RootsTech London 2019 – Part 1

So here I am in the ibis London Excel, complete with badge, creating my first website post on a tablet – and ready for the first ever RootsTech London!

What a fantastic three days it promises to be. There’s the exhibition hall, which will be packed with stands large and small, occupied by a range of organisations and vendors from across the family history fold. Passes to access to the exhibition hall are free by the way, so if you are within easy travelling distance of London it would be well worth a visit just for this.

Then there is the stunning schedule of lectures or classes, by a dazzling and diverse array of speakers, offering something for everyone whatever their genealogical expertise or interests. The cost of a full RootsTech pass covers all of these. Using the RootsTech app I have highlighted the classes I am particularly interested in attending, and looking at the personal schedule this has generated for me in the app shows three days focussing primarily on genetic genealogy and researching people who served with the military! Other talks I hope to take in will look at various subjects including sources for researching those who migrated to Canada, technical topics such as cloud storage, saving and sharing information found online, and creating video clips, and a talk by Dave Annal entitled “My ancestor was a liar: Ignorance, half-truths and wilful deceit”! (The RootsTech app, incidentally, allows users to download speaker handouts – so it’s a great app to have whether or not you are attending the show.)

Also in the line-up are the ‘keynote speakers’: TV historian Dan Snow on Thursday, Paralympic gold medal winner Kadeena Cox (with FamilySearch’s own Steve Rockwood) on Friday, and entertainer Donny Osmond on Saturday. This is a FamilySearch event, and FamilySearch is very big on story telling as part of family history – the more inspirational the story the better! Their keynote speakers therefore include people who (if you are not familiar with RootsTech, celebrating its 10th event in Salt Lake City next February) you might not expect at a genealogy show. I certainly plan on listening to what a couple of those keynotes have to say.

For those who would like to enjoy some of these presentations, but can’t attend RootsTech London, check out the live-streaming schedule showing what will be streamed for free on the RootsTech London website home page. Also, a ‘virtual pass‘ is one of the pass options available, giving you online access to 20 recorded classes for a period of 9 months.

As always, a genealogy gathering like this also presents a great opportunity to meet and catch up with family and local historians in person. Some I have already met and look forward to seeing again. Others, who I know only from online chats via social media, I hope to see for the first time.

Rather than post a series of short posts on my RootsTech London experience, I plan to add to this article as the next three days unfold – so stay tuned!

The exhibition hall before opening on Day 1

Day 1, Thursday 24 October

My first impressions of RootsTech London in a nutshell: well organised, well attended, well worth attending and, well, wow!

Opening the first keynote session this morning, Steve Rockwood of FamilySearch confessed that when the show was being planned they wondered “If we build it, will they come?” The answer was a resounding YES, and nowhere was this more apparent than in the auditorium itself where the best-attended family history talk I’ve ever attended was about to take place. Steve handed over to show host Nick Barratt, who in turn made way for Brad Argent (from platinum sponsor Ancestry). Finally, keynote speaker Dan Snow was welcomed to the stage.

Dan (pictured below) is known as The History Guy, but he also has a good knowledge of his own family history – as well he might given that a maternal great-great-grandfather of his was David Lloyd George, and a paternal great grandfather was Sir Thomas D’Oyly Snow, a General in the First World War.

With the aid of clips from the 2008 TV programme My Family At War, in which Dan learned the shocking truth about General Snow, Dan revealed an ancestor in whom he could take very little pride. Not only did the General send thousands of men to their deaths in a poorly planned offensive, he then shifted the blame away from himself by saying the operation showed a “lack of offensive spirit”, for which he blamed the commander in the field.

We are all human and we are all fallible, Dan observed, and he suggested we should think of him when we find those less than shining examples of humanity in our own family trees. I was pleased that he also suggested that we think about how our own descendants might look back at us a hundred or two hundred years from now. Meat eating, car driving, plane flying during a climate crisis, and while the Amazon is burning what are we doing?

For more on Dan’s discoveries about his great grandfather General Snow, see My family’s dark Somme secret, by TV historian on the Guardian website. You can also read Dan Snow uncovers the secrets of his great-great-grandfather, David Lloyd George  on the BBC website.

My day of talks and classes on the main RootsTech schedule began at 09:00 with Myko Clelland of Findmypast going “Beyond the British census.” An excellent overview of census records themselves, and the many and varied ‘census substitutes’ which exist for the periods before, during and after those censuses. I missed the presentation on “Crossing the pond: tracing your ancestors’ journey to Canada” (for reasons which will soon become apparent) but I did take in two lessons relating to DNA. The first, by Jonny Perl, was a masterclass on “Tools and techniques for predicting relationships with autosomal DNA.” The second was “Tools for tree-building using Y-DNA test results and surname projects” by John Cleary. I am actively using both autosomal and Y-DNA test results in my Atcherley research, and both of these lectures were very useful.

The RootsTech London exhibition hall is not as massive as some had expected, but within it are stands from all the major players in the UK genealogy market and more besides. My first stop today was at the Ministry Of Defence stand, with the aim of checking a few Atcherleys on their database and ordering service records using a special one-off service made available for the show. This aimed to deliver copies of records within 3 hours. Given that it usually takes many weeks to acquire service records using the MOD’s current service, this was something I wanted to take full advantage of! The first step was to confirm the details of the service men and women of interest on the database and obtain barcodes for them. The second step, which I delayed so that I could attend Dan Snow’s keynote, was to place orders for the records I wanted using a beta of a new online ordering system which the MOD is developing and which should be online early next year.

This service was rather more popular than the MOD had anticipated, so the queues (especially for the second step in the process) were very slow-moving – something I did play a part in by ordering no less than 10 sets of service records! It was while waiting in line to place my orders that I missed the talk mentioned above. It was all worthwhile however. Although the three hour target was missed in my case, I did have all of my orders fulfilled before I left this evening.

Needless to say I didn’t get to explore the exhibition hall in full today. One of the stands I did make a point of visiting besides the MOD’s was that of Name and Place, a new software package for those of us conducting one-name / surname studies or one-place / local history studies. This new tool has been developed by Paul Carter and Pam Smith, and is due to launch in November. I am very much looking forward to getting my hands on it and giving it a test drive with my Atcherley surname and Waters Upton one-place studies, to see how it can help me analyse all the data I have gathered and identify patterns in the data, along with connections between the people and places.

I’ll have more to say about Name and Place in due course – and of course I also have more more to say about RootsTech London!

On to Part 2.

Picture credits.RootsTech London promotional image: by RootsTech / FamilySearch. All other photos: by the author.