Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Genealogy, RootsTech 2016 and the Digital World

We have been planning and looking forward to RootsTech 2016 and the associated workshop and Innovators Summit beginning on February 2, 2016. During the past two weeks, I have also been teaching a series of classes about online digital book collections. Accordingly, I have been thinking about the impact of digitization projects on genealogy in general.

Unless you live in a cave all by yourself, you can hardly be unaware of the progress of digitalization. Whether you buy in or opt out, you can hardly ignore the proliferation of cell phones, digital billboards and other in-your-face kinds of changes. In genealogy, the changes with the most impact involve the growth of online databases with billions upon billions of digitized records. Further, unless you are in the opt out category, you are probably using a computer and at least a smartphone or a tablet for a part of your genealogical work. But the changes accompanying this digital age are deeper and more pervasive than just the proliferation of gadgets.

Of course, I have been talking about RootsTech 2016 with nearly all of my associates and friends in and out of the genealogical community. But I am observing an interesting change in attitude. In years past, most of those who heard about the Conference were either planning on attending or wishing they could go. But recently there has been a subtle shift in the responses. Many of the more involved genealogists are deciding to stay home and watch the proceeding on their computers or later watch the recorded sessions. They give a variety of reasons including the inability to choose classes they like and the fact that classes have been filled to capacity. They also are overwhelmed at the choices offered and, if they have been before, comment on the crowds and difficulties of transportation and walking about. There really are few places in the Salt Palace to sit when there are thousands of people milling about.

I doubt that those attending the Conference this year will notice any change in the numbers. If anything, there will probably be more people attending than ever before. RootsTech 2016 is locally being advertised on billboards along the freeways and through every other media. This has not happened so much in past years and the added visibility of RootsTech 2016, will very likely have an impact. But general media advertising is not aimed at the "typical genealogist." The free "Family Discovery Day" on Saturday, February 6, 2016 will likely attract more attendees than the rest of the Conference. RootsTech 2016 is really three separate conferences combined in one venue at one time. This is not bad but for the core of genealogists who would be interested in attending, it appears that there is more emphasis on attracting non-genealogists than emphasizing the community.

This shift mirrors the deeper changes in genealogy caused by the digital shift in our society. Historically, those who were interested in researching their family history had to park themselves in libraries and archives to do their research. They needed to be dedicated researchers to make any progress in their efforts and spend a great deal of time writing letters to find documents and information about their families. Those days are past. With very few exceptions, today I could do more than 90% of the research I did over the space of fifteen or twenty years, in a few hours over a few weeks online. Because more experienced genealogists are confronting difficult research issues that remain difficult despite the digital world's assistance, they tend to think about those difficulties rather than focusing on the amount of more easily obtained information now available. In my own case, I am well aware of the limitations of the online database programs for the simple reason that I am doing research in the 1700s and 1600s.

Today, many people can make significant progress in discovering their family in a much shorter period of time by working online. This is where RootsTech 2016 is today. They are reaching out to those who now can find their families using the digital tools we have right now. But those who have worked on their family history for years and provided the base of information used by those who are coming to family history presently, are finding less and less to help them with their particular focused efforts. As such, RootsTech 2016 is not about genealogy at all. Here is the reason given to attend RootsTech 2016 from the website.
RootsTech, the largest family history event in the world, is the perfect place to discover, preserve, and share your family stories and connections across generations. With a line-up of world-class speakers, thrilling entertainment, over 200 engaging classes, and a huge expo hall, there’s something for everyone, no matter the age or skill level.
For a confirmed genealogist, there are some really good reasons to come to RootsTech 2016 but those reasons may be entirely different than they were just a few years ago when the keynote speakers were representatives of the major genealogy companies and the focus was on genealogy and technology.

I will still have an opportunity to see the technology side of the genealogical community at the BYU Family History Technology Workshop on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 here in Provo, Utah and the Innovators Summit on Wednesday, February 3, 2016. The rest of the "tech" in RootsTech 2016 will likely be on the Exhibit floor. Tellingly, if you use the filters provided for the list of classes, to filter the list of 291 classes, and click on the advanced Technology Skill Level, you will find 5 classes listed. Here are the numbers of classes with different filters.

Getting Started Track 85
RootsTech Track 133
Innovator Summit Track 26
Family Discovery Day Track 12

RootsTech Class Category
Discover 156
Preserve 26
Share 50

Innovator Summit Class Category
Business 11
Developer 15

Family History Skill Level
Beginner 184
Intermediate 39
Advanced 11

Technology Skill Level
Beginner 193
Intermediate 59
Advanced 5

I rest my case.

1 comment:

  1. I don't feel so sorry to be missing out now ;) actually it's the chance to make new friends and renew friendships that is one of the big draw cards.