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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