RootsTech: Genealogy Gets Wired to the Gills
The conference attendees crowded the hall of the Salt Palace to listen to a librarian who specializes in genealogy talk about online tools like the Internet Archive, Flickr and StoryCorps. There was hardly a seat free in a hall that held several thousand. Par for the course for a tech conference. So far.
What sets this conference apart is the average age, which can’t have been below sixty, and the nature of the listeners, the overwhelming majority of whom are not developers or tech marketers, but genealogists.
Genealogy, or family history research, is an enterprise that used to primarily feature such cutting edge technology as ledgers and later – gasp! – microfiche, has now firmly landed in the 21st century. RootsTech, sponsored by FamilySearch, is one of the first conferences dedicated to the the application of online technology to historical family research.
Putting their technology where their conference is, RootsTech is streaming its keynotes online and the flood of family history bloggers are tweeting it with the #rootstech hashtag. Talks include the use of cloud computing in family research and use of media sharing sites to preserve individual family history.
Sessions move from very soft tech, like which genealogical websites to use for what, to very hard, including an examination of the the mobile web and “Bringing Distributed Version Control to Arbitrary Object Graphs.”
Perhaps the most interesting undertaking is a programming contest. Programmers were invited to use the FamilySearch API to create a genealogical tool. The winners will receive a small cash prize.
Taking place in Salt Lake City, the conference is leveraging the Latter Day Saints’ long-standing love-affair with family research. As far as genealogy goes, the church serves the function that Nike does in sports products in the Northwest, as a center-of-gravity and attractant. The area’s genealogical libraries are legendary and were among the first targets of FamilySearch’s move online beginning in 1989, 104 years after the company’s beginning as the Genealogical Society of Utah. It currently has a vast database that includes over a billion names in its searchable database.
In the next day or two I’ll examine the API contests’ contestants and winners and talk to its CEO about the technological future of our families’ pasts.
Salt Palace photo by Jingles the Pirate. Yep.
Editor’s disclosure: RootsTech covered Mr. Hopkins’ airfare and hotel.