RootsTech – Ummm, Math is Your Friend

Wow, has this ever been a learning experience. And it’s only Day 1 of this great adventure!

Since y’all are coming with me, I’m going to share from the beginning.

This is my first time at RootsTech, so I’m walking through the experience from start to finish. Yesterday was Day 0 and today is Day 1.

Before leaving Michigan, I took a “prayer walk” around the labyrinth in the yard, grateful for the lovely flying weather. Retrospectively, I’m so glad I took these few minutes, because later, I would need every ounce of patience I could muster.

Yesterday, I spent the day in the airport and in the air.

Yes, I bought the cool double helix t-shirt from DNAGeeks, because I am one😊

I arrived in Salt Lake City at night. The Marriott Salt Lake Downtown at City Creek, across from the conference center, where I’m staying is a short taxi ride from the airport, $25. Other hotels provide shuttle service, but the Marriott does not.

The driver was very nice and informative and I actually enjoyed the ride. There is abundant transportation in baggage claim.

I was excited to wake up in Salt Lake City, this morning.

The first thing I saw on my phone was this:

I subscribe to “This Day in History,” and you might be interested too. It’s free and often gives me perspective about my ancestors’ lives.

How appropriate when I’m destined to see awesome genetic genealogy presentations today.

Salt Lake City is truly beautiful. Looking out my hotel room, I can see the conference center across the street and the beautiful mountains in the background. Since I arrived in the dark, this was a truly beautiful surprise! A visual delight.

Thankfully, there’s a Starbucks in the hotel lobby, and the conference center is across the street. And there’s no new snow. Let’s hope that holds all week!

Interesting signs outside the conference center. Wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. I think it’s art.

Early conference registration opened yesterday, allowing attendees to pick up their badges early “to avoid the long lines” today. I couldn’t do that because of the flight schedule, so I hoped that the lines wouldn’t be too awful this morning. Boy, was I wrong.

I talked to people in the elevator that waited two and a half hours in line yesterday. Yes, that’s not a typo.

This conference has a paid registration of over 14,000 participants.

Inside the conference center, I quickly discovered that the line is so long that you literally, and I do mean quite literally, cannot see the beginning/end.

Now for that gratitude list. Because Family Tree DNA is hosting my meet-up this evening, they added me to their list of people with access to their booth. Therefore, my registration pickup did not require the two and a half hour wait that other people endured.

I almost feel guilty, and I had absolutely no idea how lucky I was.

I physically could not have stood for 2.5 hours in line with the knee/broken femur issue from the fall last summer. Walking I can do, but 2.5 hours standing is excessive.

Ok, what else is there to see?

The vendor area in the Expo Hall won’t be open until this evening, beginning at 6.

Here’s a sneak preview during setup.

After I retrieved my registration, I proceeded to find Ballroom E for Diahan Southerd and Louise Cooke’s talk about “A DNA Match with No Tree? No Problem,” except I discovered that the session room had been full since 9AM, more than half an hour before the session started.

Thankfully there are MANY very friendly volunteers who are wearing teal t-shirts shirts and have infinite patience with confused and frustrated conference attendees. Bless those people!

I asked a volunteer if any of the Ballroom sessions had any available seats, and guess what – they were all full.

Now, this is really disappointing, especially since I had carefully mapped out in advance through the conference app the sessions I wanted to attend. In fact, the hallway was full of people who wanted to attend sessions, any of these sessions, but couldn’t.

Speaking of super-friendly volunteers, meet Josh Hall. He works for Family Search, and he’s one of the people coordinating the legions of volunteers. I spoke with him for a few minutes, and he had a great story. See his missing tooth? He said, “When a 2 year old wants a cookie, give it to them.”

I laughed out loud, a much needed reprieve from frustration. Then he told me that he really ran into another kid on the playground years ago, but the 2 year old story is much better. His tooth is going to be replaced shortly, but then he won’t have this great story to tell!

Aside from being super friendly, Josh was genuinely interested in suggestions to help people eliminate the confusion factor and to improve the conference experience.

I suggested that mailing the registrations and bags to attendees, in advance of the conference, even if they had to charge a $10 shipping fee would be well worth eliminating the two and a half hour lines. That would also facilitate attendees being able to attend the early sessions, which started before most people could get through the conference registration line.

However, given that the sessions were full, it wouldn’t have mattered if they got through the registration line – they STILL wouldn’t have had access to the sessions.  RootsTech needs to do a better job of sizing the facility/conference to the number of attendees.

Additionally, some “you are here” types of signs at entrance doors would be really useful.

After Josh and I finished our conversation, I spent some time trying to familiarize myself with this massive facility. I wanted to scope out where the restrooms and other classrooms were for later classes.

The facility has a nice area on the second floor for people to sit with computers and such.

BTW, I love this architecture!

The second class I wanted to attend, given by Ancestry titled “Behind Your DNA Results” started at 11 in one of the second floor classrooms. I arrived about 10:30, thinking I could go inside the room as soon as the people from the earlier session left.

I was about to receive the shock of my life, because the line for this session was ALREADY down the entire length of the hallway. Literally hundreds of people who were never going to fit into that room

This is about half way down the line and it literally reached to the end of the hallway.

I felt really sorry for these people, because they were doing to stand in this long line only to discover that they weren’t going to get into the session they wanted and the rest of the rooms were full too.

How the heck is this happening?

First, DNA is a VERY popular subject. But that’s not all.

Let’s Do Some Math

Two sessions were held this morning. The first session slot offered a total of 17 different sessions you could select from, and the second offered 20.

Let’s say that only 10,000 (of the 14,000 total) people are here today. 10,000 people divided by 17 sessions means that the sessions have 588 people each. Even if only 5000 are here today, that’s still 294 people per session. If 14,000 people are here, that’s 823 people per session and there is no way these rooms are set up to handle anyplace near this kind of capacity.

This means that many of the people who not only spent the money to register, but to travel here and stay in hotels on average of $150 per night aren’t going to be able to attend the sessions they are paying so dearly to attend. For me, this amounts to over $2000 already.

If you physically can’t stand in long lines for extended periods, you’re not going to be able to attend ANY of the sessions, because the lines for the next session are beginning long before the previous sessions is over. Obviously, if you need to be in line for the next session, you can’t be in a previous one, unless you can somehow clone yourself.

To say I’m disappointed is an understatement.


Ok, I’m here and clearly not going to be able to attend sessions, so what am I going to do to make lemonade out of this one?

I went to Starbucks to get a coffee and think. I got some chocolate too!

  • I’m meeting people, friends old and new.

This morning, I briefly met Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers fame.

I didn’t grab his picture, but hope to see him again. We’re both old-timers in this field and have never met before in person.

I ran into Janine Cloud and the Family Tree DNA crew in the hotel lobby and got to spend some time with them talking. It’s so incredibly hectic at the FTDNA conference that I never actually get a chance to talk to these people, so this was a nice treat for a few minutes.

We grabbed a sandwich in the coffee shop and had a picnic in the hotel lobby.

Hey, sometimes fun is where you make it.

I ran into Bob McLaren, long time administrator of the McLaren DNA Project. It was SO MUCH FUN to see Bob again. We’ve been doing genetic genealogy together for 18 years and also share a technology interest as well.

Bob is almost always dressed in his McLaren kilt at these types of function. I told him I love his purse. He told me this is a sporran. I have sporran envy and want one!

It’s exciting to see old friends.

  • I’m looking forward to the meetup this evening at 6:30.

I can’t wait to meet you this evening in the Family Tree DNA booth. I’ll be there for sure at 6:30 and perhaps earlier, so come by. I’m probably not going to attempt to go to the general session at 4 due to the obvious space issues.

  • I’m going to spend more time in the Expo Hall with vendors.

Since going to sessions isn’t a viable option, I’m going to visit lots of vendors and take photos for you. I will also be reporting on show specials for DNA products. Right now, I know that both MyHeritage and FTDNA will be having specials of some sort, and I’m sure other vendors will be too.

I do have some appointments with vendors to discuss products and new features, and I’ll be sharing those discoveries with you. Shows like this are great for seeing all the vendors under one roof and talking to the employees.

  • I’m going to the Family History Library, and you’re coming along with me

One needs a research plan to visit the FHL and get the most out of the records, and I don’t have a plan in advance, BUT, I will construct one as best I can on the fly. As a genealogist, who among us doesn’t have a line or two that needs research.


Ok, I’ve had to regroup. Here are some of the take-aways from day 1.

  • If you can’t physically stand in long lines, arrange for a scooter or don’t attend this conference. Josh said that RootsTech is genuinely interested in reducing the confusion and making the conference easier, and I sincerely hope that he is right and that they succeed. I’m not angry, just extremely disappointed.
  • People are incredibly friendly here and helpful.
  • The meetup tonight is going to be awesome.
  • Seeing friends and making new acquaintances is sometimes the best part of…well…anything.
  • The vendors’ booths are going to be really interesting! I’m going to learn something new, for sure.
  • You can construct a research plan on the fly if you have to.
  • Can’t wait to visit the FHL – kind of like Mecca for genealogists.

I’m going to make lemonade and I’m going to have a great time no matter what!!!



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37 thoughts on “RootsTech – Ummm, Math is Your Friend

  1. You make me smile. By now you are probably making lemon meringue pie. Love to all – Georgia Bopp

  2. The people at the American Library Association may be willing to give some hints. Childens librarians flock to sessions and Reference librarians, even this retired one, are not the most patient of people. We get antsy unless we are talking shop. Genealogy librarians ALWAYS have plenty discuss.

  3. Roberta –
    Love your attitude, and just as dissapointed for you.
    Roots Tech encreases one to two thousand each year. I remember when it was only 6,000. Then, the following year it jumped to 8,000 with an additional 1,000 children on Saturday. Why is it taking them so long to figure out the class size and let attendees pre sign up for classes at registration, with cut off when the class is full. A volunteer stands at the entrance to admit only those who had the class on their registration. If any empty chairs remain, those waiting would then be admitted. Is there an area to sit and watch Live Steaming? Have fun tonight reaquainting and meeting new friends ♡

  4. Oh my gosh I can’t believe they sold that many tickets and don’t even have enough room for the attendees! I have always wanted to go but I would be so disappointed had I went and spent the money and couldn’t take the classes I wanted. They should have people register for a class until it is full. I can’t wait to see the rest of the articles. I am steaming online. Enjoy!

  5. I’m sorry it’s off to a disappointing start. You would think they’d put the sessions in larger rooms and open the expo hall to divide and accommodate the crowds. Here’s hoping the rest of the conference cooperates.

  6. SO SORRY for your need to make lemonade. Maybe the venue situation will improve and in the meantime you are seeing old and new friends. As for me, I’ve never been, but I learned SO MUCH last year from the online videos. To make the trip and not attend the session would UNDO me.

  7. Would it be possible to watch the too full presentations if you brought a lap top with you? Everybody wants to carry one of those around. But seriously, pick a spot and stay there. Watch them from the comfort of your chair.

  8. Thanks for all the info. Sounds like registration fees carried more weight than registrants’ interests in the planning for this thing.

    What a shame. Your description makes clear that an attendee could be out thousands of dollars and be unable to attend a single instructional session of their choosing. I guess that is good for the vendors … more wandering traffic who might buy something.

    Enjoy FHL. Extremely digital now.

    Gary Willis

  9. I’ve been to a massive number of conferences over the decades, although no genealogy ones. I will say that most of them get better with practice. Many eventually go to the “chose your session” on the registration form to determine where to place sessions and control crowds better. Then many of us go to some just to see vendors and talk to friends- One conference the only panel I attended in my last 5 years of attendance was the one I was on. Have fun.

  10. I won’t be attending another RootsTech. I would love to, but the last one I attended was so difficult to navigate with a bad knee/hip, that I couldn’t make it in time to sessions I wanted, let alone stand in line for anything. Much better to watch online, if only they offered more of the sessions online (even for a fee!)

  11. RootsTech has had this problem for the four years I’ve been going, but the sessions in the numbered rooms often have lots of space. The ballroom sections aren’t big enough and never will be, but these are more often the “general introduction” classes. Try the specialized topics. Unfortunately, DNA has now become a “general” topic. Pick three sessions you’d like to go to, and if they all fill up, then FHL is five minutes away—that’s my theory.

  12. I went to Rootstech 2 years ago and i got into sessions, but sometimes time was wasted moving them to larger rooms (switching with some other group) . . . and sometimes i decided to go to another of my near-top choices, at the last minute, seeing how crowded something was. It all worked out, despite some frustration and sometimes walking up and around when i could have cut through the exhibits hall . . . keep looking for ways to shorten the hikes (usually making that smaller hike through the big vendors’ hall . . . ) (i am in my 70s . . . very spry for that, but still!). All good wishes . . . you are going to find plenty to keep you happy. And across from the FHL is beautiful Temple Square – so pretty at night!

  13. “RootsTech needs to do a better job of sizing the facility/conference to the number of attendees.”

    For them to accept registrations when the venue is completely booked is cruel, if not criminal. I read in a FamilySearch press release issued 19 Sep 2017 that the 2017 event attracted “more than 26,000 attendees in-person from all 50 U.S. states and more than 35 countries”. Where did they put them all? This year’s venue, The Salt Palace, advertises 164,000 square feet of meeting space in 14 separate rooms. An online meeting space calculator tells me that’s enough to hold 18,000 people total in theatre-type seating, or 1,300 per room. Did RootsTech not allocate all that space for sessions? How many sessions were being held simultaneously when you attended?

    • Follow-up: I see from the RootsTech 2018 schedule that up to 18 sessions were being held simultaneously, so perhaps some of the 14 rooms were divided to hold two sessions, thus reducing their capacity.

      • The building is huge and there are many sessions in any given hour . . . sometimes they do not anticipate the relative popularity of some one speaker or topic and too many turn up, as there is no sign-up or anything like that. The first session of the day is in a gigantic room with many screens so you can see what is happening on the stage on a screen . . . it is very carefully planned, but anything with that many people making choices as they go along has to deliver some surprises. I didn’t have any trouble getting my credentials, but i think that was because i went down to the conference center the afternoon i arrived, the day before things really got going. I had to take public transportation (TRAX) from out in the distant reaches of the city, where my son lived. So i wanted to give it a try . . . be sure i could figure out what to do . . . i missed about half of the opening session every day. TRAX worked well, but getting out in the cold mornings was a bit intimidating. Some days the mountains, with all the snow, were gorgeous. Then the nasty layer of pollution settled down over everything as the days went on.

  14. All of the educational sessions, and I would think that would mean ALL of them, should be available online.
    That’s it. There is no reason for anyone to have to go sit in some conference room in some large city. Put it on YouTube!
    The event should be strictly for companies selling high tech software/tests or other like items to other companies. They are trying to be all things to all people. Also, trying to do 20th century ideas in the 21st.
    I am steamed and I’m not even there!!!

  15. Well, I’m not so jealous now…. They’ve always sounded so well organized that I naively assumed they had the math all worked out with lots of huge rooms…. Thanks for all the details of your trip. Here’s to more chocolate!!

  16. Hello Roberta!
    It was great running into you today as you were gathering that story on the toothless volunteer. We spoke about our similar stories of black and white cousins formed during slavery and connecting with each other today. Shortly afterwards, I was interviewed by the ABC News 4 Utah station and shared some of that story with their viewers. Here’s the link,

    This is my first time as well at RootsTech and I’m finding it quite exciting!
    Be seeing you soon my friend.

  17. I heard the total registration count is 38,000. Not sure what the numbers are for each day’s attendence, but it is crowded, more so then previous years, which is a clue at how big this family history thing is. Lol!

    Hope yo at least wave at you as we pass by in the throngs! Thanks for all the great work you do.

  18. Sounds different from the conference held in Dublin in October 2017 Roberta, which I attended.
    I managed to visit the LDS Family History Society in Salt lake in 1992 pre-DNA days, indeed pre-online days!.
    I was like a kid in a candy store!!
    I very much enjoy your blogs, more power to your elbow.
    Regards, Charlie Kelly, Ayrshire, Scotland.

  19. Thanks for the report. I almost went this year. It was so good to see the picture of Bob. I haven’t seen him in many, many years. He hasn’t changed a bit. We were in the PAF users group back in the day. Please say Hello to him for me.

  20. It seems that RootsTech is a victim of its own success. It’s my first — and last — time to attend. The lines and the gridlock are frustrating. However, having chosen backup sessions did allow me to attend sessions all day.
    It was great to meet you last night. I’m so glad you were able to set up that time for your meet and greet.

  21. Roberta, my heart is aching for you. But, this is what you need to do today. Get you a desk spot with your computer, and watch everything on live stream. It is fantastic!!! I saw everything yesterday, and it was awesome! I live in Jacksonville, FL, and it was so nice to sit back and watch everything in the comfort of my home. I was at the LDS Library in October and loved the place – their new set up on the first floor is fantastic – do not pass it by and go to the upper floors before you have tried everything there. Trust me, you will regret it if you do. My husband and I found out that we were 12th cousins on my mom’s side and 13th cousins on my dad’s side on the first floor!

  22. Hi Roberta, I attended the past 2 years but skipped this year. Now that you mention it I do remember the line being ridiculously long although for me I think the wait was about an hour and also I lined up early, on the first day. From you math it sounds like the organizers need to make some serious adjustments such as reducing the number of sessions, add extra days, or change the venue. Still, there’s a lot there and I hope you get a lot out of it. I really loved the Hammerstein event last year as well as that moving keynote from LeVar Burton.

  23. Oh, and forgot to mention it was nice seeing the picture of Bob McLaren. He helped me a lot at RootsTech two years ago deciphering what my Y-DNA results meant.

  24. It’s great you are at RootsTech. I think the key is to go to the classroom you want an hour or more before and get a seat. I wouldn’t give up on attending classes entirely, you may be able to get in if you go a little earlier. Good luck!

    • This year they cleared the rooms after each session & made you remove all personal items. The only way to avoid the lines was to go 5″ before & hope there were still seats available.

  25. Advise you to spend all available time in Family History Library, So many directions you can go!
    My husband I always stopped by on our vacation trips to scenic areas in the Western states.
    One year after he retired we even spent a whole week at the adjacent Howard Johnson Hotel, ate all our meals their restaurant. We parked our car in their garage, as we could walk the short block to the library. It was the ESTES line we concentrated on, but found interesting stuff downstairs on German and English ancestors. At that time (1980-1995) there were people at a central desk where data could be translated for you. I found the Centennial State Histories full of genealogical info, as histories of County Townships gave names of earliest settlers, officials, etc..

  26. Roberta – enjoying your detailed tour of Rootstech. I attended a few years ago and loved it but it was packed and some sessions were full as you mentioned. This year I’m streaming or watching recorded videos from home and what I noticed is that two of the DNA sessions I watched, the one done by MyHeritage and the LivingDNA sessions looked almost empty. Maybe the most popular sessions aren’t being recorded but I was surprised so many seats were empty in the ones I watched. Perhaps some sessions you missed have been recorded.

  27. Yikes! Reading this makes me extra glad I attended San Diego Comic Con for several years. Hopefully that experience will make my first RootsTech (hopefully next year!) feel easy by comparison, lines-wise. I love your lemonade attitude though. 🙂

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