Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Day 3 of RootsTech 2015 and my interviews with Myko Clelland, of FindMyPast, Paul Howes and Tessa Keough

The KeyNote Session on Saturday was a double-whammy, with A J Jacobs, creator of The Global Family Reunion, followed by Donny Osmond. You can watch the entire session here.

The session started with the announcement of the Grand Prize Winner of the RootsTech 2015 Innovator Showdown, which was Storyworth, a service which is designed to help people record their family stories.

A J Jacobs described how he came to be organising the world's largest family get-together, the Global Family Reunion on 6th June 2015.  We all had "I am a Cousin" signs under our chairs so that when A J Jacobs came on stage, we would hold them up to welcome him. He also described us how he "lived the bible" for a whole year.  I found his presentation very amusing, and am disappointed that a prior engagement on 6th June 2015 will preclude me joining in the Global Family Reunion festivities.

Donny Osmond, who needs no introduction, regaled us with his family stories - as well as a bit of singing.  He can still sing!  He was also very amusing.

While Donny Osmond was backstage being photographed with the genealogy bloggers, I was busy interviewing Myko Clelland,  Partnerships and Outreach Manager at FindMyPast.  My interview with him is below:

Myko confirmed quite a few new partnerships that FindMyPast is looking into. In particular the partnership with FamilyTreeDNA could be very interesting to the UK genealogy community, who have not yet fully embraced the possibilities afforded by the use of DNA tests in genealogy research.

Later that day, I attended the Ancestry sponsored lunch, where they, too, were talking about DNA. Honestly, everyone seemed to be talking about DNA, it seems to have finally "come of age".  I learnt all about Ancestry's DNA circles, and how they have recently improved their algorithms, which should produce fewer "false positives".  As AncestryDNA has only just launched in the UK, I don't think many UK genealogists yet know about Ancestry's DNA circles.  As the AncestryDNA test is an autosomal test,  which looks at your entire ancestry within recent generations, what Ancestry try and do with the results, is to match up people who "might" share the same ancestors, in a similar way to the way the shaky leaf hints suggest people who "might" share your tree when looking at historical records.  Some of the question and answer session was a little bit beyond me, to be honest, although now my AncestryDNA results are in, I'm hoping to be joined into a DNA circle very soon!

The other main announcement coming from AncestryDNA, is that they hope to be launching in Australia and Canada soon.  This will also help to widen the database of people who have tested with AncestryDNA, which currently stands at 700,000.

Later that day, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Howes and Tessa Keough, both members of the Guild of One-Name Studies.  Here is a photo of me doing the interview (courtesy of Jill Ball):

My interview with Paul and Tessa can be seen below:

Thank you to Myko, Paul and Tessa for taking time out of their busy schedules for my interviews.

Rosemary Morgan
London Roots Research

Monday, 9 March 2015

Day 2 of RootsTech 2015 and my interview with Tahitia McCabe, from Strathclyde Genealogical Studies

Day 2 of RootsTech 2015 was Friday 13th February - traditionally a superstitious date if ever there was one.  Luckily I didn't see anything bad happen on that day!  In fact only good things happened as I hope this post conveys.

The Keynote session with Laura W Bush and her daughter, Jenna Bush Hager, was a real treat, as I mentioned in my earlier post.  

The interview of Laura Bush by her daughter, Jenna, showed that even a very well-known family such as theirs can enjoy talking about some very day-today issues.

Sadly, the Laura Bush / Jenna Hager session was not made available on the livestream and so no recording is available.  

However, the rest of the session, featuring D Joshua Taylor, director of family history at FindMyPast is available here. As well as detailing many new datasets recently added or about to be added, Joshua described several new Partnerships, including:

  • a partnership to share records with the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (NYG&B)
  • a partnership with FamilyTreeDNA, to offer DNA testing services to the FindMyPast customer base.  (The link is now visible on the website.)
  • working with StoryPress "to help capture and share family stories" in combination with FMP data and family trees.  Joshua believes that everyone shouldbe able to have their own "Who Do You Think You Are?" family story
Joshua then told his own family story, tracing his family back to his ancestor, William Heaps, who was sentenced to transportation to Australia, and escaped from prison, for stealing cheese, and relating this to his own love of cheese. He then showed how he had used StoryPress to make his own Family History Story.

On the right are some of the RoostTech ambassadors backstage with Joshua after his KeyNote session.

Later the same day, I attended the FindMyPast lunch during which Ian Tester, Director of Partner Products, provided further details of how FindMyPast's WhoDoYouThinkYouAre? Story  can help you tell your own WhoDoYouThinkYouAre? Story.
Tahitia McCabe and yours truly(photo courtesy of Jill Ball)

Towards the end of the day I interviewed Tahitia McCabe, Knowledge Exchange Fellow, University of Strathclyde Genealogical Studies Programme. Luckily we just about completed the interview before the evening's "entertainment" of bagpipes started, which would have completely drowned us out!

Here I am with Tahitia in the media studio, at the start of the interview. During the interview Tahitia mentioned the University of Strathclyde Summer Institute of Genealogical Studios' summer courses, details of which can be found here. Personally, I'm rather tempted by the 5-day "Practical Applications of Genetic Genealogy" course.

My interview with Tahitia can be found here:

Thank you to Tahitia for taking time away from her Strathclyde booth to grant me this interview.

Rosemary Morgan

London Roots Research

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Day 1 of RootsTech 2015 & the DNA story

One of the key topics that I decided to pursue at RootsTech this year, was the topic of DNA. This was partly for selfish reasons as I have now tested with two of the three main companies (FTDNA and Ancestry DNA) and I wanted to try and better understand my results.  But it was also because I believe that the launch Ancestry DNA in the UK earlier this year will have the effect of encouraging a much wider pool of genealogists and family historians in the UK to test for DNA.  Up until now, I have pretty much ignored DNA in my professional genealogy work, leaving this to the "DNA experts".  But I do not believe that this is necessarily a good move any more.  I now see DNA testing as just one of the pieces of evidence that could be used to piece together a person's family history background, especially where brick walls are concerned, and that we professional genealogists should ignore it at our peril.

Day 1 of RootsTech started early for me, at 7 am, for a VIP breakfast with FindMyPast.  I was so pleased to discover, via a private Twitter conversation with Myko Clelland, that I was on the invitation list, even though I hadn't actually seen an official invitation (but I won't hold that against them).  At the breakfast, FindMyPast made a few key announcements, one of which was a new partnership between FMP and FamilyTree DNA, the full press release of which can be seen here.  So this was a great start to my DNA day at RootsTech.  Unfortunately the details were, and still are at the time of writing, fairly sketchy and we don't really know exactly what this partnership will mean. However, as long as FMP will be marketing some sort of DNA test with FTDNA (which they suggest is the case), then this, along with the move by Ancestry UK into DNA, has to be good news.

The breakfast also included a question and answer session with Annalies Van Den Belt, CEO, FindMyPast, where D Joshua Taylor, Director of Family history at FindMyPast posing her some of the more common questions which are asked of FindMyPast in the US.  In accepting the breakfast invitation I had missed the Blogger's private visit to the Exhibition Hall, which I would have liked to attend, but then you can't do everything.  However, a friend and colleague, Tessa Keough has written a lovely blog post all about a first timers' experience of the RootsTech Exhibition Hall which you can read about here.

At 8.30 am, I then moved on to the RootsTech Opening KeyNote session, which can be viewed again here.  The session started with D Joshua Taylor, President of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), and Director of Family History at FindMyPast, appearing alongside fellow Genealogy Roadshow hosts Kanyatta D Berry and Mary Tedesco, updating the audience on the Preserve the Pensions (War of 1812) digitisation project:

Dennis Brimhall, CEO, FamilySearch, then continued the session, wowing us with various statistics about the growth of the RootsTech phenomenon and thanking many of the FamilySearch partner companies, including Ancestry, FindMyPast, MyHeritage and a newcomer to the mix, (Note to Brits:  no sign of our very own third provider TheGenealogist - perhaps I should contact them for next time!).  Dennis Brimhall also described the brand new FamilySearch Discovery Centers, which had just been launched after successful beta testing, and which you can find out more about here.  As well as the site in Salt Lake City, which I had already visited, FamilySearch is planning to develop similar centers in Seattle, Philadelphia, and also in London (via a partnership with FindMyPast). These centers are really aimed at bringing Family History discovery to a wider, and probably younger, audience, by appealing particularly to families.

Denis Brimhall, CEO, FamilySearch, talking about Family History Discovery Centres

The Keynote session then continued with Mike Mallin, Chief Product Officer, MyHeritage, who talked about how MyHeritage can help people discover their own family histories, giving some very relevant examples from his own family and elsewhere.

Finally Mike introduced Tan Le, founder and CEO, Emotiv, to tell us her amazing story, of escaping from Vietnam, age 5, with her sister, her mother, and her grandmother, and of early and later family life in Australia.  As I said previously, Tan Le's story was very moving, and at the end of the presentation, Bloggers were permitted to go backstage for a photograph with her:

From L to R: me, Caitlin Gow, James Tanner (behind), Jill Ball, unknown person (behind), Tan Le, Lynn Broderick (behind), Sharn White, Pauleen Cass (behind) and Linda Robbins

Now turning to the DNA side of things.  I had already set up an interview session for later that day, with CeCe Moore and Angie Bush, genetic genealogists.  I was therefore keen to do my background research!

I had already attended (virtually) two very interesting talks at the APG Professional Management Conference in January, one by Angie Bush and the other by CeCe Moore.  As I am a bit of novice when it comes to DNA, these talks actually blew me away with the complexity of the DNA science that they have successfully used in the US to discover the parentage of both adoptees and those with unknown parentage.

I had also attended CeCe Moore's talk on the first day of the FGS conference (FGS Society Day), the day before the official start of RootsTech, entitled "Bringing Your Society into the 21st Century with a DNA Interest".  Although this talk was mainly aimed at encouraging Family History Society's to start DNA Interest Groups (DIG's), CeCe did go over some of the DNA basics in that talk.  However, for a really good introduction to basic DNA, I would strongly recommend Diahan Southard's talk, entitled Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy, which I didn't attend live, but which can be viewed on the RootsTech website here.

In order to do my background research I also attended CeCe Moore's talk entitled "Exploring Family Stories with DNA from PBS' Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr".  This was potentially a very interesting talk, but as I haven't watched the PBS show she described, some of it was a bit lost on me I'm afraid.

Finally, towards the end of the day, I interviewed CeCe Moore and Angie Bush.  Before you watch this, however, I'd like to make just one small clarification regarding 23andMe launching in the UK: although I mentioned in this interview that 23andMe had only just launched its DNA tests in the UK, their non-health related DNA tests have in fact been available to people in the UK for several years. It is the "health-related" element of the DNA test that 23andMe has recently launched in the UK.

Rosemary Morgan
London Roots Research

Monday, 23 February 2015

RootsTech and FGS 2015 - a British Overview

Like many of the other RootsTech bloggers this year, I chose not to blog from the Conference itself. There was just so much to see and do, what with having two Conferences combined (RootsTech and FGS), a much much bigger exhibit hall than previously, and so many genealogy friends and colleagues to network with - including a large number of Australians visiting this year.

I had originally intended to post all my RootsTech blog posts last week, but having arrived home, I promptly fell ill with a nasty cough / cold virus which totally knocked me out.  So I'm afraid I'm about a week late with these posts.  This one is just an introduction and overview.

In the two years since I last attended RootsTech, I seem to have become more well known in genealogy circles, despite not being a very active blogger.  I guess its my quite large following on Twitter.  Several people I spoke to said "oh yes I know your name" which was very nice, even though sometimes I didn't always recognise theirs.  A case in point was Hilary Gadsby, from Wales, who had travelled out on her own to RootsTech for the first time; an enthusiastic genealogist, with ancestral roots in Hampshire, Hilary and I followed each other on Twitter, but she hadn't really appeared on my radar before; here is Hilary's blog, GeneMeet.

I also enjoyed meeting Jenny Joyce, a professional genealogist whose blog is the aptly named Jennyalogy, whom, I was rather embarrassed to discover, I didn't follow on Twitter (I do now, Jenny!). It was lovely to meet both Hilary and Jenny, as well as reconnect with many other old friends.

I intend to post several new blog posts over the coming days.  In particular I conducted video interviews with:
  • Angie Bush and CeCe Moore, Genetic Genealogists in the US
  • Tahitia McCabe, Knowledge Exchange Fellow, University of Strathclyde Genealogical Studies Programme
  • Myko Clelland, Partnerships and Outreach Manager, FindMyPast
  • and Tessa Keough and Paul Howes, both members of the Guild of One-name studies, who were there partly promoting the Guild
The Keynote Sessions were spectacular, as usual. Tan Le's story and her storytelling skills were simply amazing.  I would recommend watching her session.  You can find it here (at 59 mins in).

I really didn't think I would particularly enjoy seeing either Donny Osmond or Laura Bush, but they both blew me away, and especially Laura Bush when her daughter, Jenna Bush Hagen interviewed her on the couch. Wow, I have some way to go in my interviewing skills!  It's a shame that this was the only Keynote session which is not available on the live recordings.  The other recorded sessions, including Keynotes and some classes, can be found here.

The major players, Family Search, Ancestry, MyHeritage and FindMyPast, all had major announcements to make at RootsTech and I will be reporting on some of those in forthcoming posts, especially the announcements which relate to the UK genealogy community.

I will also be taking an in-depth look at what's new in the world of DNA in genealogy, with all the main players (Ancestry, FamilySearch and FindMyPast) again announcing something new in this field.

I enjoyed the socialising much more this time at RootsTech, but maybe that was because I knew more people and so I felt more comfortable.  Notable evening events included the Australian pizza evening on the Tuesday, to which selected Commonwealth guests were invited and the RootsTech Official Ambassadors' dinner on Wednesday:

Finally, I must thank the wonderful Pat Richley-Erickson (aka DearMYTLE) and her husband Gordon for hosting an amazing After-Party for Official Bloggers.  The photo below shows DearMYRTLE conducting her regular Saturday evening Hangout on Air, while being observed by many of the 40 RootsTech blogger guests:

Rosemary Morgan
London Roots Research