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