What happens when a global pandemic prevents the traditional RootsTech from happening? You make it virtual and open it up to the whole world, creating a global event never before seen in the family history community! Every year, I always think, wow, what will I get from RootsTech this year? This year was no different and boy, was a I wowed, along with over 1 million people from all over the world with the entire conference in 11 languages. With over 2,000 classes and over 100 virtual booths to peruse, three days wasn’t nearly enough to see to take it all in. As an extra bonus, those who took advantage of the free registration will have an entire year to visit the site and cover every inch. And, if people haven’t registered yet, you still can.
RootsTech Connect – No Small Undertaking
When it was decided nine months ago that this year’s RootsTech would go virtual, no one really knew the scope of how it would all work and that it would work out so well. Calls for presentation were expanded and engineers went to work to create a website of astronomical proportions. As usual, the RootsTech team asked participants what they would like to see in a virtual site and tried to meet those requests. Presenters recorded all their sessions virtually by the end of 2020 so the speaker helpers would have time to upload all the presentations. As a presenter, it felt pretty great to have the work done as I was able to watch and enjoy RootsTech the past three days. It was fun to be able to interact with those watching the presentations through individualized chats for each class.
Vendors also had thorough instructions to create a great virtual booth space. Evalogue.Life worked hard to make our booth shine, and the RootsTech staff helped it to do so.
The website was broken into categories and attendees had many ways to find classes they would like to watch – searching for speakers by name, choosing by category or finding presentations from the virtual booths.
One of the most popular parts of RootsTech is always the keynote speakers on the main stage. This was a very unique experience this year, with keynotes from all over the world. They were featured around the clock, so people could watch in every time zone. The format was also a bit different, with a short presentation and then a longer Q&A period with a series of FamilySearch hosts. This took some getting used to, since I’ve been an Ambassador for many years and that format was not possible, but I ended up enjoying it. It was great to get some questions asked and answered!
There is no denying that we all have been craving the power of connection this past year. There has also been a lot of inner reflections of our own lives as we have been quarantined to our homes for so long. Both of these elements were strongly represented this year. Messages of hope and belonging were key themes from keynote speakers. The idea to be prepared for better days felt encouraging. Soccer player Bruna Benites calmly delivered hope with her words. “We all need good examples…and to be positive and prepared for when things are normal,” she said.
The idea of being true to ourselves and telling our truth also rang loud and clear. “Your value is beyond people’s opinions,” Nick Vujicic told us in the opening keynote. His message of inspiration was felt across the world. “The first person who needs to believe in you, is you,” he said. This is something we often tell people when working with them on their life stories. If we can believe in ourselves, we can tell our stories.
Sharon Leslie Morgan
Sharon Leslie Morgan’s message was also filled with hope and truth. She has spent years combing records in Mississippi to discover her family history. “They are the dreamers and we are the dream,” she said of her ancestors who were slaves. She talked about how they picked cotton in the hot sun and dreamed of better day for those that would come after them. She feels proud to live their dream now and helps others to do the same. She encourages people to look inside themselves and be kind to make change. “Don’t look at it as dark times, but be introspective,” she said. “Hurt people hurt people,” she added. Wow. So much truth. She also held a live chat and zoom with attendees after her keynote. Those in attendance left feeling inspired.
Sunetra Sarker gave me something to think about as a mother – am I telling my kids their family stories so they know where they came from. She talked about how when people asked her why she dressed the way she did and why she talked the way she talked she didn’t know the answers. She had to go home and find out. She has learned from that and helped her children to know their stories.
Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch
Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch, as always, made me think and helped me to create some new goals. He challenged us to not let the time of the pandemic go by without recording our thoughts and feelings about it, both good and bad. He shared a recording of an ancestor of one of the FamilySearch employees who talked about the Spanish Flu and what it was like to live through it. Wow. It was powerful. He encouraged us to ask these questions when learning a person’s story:
How did they live? Who did they love? What did they learn?Steve Rockwood
He also brought up something that I have long thought and taught many people during different presentations and classes. What do we do when people think their story isn’t important? That their life has been mundane? I loved his answer: “As you capture the story of a good normal life….every day experiences of a normal life become beautiful in their simplicity.” Beautiful indeed.
I admit, I love the physical connection of RootsTech and I was worried about how this year’s virtual event would feel. But, the differences and changes felt refreshing in many ways. Usually when I go to RootsTech I don’t have a lot of time to attend the classes. For the past three days, I have dabbled all over the family history world! I love that I can tune into a class for a few minutes and come back and catch the rest when I have another moment.
The Relatives at RootsTech event was something else. It’s always fun to discover relatives when at RootsTech in person, but this was event was truly special. I had thousands of relatives in attendance, and once I shared it on social media, I learned about so many friends that were actually family! Everyone else was captivated by it as well with over 800,000 people participating in the activity. I hope this is something that will be in place each year at RootsTech.
There were also a host of virtual of activities for youth as well as adults. Things to discover about DNA, suggested activities to do in the future and quick videos to watch filled with inspiration.
I have loved the wide range of speakers with all the varied backgrounds. This is something I have always enjoyed about RootsTech, but his year it has truly been magnified. I loved being able to chat at leisure with fellow class attendees and learn new things from sharing.
I will still be drinking from the RootsTech fountain for months to come. I look forward to talking to many friends and family members who experienced RootsTech for the first time this weekend. I look forward to talking about all the parts and all the things I learned and plan to learn again and again.
Who knows what the future holds for RootsTech – will it always be virtual, will there be a hybrid or will things go back to what we thought normal was? We don’t know that now. We do know the RootsTech team rose to the occasion and delivered an amazing experience for over 1 million people. We als know that people from all over the world long to know where they come from and where they are going and I suspect RootsTech helped answer those questions. It always does for me.
RootsTech Connect 2021 for Evalogue.Life
This was the first year that we’ve been exhibitors and it was not only rewarding, but very successful for our business. We connected with people from all over the world and grew our audience in a way that would never have been possible without an event of this size. At the close of the conference as we were figuratively packing up the booth, our founder, Rhonda Lauritzen, recorded an emotional video thinking about her own family roots and how the event came full circle for her. She grew up in a family business working trade show booths with her parents. You can watch her video here.
Rachel J. Trotter is a senior writer/editor at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. She tells people’s stories and shares hers to encourage others. She loves family storytelling. A graduate of Weber State University, she has had articles featured on LDSLiving.com, lds.org, Meridian Magazine and Familysearch.org. She and her husband Mat have six children and live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.