February 28, 2019
Writer: Virginia Henry

The biggest family history conference in the world is happening Feb. 27 through March 2. It’s called RootsTech. This conference started in 2011. Over the years, the purpose of the conference has evolved.

“Our goal was a little bit different than it is now,” said Tyler Stahle, the marketing manager for RootsTech. “We were really trying to engage the technology community.”

Organizers saw a need to have tech influence genealogy. Much of family history wasn’t online or even available in a digital format when RootsTech started. Instead, most of it was paper copies of records or pictures. RootsTech started so FamilySearch could appeal to web and app developers in order to digitize genealogy.

We see how much things have changed since then. You can do anything in the palm of your hand now. You can index or access records right where you are at any time.

“We’ve kind of shifted our focus from trying to engage the developer community, now we’ve kind of shifted our focus to look at the user community,” Stahle said.

At RootsTech this year there are more than 300 different classes, each with its own focus. Some are more advanced, like how to use the census to locate family members. They also have beginner classes that simply talk about making your own history through using Instagram and other tools like blogs.

“It’s kind of just become this great place to come no matter where you’re at on your genealogy journey and learn a little bit more about family history,” Stahle said. “It doesn’t matter what you’re interested in you’ll find experts teaching classes about that topic.”

Classes aren’t the only attraction RootsTech offers. Each morning of the four-day conference begins with a keynote speaker.

This year, Patricia Heaton from the show “Everybody Loves Raymond” is among the speakers.

“She’s going to share her own personal stories of what it’s like to play a mom on TV for the last two decades but also what it’s like to be a mom in real life, and raise kids and have a career at the same time,” Stahle explained.

Heaton has four boys of her own.

Saroo Brierley will also speak. He wrote an autobiography that was turned into the Oscar nominated movie called “Lion.” He is from India but was separated from his family at five years old. Decades later he went on a journey to be rejoined with them.

“We’re looking for individuals who have a good family story to share,” Stahle said.

For the last decade, RootsTech has happened only in Salt Lake City. This year, it's expanding. October 24-26 is RootsTech in London, England.

“We’ve seen a lot of interest in family history especially throughout Europe,” Stahle said. “A lot of great records have been preserved there by people.”

We will have to wait and see if RootsTech continues to expand the conference as interest in family history continues to grow.

“Family history isn’t just about old documents and old photos,” Stahle explained. “Family history is about what we’re doing now. Family history is every bit as much about us and recording our own stories and our lives as it is researching the lives of our ancestors.”

For more information about the conference visit Rootstech.org. If you can’t make it down to Salt Lake City you can live stream some sessions every day for free. If you want to access more content there is a paid digital pass where you can get 18 recorded classes available to you year round. Apply the user code 19interview for a ten percent discount.