressing the crowd as “Brothers and Sisters”.

He was inspiring in ways that few are at Rootstech and he gave what I consider to be a masterful presentation. He said, “If you want to understand the business plan of Family Search International, read 1st Nephi”, then he began to teach how the experience of Lehi was really a lesson in family history. Great talk with too many take aways for me to list here.

But again his talk was centered on the “heart” of family history – the stories we learn of those who come before.

That was again demonstrated through another Family Search class I attended later as they walked a recent convert through a live coaching session on finding ancestors via Family Search and preparing those names for the temple. The poor girl they used was a bit nervous but she was a good sport. I’d say she was maybe in her mid-twenties.

She had gathered just a few names and dates from a distant family member – and within a 30 minute demonstration they were able to find more data to paste into her family tree. In fact, they discovered a whole family of some 15 members – and gathered enough to print cards for them all to take to the temple. The look on her face was priceless – and one I could certainly identify with – as these discoveries unfolded in front of us.

Facts brought out questions, questions brought up searches, and searches began to sketch out a story. And the story brought realization and tears. All of it, of course, was made all the more powerful for this new member who suddenly had new context for getting to the Temple.

Oh, that I could do this work all the time – 24 hours a day. It is food for the spirit, hope for the soul, and light for dark hearts.