Rootstech again

It seemed obvious that I should write something summarising Rootstech. But the parable of the blind men and the elephant came to mind – anything I could write would only be a description of one part – a trunk? a tail? a bit of a leg? So what follows makes no claim to be a verdict on the event.

To be frank, I found it overwhelming. The one “General Assembly” I attended felt like a mixture of Oprah and Nuremberg. The buzzword was “story”, now a requisite part of every sales pitch. And it went on for almost two hours.

One part was genuinely moving and surprising, though. David Isay’s StoryCorps is a wonderful oral history project that deploys mobile recording booths across the US allowing families and individuals to tell their own stories and then storing the results in the Library of Congress. Some of the samples he played were truly extraordinary – a murderer who had become a surrogate son to the woman whose son he killed; the father of an Iraq veteran gone off the rails who refused to give up on him; a black surgeon paying heartfelt tribute to the uneducated father who had always helped and believed in him.

At first I thought “Only in America”. Then I remembered the good old Irish confessional, a dead ringer for those mobile booths. An Irish version of StoryCorps would be brilliant.

By far the most interesting talks I attended were on the techie side. I didn’t know there’s an entire eco-system of Software Developer’s Kits for FamilySearch, allowing developers to plug in and use it from the inside. When I get time …

The continent-sized exhibitors’ hall was also a bit much for me. Many fantastic products and stands

The biggest family tree in the world. From the Rootstech exhibitors’ area

, but so, so, so many of them. I ended up fleeing to my hotel room.

Where I worked on inventing the ideal Amercan food, at least based on what the TV was telling me. Bacon-wrapped Steak N’ Lobster deep-dish pizza, anyone?

Rootstech attendees

Yesterday I tweeted that Rootstech had registered 26,000 attendees. I was repeating what I’d heard from the stage at the Friday “General Assembly”, but a few hours later I thought I must be mistaken, that the figure surely included online participants. So I went away and had a look at figures for other years, to give some sense of context.

Nope, 26,000 (probably more by now) was right. Add in the online followers and it’s getting towards the quarter-million.  Stupendous.

One reason is Salt Lake City. Latter-Day Saints make up a majority of the population of Utah (though not SLC itself) and genealogy is an obligation for any member of the Church. So there’s a huge captive audience.

But still, I repeat:  stupendous

Jetlag and rootstech

Still arriving in installments, with bits of sanity turning up unannounced at all hours. In spite (because?) of that, the first day here has been amazing. It’s given over to an “Innovator Summit”,  a mix of genealogy business and tech talks.  The by-the-way assumption of literacy in both genealogy and all sorts of coding languages (javascript, PHP, Ruby, C++ and more) is just wonderful. The US has an entire weird and wonderful ecology out there, where this stuff is taken for granted.

So it’s not just one guy in his dressing-gown in the front room in Drumcondra hacking away. I’m normal, Ma, I’m normal!

One aisle of three in the FHL lined with drawer after drawer of microfilm of GRO records. Sshh! Don’t tell the Registrar-General!

I also managed to spend a few hours in the Family History Library, where  I was mobbed (in the nicest, most Mormonly way) when word got out that someone knew something about Irish records.  But they have more Irish records on microfilm than any other repository on the planet. Granny was taught how to suck eggs.

The meat-and-potatoes classes kick off tomorrow, and the multi-acre vendors’ area opens for business.

Salt Lake City will probably seem less surreal when the jet-lag wears off, but it’s plenty enjoyable already.

The end of the ‘Irish Roots’ column

The Irish Times‘ ‘Irish Roots’ column, which I’ve written since February 2009, is coming to an end in ten days or so, with the last one due on February 8th. The decision wasn’t mine. Like all newspapers, the Times is struggling to stay solvent as it goes digital, and just can’t afford to do everything it used to. Ah well.

I think it’s a mistake  – but I would, wouldn’t I?

Yes, it’s very important for a newspaper to have a digital-first approach. But the paper ‘paper won’t die. It might shrink to a fraction – 20%? 30%? – of glory-days circulation, but a kernel of true believers will remain. Look at what’s happening with CDs and book-shops, which should be long dead if the digital visionaries had been right. Instead, you have to fight through the crowds to get into the last big book-shop in Dublin, Hodges Figgis.

That kernel of true believers will be the basis of the Times‘ survival, I think. Unless they drive them away by shrinking the physical newspaper too much.

Enough venting.  I’ll continue to write about Irish heritage and genealogy in this blog, if only because it’s too late to stop now.