Is RootsTech More Roots Than Tech? 5

There is no doubt that RootsTech will be an amazing conference.  There are over one hundred sessions and exhibitors.  This will be my first RootsTech and my initial assumption was that there would be an abundance of Tech.  Looking at the syllabus, I’m not sure that will be the case.

RootsTech 2013


I have to admit that I have some biases.  I’m a techhead.  When I think of technology, I think of science fiction.  What does the future have in store for genealogy?  If you say that all the records are now digital, I might yawn and ask – what took so long.  While being digital is an aspect of technology, it is old news.

If we look at the 60 sessions scheduled for Thursday, by my count there appears to be a 50-50 split between Roots and Tech.  Of that Tech, more than half is old tech.  Tools that have been around for a decade are finally becoming popular in genealogy.   Variations on the theme – digitize, digitize, digitize.

What does new technology look like?  Websites that act like applications and allow you to do all your genealogy on the internet (in the cloud).  This is a form of Web 2.0 that has been talked about for a decade. is an excellent example.  The problem is that by the time all the web gets to a 2.0 quality it will be too late, that ship will have sailed.  The new best place to be is in mobile apps.  Mobile devices will outsell all other types of computers.

Social genealogy is already getting long in the tooth.  The time is ripe for collaborative genealogy.  We are really one big family.  There only needs to be one big family tree that we should all work on together. and are both in the business of creating a single tree.  By collaborating, we can build the tree faster and more accurately.  Collaborative genealogy actually hurts many business models – especially subscription or license based companies.  Expect some push back there.

There are some great DNA companies in the marketplace and they are making huge advances in the tests and results.  What is lacking is the analysis of those results.  The best DNA tech is coming from those folk on the fringes creating technology that may be incorporated by the big DNA companies someday.  DNA test results analysis is not represented at RootsTech.

If I were a baby-boomer just starting genealogy, these sessions will feel futuristic.  If I were part of the next generation there is an expectation that everything is an app and social and collaborative.

Having implemented new technology my entire career, I know that we have to tread carefully.  Technology can make some people feel redundant and at the same time make others feel empowered.  This upcoming first day of RootsTech 2013 brings a fine balance of technology for the majority.  Folks like me may not get their tech fix, but perhaps I will be surprised.

Stay tuned as I give you RootsTech from a techhead point of view.

Michael Maglio

About Michael Maglio

Michael Maglio is a professional genealogist, writer, and speaker. He graduated from Northeastern University with a B.S. in Engineering and has spent his career developing collaborative technologies. As a genetic genealogist, Mike advises on the use of DNA as a tool for genealogy. His focus combines science and history to unravel ancestral genetic migrations. Find more to read at Mike is the author of IDG’s monthly column, Deep Into DNA.

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5 thoughts on “Is RootsTech More Roots Than Tech?

  • Ellen Thompson-Jennings

    My husband and I have been coming to Roots Tech since the beginning. What we found interesting this year is that for the Techies (my husband is a programmer) there really are only sessions for the first day. Hmmmm

    • caelm

      There are a number of developer type sessions on Friday including Building Apps and Developer Platforms. Saturday is light on Tech stuff.


  • Mariann Regan

    I also find tech exciting, whether old or new. I’d like to do all my genealogy on the Cloud, while sitting at home and drinking hot chocolate. You’re far advanced in tech, and I respect that. I have nothing against tech, though I’m no tech head (sometimes I feel tech has something against me — I’m still on my learning curve). And I’d love a World Tree and more DNA results analysis.

    But. I’m also with the folks who think stories are the real “pull” of genealogy — not instead of data, but in addition to data. Stories show that people are eccentric, inventive, strange, and that life can always surprise you. And you can surprise life. Choices abound. As when you wrote about genealogical discoveries being a possible “minefield.” Step carefully. Now that’s a story…

    • caelm

      I agree, stories add a richness to genealogy and I encourage everyone to blog about their family history. I have an expectation that technology will provide the records that I need to tell those stories. To a degree technology needs to be invisible. The Tech that I’m looking for is the ‘new’ and the ‘wow’. I’m having trouble finding it.


  • Ben

    I agree that RootsTech was much less technical than the past couple of years. I believe this was on purpose because the current focus of FamilySearch is very much into photos and stories and the conference reflected that. It was hard for me to see most of technical presentations packed into Friday. I should also point out a not-well-adverstised piece of RootsTech is the Family History Technology Workshop. This is where various researchers present ideas that are not yet productized. The papers have not been uploaded yet for this year, but they should be soon and you can see past year’s at Hopefully this year’s research will be uploaded soon.

    This year there were presentations on handwriting recognition, visualization and much more. I gave a presentation at the poster session around some ideas to improve prioritization of where to work and improving context through a unified relationship distance calculation. If you’re interested you can check this out at: