RootsTech 2019: The Conference Experience

I hope you’ll come along with me as we experience RootsTech 2019 together.

I’ll be writing a companion piece to this about the vendor’s announcements and new tools, but this article is meant to allow you to virtually enjoy a bit of the ambience of the conference itself.

Night and Day

I have to start out by saying that I was extremely skeptical that the RootsTech powers-that-be would truly listen and take the attendees suggestions from 2018 to heart – and I’m very, very glad to say that my skepticism was unwarranted. The 2019 RootsTech conference was amazing. Night and day difference from last year – with this year being the day😊

And no, in case you’re wondering, I am not and was not a RootsTech Ambassador. Ambassadors receive free passes in exchange for promoting the conference in a positive light. By now, you know that I say what needs to be said, so I’m not (ahem) Ambassador material.

RootsTech is unlike any other conference I’ve ever attended. My expectation last year was that I’d go from session to session and visit with people in-between, at meals and in the evenings. That’s what other conferences are like. Understandably, I was extremely upset when the venue was too big to get from session to session, the sessions were too full, etc. etc. No need to rehash that now.

The reality of RootsTech is that there are many, many sessions to choose from at any one time, yet many people actually don’t attend sessions and instead choose to visit or walk the massive expo hall engaging with the various vendors.

Any vendor who is anyone in the genealogy world is here. I actually wasn’t able to visit with many. Too many people and booths and just not enough hours in the day. Plus, everytime I go anyplace I wind up talking to someone – so I almost never get to where I was going! I think my ancestors immigrated haphazardly in the same manner😊

“Yes, I know we declared that we were going to Minnesota, but let’s stop in Indiana for a break.” 100 years later…

For me, the very best part of RootsTech was catching up with friends, meeting new people, hearing their stories and receiving suggestions about help on my own brick walls.

This year I purchased the Ultimate Pass, which assured me of getting into the sessions I wanted. I must admit, that was a relief for me, but the long lines of yesteryear were gone for everyone, not just Ultimate Pass holders. The only badge scanning that occurred was for the paid labs so they could verify that the attendees were registered and that took only a second.

My evaluation of RootsTech 2019 is that is was a smashing success.

Thank you RootsTech, Steve Rockwood and the amazing RootsTech crew for listening, resolving to and making the needed changes, and for a job well done! I mean that sincerely.

I also want to say an especially big thank you to the amazing RootsTech team – both paid and volunteer. The “ASK” folks in the turquoise shirts were extremely friendly, helpful and were everyplace. You didn’t even need to ask. Just look a mite bewildered and they were right there.

One big difference is that RootsTech this year expanded to take over the entire Salt Palace Convention Center. The rooms for each session were much larger, overflow rooms existed, and the crowds weren’t packed into small spaces. Even with a large number of attendees, the experience was never uncomfortable. Badges were mailed, check-in for goody bags provided by MyHeritage was a breeze and conference life was good.

DNA Clothes

I didn’t really mean to start this tradition, but most traditions aren’t begun intentionally. I made DNA clothing, wearing something different every day.

Wednesday’s vest is our “genetic family tree.”

2019 genetic family tree front

2019 genetic family tree back.jpg

Wednesday

Sessions began on Wednesday during the day, but the vendor expo hall didn’t open until Wednesday evening at 6.

I attended Amy Johnson Crow’s class, “Social Media Tools for Your Genealogy Business.”

2019 social media tools

For those of you who might not know, Amy Johnson Crow initiated the “52 Weeks of Ancestors” series several years ago which is why my (nearly) weekly article about my ancestors includes the words, “52 Ancestors #xxx.” The fact that my 52 Ancestors stories will number 230 with the next article speaks to how inspirational I find Amy.

2019 Amy Johnson Crow

It was wonderful to meet Amy in person.

RootsTech Selfie Culture

I need to take a minute to explain about the selfie culture at RootsTech. There is almost always someone to take a photo for you, but the act of taking selfies together is part of the RootsTech culture. It’s fun, marks experiences together and creates memories. In other words, it’s not just the picture but the act of taking the selfie.

Strolling

I took a stroll to see what was going on.

The vendors were still setting up in the hall, and I noticed this lovely family.

2019 booth setup

Genealogy, even conferences, is truly a family affair.

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The belong-connect board is beginning to look like a spider web.

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The labs are very popular. Daniel Horowitz with MyHeritage is teaching about how to verify your MyHeritage DNA matches.

Keynote by Steve Rockwood

The opening keynote was given by Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch.

2019 Rockwood keynote

This venue is absolutely huge. I took this about half way inside.

2019 Edge Effect

Throughout the evening, the a capella group, Edge Effect performed, and they were amazing!!!

2019 edge effect video

Each of the group members was given DNA tests sponsored by one of the vendors at the conference and their ethnicity results were revealed on videos.

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Steve Rockwood followed. Most CEO’s strong suites aren’t public speaking, but Steve is engaging and entertaining.

Of course, the theme of the conference is “connect belong,” so as you might expect, so was his speech.

Michael B. Moore with the International African American Museum Center for Family History traced his family via DNA and returned to Africa. Upon his return, the chief’s wife asked him, “are you my son,” to which he answered, “yes.” The chief and his wife adopted Michael into their family, thereby welcoming him home.

2019 Michael Moore homecoming

I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Why can’t everyone be that inclusive?

This emotional story of discovery and homecoming was followed by the announcement of a 2-million-dollar donation to the International African American Museum Center for Family History by Elder David Bednar with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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The Museum representatives on stage with David Bednar.

I’m extremely pleased to see the focus on reunification of families. It was also stated that the Church would be involved with other museums in the same way, to encourage that family history be incorporated into history. As I mentioned to Steve Rockwood later, I hope they include DNA, and not just autosomal DNA, but Y and mitochondrial as well. All three types of DNA are critically important to genealogy and finding family no matter who you are.

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Martin Luther King III then addressed the audience about his father’s dream…the end of racism and discrimination.

I fervently hope that bringing people and families together will help heal the wounds of slavery, Jim Crow America and perhaps even the divisions we see today.

I was thrilled to hear Mr. King speak and only wish history had been kinder. Dr. King’s life was cut much too short and we are left to wonder what he might have achieved had it not been for racial intolerance that led to cold-blooded murder.

The Edge Effect returned again with a particularly appropriate rendition of a beautiful song.

The Expo Hall

After the opening session, FamilyTreeDNA was kind enough to host the DNAexplain blog meetup in their new presentation center.

I gave two short presentations, one titled, “Taking Sides – Family Finder Maternal and Paternal Bucketing” and the second, “Family Finder Search Tips.”

I wasn’t able to grab any photos since I was presenting, but fortunately, Marie Cappart did and shared. Thanks Marie!

2019 ftdna booth presentation

FamilyTreeDNA hosted several sessions throughout the conference, given by staff and other guest speakers as well.

Meeting With Steve Rockwood and Crew

The long day wasn’t over quite yet. Steve Rockwood had been meeting with a focus group to which I was invited from 7-8. I respectfully declined, stating that I was already committed in the FamilyTreeDNA booth with the DNAexplain meetup.

Steve graciously agreed to wait along with much of his staff that had been up since 4 AM. That’s commitment!

I arrived just as the focus group was finishing, but Steve and the RootsTech team had indeed graciously been waiting and were quite welcoming.

Given my criticism after last year’s RootsTech, my reception was surprisingly warm. I expected something entirely different.

About 15 people from the RootsTech team were present.

I was extremely impressed with the professionalism and the fact that they acknowledged that they missed the mark last year and make a commitment at that time to make a course correction.

They remediated every single point.

They also asked for suggestions and feedback and made changes during the conference this year to accommodate those suggestions immediately when possible.

For example, they originally ended the livestreamed sessions when the presenter finished the presentation, but after complains that the people watching wanted to see the Q&A, they extended those sessions to include Q&A.

I must say, kudos to the team and thank you Steve!

I’m not saying that I’ll be back next year, but I’m saying that I’d certainly consider returning.

Thursday

One of the wonderful aspects of the conference is seeing old friends.

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Blaine Bettinger and I have been passing like ships in the night for the past couple of years. We go way, way back to his first FTDNA conference – before either of us were blogging – before he had a family – when he was still in college.

It was so good to see Blaine and to actually have some time to talk, albeit not enough, of course. Genealogists could talk forever.

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The RootsTech volunteers were wearing the turquoise “ASK” shirts. This gentleman sews. He noticed my vest and twice we had a chance to compare notes. I’m always so pleased to meet men that sew or quilt.

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Ran Snir presenting in the MyHeritage booth. Many of the larger vendors have a presentation center.

2019 King Henry

Hey look, I found King Henry in the WikiTree booth! If you want to see if you’re related to King Henry, you can make that happen at WikiTree, assuming accurate trees of course.

2019 WikiTree

Peter Roberts, my good friend and WikiTree angel for taking me under his wing long ago and getting my tree set up!

Peter provided me with a wonderful tip which I’ll be sharing with you in a blog article soon!

While I was in the WikiTree booth, I asked Mags Gaulden, who writes at Grandmas Genes to take a photo of today’s DNA vest.

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This one’s a little different – a rather op art helix.

2019 helix vest back

I really struggled with this vest and wasn’t nearly as happy as with Wednesday’s genetic family tree vest.

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Here, Mags and I are sporting our matching helix necklaces! We always have so much fun together and I’m looking forward to seeing Mags again at the FamilyTreeDNA conference at the end of March in Houston.

I had intended to attend the Ancestry lunch, but what I expected and what happened were two different things. I discovered that the Ancestry lunch wasn’t the CEO or product managers with insights or even new product announcements, but that the Ancestry speaker was Henry Louis Gates. I’ve seen Dr. Gates before and my intention was to see what Ancestry had planned for the future. At least I made this discovery before the lunch and not after I had arrived when it would have been awkward to leave.

Instead, I had lunch with a friend and spent the time catching up.

By the end of the day, my every single body part ached, and I was extremely grateful that the hotel I was staying in was across the street and for the heating pad in my suitcase.

Unfortunately, I missed the Living DNA Roundtable dinner, but the thought of walking another few blocks and back was just more than my back could handle. Plus, Friday was the tough day and I HAD to be able to function.

Friday

Friday was the long hard day, beginning at 7AM with the MyHeritage breakfast for MyHeritage Friends, a group of influencers who MyHeritage interfaces with, providing product announcements and such.

One of the benefits of MyHeritage is their international reach, meaning not only Israel, but Europe and Scandinavia. They are doing amazing things in multiple languages, including closed captioning and ASL at their conferences.

Of course, MyHeritage is also promoting the second MyHeritage LIVE Conference in Amsterdam September 6-8th which is going to be amazing!

2019 MyHeritage breakfast

Our table at the MyHeritage breakfast.

After breakfast, on to the expo hall.

2019 familytreedna booth

Walk tall, test your DNA at FamilyTreeDNA and carry a big stick.

I had been looking forward to the “Google for Genealogists: Maps, Satellite and Earth” class with Lianne Kruger.

2019 Lianne Kruger

I have to tell you, Lianne has the patience of a saint. Lab classes are difficult to teach, even with room assistants.

I learned a great deal and I can’t wait to apply what I learned, mapping for my blog and also planning trips from ancestor location to ancestor location.

The next thing on the agenda was a tech check of my computer equipment in the room where I would be presenting at 3.

Everything went well and fingers crossed that it would in the afternoon as well.

Saroo Brierley

Each day at RootsTech includes a General Session or keynote that is sponsored by one of the vendors.

MyHeritage sponsored Saroo Brierley and Geoff Rasmussen began with announcing their new Genetic Affairs integration.

2019 Saroo Brierley

That quickly moved to how Saroo Brierley had lost his way as a young child in a train station in India and had eventually been adopted by an Australian couple. Saroo always wondered what happened to his family in India and set out to find them, using the few memories he had from childhood.

2019 Saroo triumph

Not only did Saroo locate his family, they were reunited and in his words, he now has two families.

2019 Saroo book

Saroo wrote a book about his moving miracle story.

MyHeritage then announced the continuation of the DNAQuest project by adding another 5000 free kits for adoptees, in particular those who might not be able to otherwise afford testing.

2019 DNAQuest

If you know someone who could benefit, applications will be accepted at www.dnaquest.org until April 30, 2019.

MyHeritage Lunch

Of the lunches I attended, the MyHeritage lunch was by far the most beneficial.

2019 Gilad Japhet

Gilad Japhet, the CEO and founder of MyHeritage spoke and shared another recovered piece of his own fascinating family history. Gilad recently discovered a missing family photo that he remembered from his childhood.

Gilad’s grandfather immigrated to Israel from Poland in 1920. A year later, the family in Poland took a photo of family members gathered to send to Gilad’s grandfather. He surely must have been feeling at least somewhat homesick by that time.

Gilad’s grandfather kept this photo on the wall of his home, and when he passed away, the photo got packed up and disappeared. Just a few weeks ago, Gilad found the photo safe and sound with an unsuspecting relative.

2019 Gilad family

This is the only photo in existence of many of these people today. The individuals circled in orange perished two decades later in the holocaust.

Can you see that the little boy is holding a photo?

2019 Gilad boy photo

That photo is Gilad’s grandfather, taken before he immigrated. The little boy is holding the photo to show that even though Gilad’s grandfather was physically gone, to Israel, he is still with them. If Gilad’s grandfather hadn’t gone to Israel, Gilad would not be here today.

No wonder Gilad’s grandfather cherished this photo his entire life.

Gilad shared other details as well, such as:

  • MyHeritage has now photographed, transcribed and translated all of the cemeteries in Israel, a 5-year project including over 2 million photos of 1.5 million stones in 638 cemeteries. These records are now available on MyHeritage and BillionGraves. Israel is the first country to reach this monumental achievement. I don’t know of any similar initiative in any other country.
  • Of course, my ancestors didn’t originate in Israel, except perhaps for one that we are still researching in the Netherlands – so I’m very pleased about the fact that MyHeritage has reached out successfully to the European community for DNA testing. Gilad noted that most of their DNA sales today are in Europe, with their data base size being approximately 2.5 million, with 2 million of those being original tests and half a million being transfers. If you haven’t yet transferred, please do by clicking here.
  • Gilad mentioned that he had hoped to announce the completion of the stamp and envelope DNA extraction project, but it’s still in process.
  • Gilad said that soon MyHeritage will provide a feature to reconstruct the DNA of family members based on the DNA of other family members tested. I can hardly wait. I’ve dreamed of this feature for years and I have a list, believe me.

Gilad then shared with the attendees the details of the new feature announcements at RootsTech.

Theory of Family Relativity

2019 Theory of Family Relativity

The Theory of Family Relativity is explaining DNA matches using family trees and historical records. This super new feature was rolled out during RootsTech. I’m not going to provide examples and details here, because I’ll be writing separately shortly. I want to emphasize, as did Gilad, that these theories are just that, theories and NEED TO BE VERIFIED!

In fact, you may have more than one theory for any connection based on DNA matching, trees and records, and you can verify or dismiss the theories. This is an incredible tool. The first three I quickly reviewed were all accurate. One person had three separate theories, and of course, only one of those three could be accurate under the circumstances, but I immediately knew which one was the right path based on my already proven genealogy.

2019 theory 1

2019 theory 2

2019 theory 3

2019 theory 4

2019 theory 5

Gilad spent some time explaining the Big Tree. The most important aspect to realize is that the “Big Tree” is not constructed and stored indefinitely. The Big Tree is created “as needed” so it’s never stale. It’s not an old tree, and every branch and logical step is documented so you can view the logic for the theory path selected.

I can’t even begin to explain how critical this is for researchers.

There is no “trust me” or actually, “trust other people’s trees” at MyHeritage.

2019 theory 6

Here’s one last example building upon various relationships and records!

2019 theory 7

If you want to try this for yourself (please do) you can filter your matches by those that have Theories.

Warning – you may not do anything else for days, including sleep! I looked around in the presentation and you could see people signing on and trying this while Gilad was speaking. If I hadn’t been sitting right in front, I would probably have been doing the same thing.

2019 theory 8

If you’re wondering how Theories of Family Relativity differs from Ancestry’s ThruLines, here are some of Gilad’s observations.

2019 theory 9

Genetic Affairs Integrated Autoclustering

2019 autoclustering

Gilad announced Autoclusters – an integrated version of Evert-Jan Blom’s Genetic Affairs clustering software for MyHeritage users, used within and integrated into the MyHeritage product.

The great news is that the science team has improved the clustering software to cluster Jewish people successfully.

2019 autoclustering 3

The graphic on the left is a Jewish autocluster at Genetic Affairs, and at right, the same person clustered at MyHeritage. Big difference.

2019 autoclustering 4

Autoclustering can be accessed from the new Tools page. The resulting autocluster file will be sent to you via e-mail. In the days since this announcement, there has been a substantial backlog so expect to wait for several hours or even a day. This tool is exceptionally popular because of the power of clustering matches.

2019 autoclustering 6

In essence, if you can recognize the known relationships of some cluster members, then you pretty much know that the rest of the group is related through the same ancestral path.

However, in your tree pedigree “above” the ancestral couple identified, the people in a cluster may well diverge. For example, I have a cluster that I can track to my great-grandparents, but I know that some of those people descend from her ancestors and some from his ancestors. Clusters represent the MRCA or most recent common ancestor, not the most distant common ancestor of the cluster members

2019 autoclustering cost

Gilad described the various cost options. In essence if you tested at MyHeritage, uploaded before December 16, 2018 or if you are a subscriber, these tools are free for you. Initially, I was skeptical about how useful a MyHeritage subscription would be for me, but this past year, my subscription has proven indispensable – and now even more so with the fact that Theories of Family Relativity combines actual records with DNA and trees!

2019 autocluster summary

DNA Everyplace

After lunch, I couldn’t sit any longer, so I walked part of the expo hall. One booth that attracted me like a moth to a flame was CelebrateDNA.

2019 Celebrate DNA

Yes, I ordered 3 t-shirts.

2019 DNAbasics

New at RootsTech this year is the DNA Basics Learning Center – not sponsored by a vendor but by RootsTech itself. They had a presentation area and various DNA presenters rotated in and out throughout the day. Furthermore, the Learning Center was staffed with knowledgeable volunteers.

I remember the days when every single genealogy society wanted a basic DNA lecture! Today, most societies have people to mentor others in DNA.

Kenyatta Berry in the FamilyTreeDNA Booth

I spent the early afternoon, before my own presentation with Kenyatta Berry in the FamilyTreeDNA booth. One of the FamilyTreeDNA giveaways was an individual session with Kenyatta for 3 lucky winners. I served as honorary photographer as well as DNA consultant.

2019 Kenyatta giveaway1

It was fun listening to the brick walls that these lucky winners brought to Kenyatta.

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This gentleman is Native American and his family history is sooo interesting.

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Kenyatta’s book, The Family Tree Toolkit: A Comprehensive Guide to Uncovering Your Ancestry and Researching Genealogy, was recently released and I can’t wait to actually have a chance to take a look.

After Kenyatta’s meetups, it was time for my own session.

My Session – Beyond Pie Charts: Using Y and Mitochondrial DNA to Solve Genealogical Puzzles

2019 black helix vest

I have a confession to make. I had a terrible case of nerves about my session. I’m used to speaking in general – it wasn’t that.

My jitters arose from a combination of the fact that I had to create not one, not two, but three sessions with about a week’s notice. If these sessions had been “intro to DNA,” I could have done them blindfolded and from memory – but the topic had been selected by the original presenter – and I had to work around that.

I needed case studies, and I didn’t have time to remember and then obtain permission for other people’s stories – so they had to come from my own family. Thankfully, I have done a lot of work, so I had fodder to work with. I was SOOOO grateful for those 52 Ancestor stories!

On top of that, the session had to fit exactly into the time slot, and this was the first time presenting this particular presentation. Getting the timing down pat means lots of practice and tweaking.

RootsTech encourages their speakers to dress professionally, of course, so I took a business suit along with me. However, every person I spoke with in the days before my session encouraged me to ditch the suit and wear my DNA clothes which have become somewhat of a signature item. Who knew that I had a “personal brand?”😊

I dressed in the morning in my black DNA vest and red leggings. But wow, is this bright!

Perhaps I should have opted for a black shirt and leggings, but that seemed too dull. Maybe the suit after all??? I went back and forth and back and forth.

Needless to say, this was the first time I’ve presented in something this bright and unconventional at a national conference.

I made my last tweak to my presentation about half an hour before the session, AND, I hoped fervently that the humor I planned went off as planned. Some of my jokes were a bit subtle and others, less so.

Humor is particularly difficult and requires impeccable timing.

Nerves, timing and humor sometimes don’t work well together. That made me even more nervous!

2019 ballroom b

In case you wonder what these rooms look like empty. They sort of run from sea to sea. The lights are so bright on the speaker that they generally can’t see much of the audience after the house lights are dimmed in these types of venues, except for the first row or two directly in front of the stage.

I should have given my cell to someone to snap some candid photos, but since I had a professional photographer, I didn’t see the need to do that. The professional photos won’t be ready for a few days.

I included my brother Dave’s story as an example of integrating Y and autosomal DNA results, thinking I could get through it dry-eyed. I did in practice, but not so much in the session. My voice cracked and let’s say that there is no graceful way to hide that – and if you try to sneak a little nose wipe the mic picks it up as something that sounds entirely different. I’ll just claim that was part of the planned humor – right?

The attendees are asked to provide feedback on the sessions, so I’ll be interested to see what worked and what didn’t. Since I was a last-minute speaker covering for someone else, I wasn’t able to provide a handout in time to be included for attendees, so I’ll make up for that by writing blog articles in the weeks to come. I hope everyone subscribed! To help make up for no handout, I gave everyone who attended a DNAexplain ribbon!

2019 DNAexplain ribbon

After my session, I was pleased to meet people back in the FamilyTreeDNA booth to answer any remaining questions. The ballrooms are too large to take questions from the floor.

By the end of the day, everyone was exhausted,

Saturday

Friday was my very long super-tough day, so by Saturday, for me, the conference had begun to wind down. That wasn’t true for everyone though, because Saturday is the busiest day.

RootsTech opens the doors for free for members of the LDS Church and specifically encourages children with the hope of infecting them with the genealogy bug early. Roughly 30,000 people attend.

In that vein, there are lots of interesting family-friendly activities for everyone.

For example, Jason Hewlett who had been emceeing all week told a story about his young daughter who shocked him by announcing that her favorite artist was Lady Gaga. Jason says that sometimes he “rewrites” songs in a more child-appropriate way for his daughters and proceeded to demonstrate.

Respite in the Speaker’s Lounge

I had originally planned to attend a couple of classes, but I was physically and emotionally drained. I escaped to the speaker’s lounge for a respite.

RootsTech provides a speaker’s lounge so those of us who are speaking, and therefore generally available for questions throughout the conference can find for some peace and quiet, to prepare for sessions or sometimes for interviews. The background noise makes recording interviews difficult elsewhere.

2019 white helix vest

Yes, the black DNA vest is reversible to this white one. Trust me, I’ll never do that again. Reversible=engineering challenge!

Jake Shimabukuro – Ukulele Master

Saturday’s main event was sponsored by 23andMe who opened by encouraging everyone to test and told the story of a woman who discovered that she, her mother and sister have the BRCA1 gene that may signal a propensity to breast cancer, especially in Ashkenazi Jewish women. Please note that there are multiple genetic factors and genes that contribute to some types of breast cancer, so if you DON’T have this mutation, that does NOT mean you should rest easy if breast cancer is a particular concern. 23andMe only tests for a limited number of breast cancer genetic indicators. Talk to your physician who may order medical genetic testing.

2019 Jake

Jake Shimabukuro, a very talented young ukulele player, was up next.

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Here’s a very short clip just to give you an idea.

After Saturday’s general session, I discovered hula dancers in the main hallway that I enjoyed immensely.

I know you can’t see their clothing very well in the video, so here’s a cropped photo. It was snowing outside. I’d think they were freezing to death.

2019 dancers

While I was watching the dancers, I noticed a gentleman filming over my shoulder. I turned around to see if I was in his way. The dancers ended about that time, and the man filming, Jarrett Ross and I began chatting. That’s the RootsTech way.

Jarrett is a videographer who can be seen at his GeneaVlogger YouTube channel here.

As luck would have it, I was on my way to find the face painting, and Jarrett wanted to video face-painting. Voila! Match made in Heaven.

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Here’s Denise Cole who owns Painted Party, the artist who created my wonderful double helix face painting last year. She hit a home run this year too.

2019 face helix

You can count on the fact that I’ll be looking for her if I attend next year!

2019 Jarrett Ross

Jarrett and I with the finished product in our obligatory RootsTech selfie!

Instead of going to the 23andMe lunch, Jarrett and I hung out in the hallway where he interviewed me and we ate snacks. I’m actually glad I spent the time getting to know Jarrett and learning about Jewish genealogy in the Netherlands. 23andMe didn’t make any product announcements or provide insights, so the only thing I missed was mediocre food.

Jarrett will be posting the videos of several RootsTech interviews, including mine, on his YouTube channel soon.

2019 sushi burrito

I did eventually have to try a Sushi Burrito though and it was pretty good, consisting or all of the typical sushi fixings inside a nori wrapper wrapped like a burrito.

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Back to the entrance on the last day, the yarn on the connect-belong board is almost solid.

The conference ended mid-afternoon, but my flight wasn’t scheduled until Sunday mid-day.

2019 last dinner

My last evening in Salt Lake City was spent having a nice leisurely dinner decompressing with Blaine Bettinger and Angie Bush (left). In the lobby, we found Michelle Patient from Australia who I had never met before in person.

Often at conferences, people are unable to connect for more than a few minutes. I hadn’t seen Blaine and Angie in years, let alone long enough to sit down and actually visit. The perfect ending to a wonderful conference.

In Summary

I know this article has been long, but I hope for those who weren’t able to attend RootsTech in person that this conveys a bit of the feel of the actual experience. I hope everyone took advantage of viewing the livestreamed sessions. The general sessions and the dozen or so free livestreamed sessions will be available here.

RootsTech has the ambiance of a very large family reunion. My goal in sharing the photos and in essence “taking you along” is to provide the RootsTech experience through the eyes of an attendee.

RootsTech has made a concerted effort to remediate the issues present in 2018 and they have done an excellent job. I have a few suggestions, but no complaints.

It’s not an inexpensive trip between the airfare, hotel and food, so I don’t know if I will return, but I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to sign up for RootsTech 2020.

My take away was something we discussed on Saturday evening at dinner. At one time not so long ago in history, we had “internet” classes, but now the internet is ubiquitous. DNA and genealogy is becoming the same way. It’s no longer separate and different, but part of an integrated genealogical whole.

Please join me in the next couple days when I’ll be reviewing the new DNA feature announcements by both Ancestry and MyHeritage.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little mini-tour of RootsTech 2019.

Journey to RootsTech 2019 – The Family History Library and Meeting Myrt

Every genealogist knows about the legendary Family History Library in Salt Lake City. It’s genealogy Mecca.

You know, the place with the “key.”

2019 key

What key, you ask? That key – the one that means this:

2019 images

How to break a genealogist’s heart.

Create the Plan

Thankfully, my friend Jen told me how to make a research plan for the Family History Library (FHL) by using the Search Catalog feature.

2019 catalog

By selecting the desired location, you can then view all of the library holdings. I divide my list into books and online work, because to view those films, you simply so and sign on to a computer in the FHL or an affiliate library near you. Unfortunately, I have no affiliate library near me.

I went prepared with a list of locations, book numbers and films.

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Here’s the obligatory “arrival selfie.”

Bright Shiny Beads

I was behaving, truly I was when someone noticed me sitting at a table researching. After introductions, I discovered that the group of ill-behaved people clustered around a glass room was a bunch of bloggers.

Of course, I knew immediately I had found my peeps, so I immediately went over and introduced myself to the rest of the group.

My friend, Daniel Horowitz from MyHeritage arrived about the same time and about this time, Mr. Myrt asked us if we’d like to be interviewed on Mondays with Myrt.

Of COURSE we would.

Except, I was wearing a grey t-shirt. Never fear though, because I had my ever-present DNA-bling.

2019 Myrt production

Monday’s With Myrt was being produced inside the room with those mountains in the distance again, and the waiting room was effectively outside where excited bloggers had to be reminded more than once to hush. I don’t want to say the best part was waiting, but it was amazing to meet these wonderful people in person after seeing their online presence for, in some cases, years.

Sprinkled in were new bloggers too, so everyone was helping everyone else and it was kind of a blogger love-in.

The Ribbons

I suddenly realized that this was the PERFECT opportunity to break out my new ribbons.

Last year, I had no idea about conference ribbons, but at RootsTech, and I understand at other conferences as well, attended collect ribbons on their badges. Ribbons are a hot item. When I discovered that I was presenting, I wanted to have something for the attendees.

I discovered that you can indeed order and receive ribbons in 7 days.

So…..drum roll….the unveiling of my new DNAexplain ribbons!

2019 DNAexplain ribbon

I proceeded to give a ribbon to everyone in close proximity that couldn’t escape, and Daniel Horowitz took a selfie to commemorate the event.  Thanks so much Daniel for posting on Twitter and giving me permission to use!

2019 blogger photo

Daniel Tweeted: Some of my #geneafriends @RobertaJEstes giving her first ribbons to @CarolPetranek @histfamilles @ancestorfinder1  #genealogy #Rootstech

That’s the amazing Mr. Myrt in the black hat.

Mondays With Myrt

A few minutes later, I was seated with Myrt.

2019 me with Myrt

Now, I have a confession to make, but don’t tell Myrt, OK?

I’m not a “conference person,” nor do I follow a lot of genealogy blogs. (It’s OK to hiss at me.)

I knew about Mondays with Myrt, and I knew the person online named Pat-Richley Erickson, but not well. I knew she was a genealogist and a quilter, but I did not know she was Myrt. Her name isn’t Myrt, or Myrtle, so I never connected the dots. I’m sure there’s a good story in here someplace, but Myrt, or Pat, will have to tell you herself. Actually, she tells you a bit about herself here on her YouTube Channel.

So, imagine my surprise when I looked inside the production booth to see Pat. Where was Myrt. I figured Pat must be being interviewed too.

2019 Myrt production 2

Myrt livestreams her Monday interview sessions through her blog.  You can view them here. She has an amazing following. One follower, Tierra Cotton-Kellow even managed to tune in on a plane on her way to Salt Lake.

If you can’t watch the entire video, I’m at 2:15 in Monday’s session. Here’s the session on YouTube.

Lunch

When you receive a lunch invitation to join a group of bloggers, you quickly abandon your research plans and head out to eat at the LDS Office Building a couple blocks away.

The most direct path is through Temple Square, so I was excited to see the sights.

2019-temple.jpg

The blogger group ate at the cafeteria in the LDS business building.

2019 blogger lunch

Photo by Cheryl Hudson Passey

Lunch with with Pat Richley-Erickson, Laura Wilkinson Hedgecock, Gordon Erickson, Graham A. Walter, Audrey Collins, John Boeren, Roberta Estes, Christine Woodcock,Jenny Hawen, Jan Brandt Roger Moffat and Lisa Moffat.

To include Cheryl, Roger took a picture of Cheryl taking a picture.

2019 Cheryl

Note Cheryl’s GeneaBlogger beads given by Myrt. I’m now a proud bead-wearing member of the tribe too.

While sitting at lunch, Lisa Moffit (white sweater at right) and I discovered that she and I are actually cousins through our Acadian lines. How much fun is that!!!

I was so grateful to be included in the impromptu blogger lunch.

2019-Temple-fountain.jpg

On the way back, I snagged a few more photos.

2019 Temple road

Not that the Mormon Church here is influential, but the road goes UNDER Temple square.

2019 Temple walk

I did manage to go back to the library and research for most of the afternoon, but it was digging in a dry well.

No matter where I looked, no ancestors. I know a whole lot of records that they aren’t in, and I suppose that’s negative evidence. However, I know the Lentz family, and probably the Reuhl (Ruhle) family were in the Shippenberg area of Cumberland County, PA which borders on Franklin County. I perused all records for both counties today, in the hopes of discovering who they were indentured to, or anything about their missing 14 years or so.

I’m presuming that the by-then-elderly Ruhle couple, Fredericka Ruhle Lentz’s parents died either in route or in Pennsylvania. There is no sign of them in Ohio in the 1830s. Unfortunately, there’s also no sign of them in Pennsylvania either.

Frustrated with them, I moved to another brick wall line with no luck there either.

Fortunately, I had made dinner arrangements with another genetic genealogist and his wife and enjoyed spending the evening with them immensely.

Tuesday Has to Be Better

Tuesday was a great people day, but an awful research day.

I had a difficult time getting motivated to research on Tuesday, so instead I decided to walk over to the conference center and pick up my badge.

2019 Rootstech sign

Early badge pickup is available today and now the Salt Shaker says RootsTech.

Conference Coming to Life

The conference theme, just guessing now, is “Connect Belong.”

2019 conference entrance

This interesting display greeted me.

2019 Carol

Another genealogist, Carol Whitaker from Oregon, also picking up a badge was stringing yard between the pegs, so of course I had to ask her what she was doing.

Attendees will be connected their traits and locations and of course, belonging. What a great idea. I’ll take another photo or two of the board later in the week.

2019 me connect

Of course, you know that I immediately noticed all of the genetic traits.

Does anyone know what’s on the dress I’m wearing?

I was very pleased to meet Danielle too. Those with the Ultimate Passes are assigned to a hostess who has already proven to be a Godsend.

2019 Danielle

Danielle is amazing, but I don’t know what she did to deserve being saddled with me😊

2019-empty-hall.jpg

The RootsTech halls are empty now, but they won’t be for long.

She took me to see the room where I’m speaking and let’s just say it’s cavernous! I hope I have enough ribbons!

2019 carpet art

This amazing piece of art made from carpet scraps adorns the conference center just inside the door. Looks like a quilt to me, of course.

By this time, I had managed to usurp most of the morning, and ran into someone who invited me for lunch again. You’re going to think the only thing I did was eat!

That’s not at all true – I also drank coffee at Starbucks and admired the beautiful art that graces many open spaces in Salt Lake City.

Art

2019 helix art

Yes, DNA is everyplace, including free standing art that is reminiscent of a room divider.

2019 petrified wood

Slices of petrified wood.

2019 Amethyst flowers

Amethyst flowers.

2019 Amethyst bush

Good thing these aren’t for sale.

2019 birds

Seagull statue outside of Nordstroms.

2019 Chocolate Factory

The Chocolate Factory. What, you think the Chocolate Factory isn’t art?

Pshaw. You obviously haven’t gone inside yet!

2019 Chocolate Factory inside

More Research

When it became evident that I absolutely could NOT kill anymore time, I went back to the FHL with the intention of reviewing at least most of the images records that I can’t access without being in the library.

However, I immediately say Tierra Cotton-Kellow who writes at Pressing My Way and is also a professional photographer. Why knew? The great news – she’s my photographer for this event and still has some slots open for a few fortunate others.

2019 Tierra Cotton-Kellow

Right after I found Tierra, Nathan Murphy found me.

Nathan did me a huge, huge favor some years ago and discovered one of my ancestors in England. Bless his heart, Nathan shared! I could never have found this record otherwise, because Nathan stumbled across it.

Never mind that he was a convict being deported😊

No, no, not Nathan, my ancestor!

I did eventually return to research, but apparently this is not the trip for me to make any headway whatsoever. It’s a good thing that I enjoyed meeting new friends and reuniting with old, because the research was entirely nonproductive.

There’s so much to look forward to for the rest of the week, starting tomorrow.

Wednesday is the DNAexplain Blog Meetup

I’m excited to greet everyone in the FamilyTreeDNA booth for the DNAexplain meetup tomorrow after the opening keynote. The vendor expo hall opens at 6 PM and stays open until 8. The first free mini-session begins in the booth at 6:15.

  • Wednesday, February 27 – 6:15 – Family Tree DNA booth #1107 – Family Finder Search Tips – Quick tips for how to perform surname and ancestral searches successfully!
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 6:45 – Family Tree DNA giveaway drawing
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 6:45 – DNAexplain Blog meetup in the Family Tree DNA booth presentation center
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 7:15 – Family Tree DNA booth – Family Finder Bucketing – Connecting your matches to your tree so that Family Tree DNA can assign your matches to your maternal or paternal side – even without having your parents tested!
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 7:45 – Family Tree DNA giveaway drawing

Come see me, say hello, get a brand spanking new DNAexplain ribbon and enjoy the free sessions! Gotta run! See you there!

RootsTech 2019 – I’m Speaking and DNAexplain Meetup!

“May you live in interesting times.”

That Chinese proverb that no one is sure whether is a blessing or a curse.

I’m pleased to announce that I’m speaking at RootsTech, quite by accident😊

RootsTech 2019 speaker badge

Fate, synchronicity, call it what you will.

If you’re chuckling, so am I.

I’ll be presenting a total of 3 sessions – one regular RootsTech session and 2 minis plus a DNAexplain blog follower (that’s YOU) meetup.

Schedule at a Glance

Here’s a quick overview schedule, including 2 giveaways, with details following below:

  • Wednesday, February 27 – 6:15 – Family Tree DNA booth #1107 – Family Finder Search Tips – Quick tips for how to perform surname and ancestral searches successfully!
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 6:45 – Family Tree DNA giveaway drawing
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 6:45 – DNAexplain Blog meetup in the Family Tree DNA booth presentation center
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 7:15 – Family Tree DNA booth – Family Finder Bucketing – Connecting your matches to your tree so that Family Tree DNA can assign your matches to your maternal or paternal side – even without having your parents tested!
  • Wednesday, February 27 – 7:45 – Family Tree DNA giveaway drawing
  • Friday, March 1, Ballroom B – 3 PM – Beyond Pie Charts: Using Y and Mitochondrial DNA Testing to Solve Genealogical Puzzles

DNAexplain Blog Follower Meetup – Wednesday Evening –  6:15

The DNAexplain blog follower meetup which includes 2 free mini-sessions (and two giveaways) will be Wednesday evening from 6:15-7:45, right after the expo hall opens, in the Family Tree DNA booth, #1017, boxed in red on the map below. It looks like if you walk between LivingDNA and 23andMe, you’ll run smack dab into the Family Tree DNA booth.

Family Tree DNA has a new booth this year with a presentation center right in the booth, so we will be the first to use the new facility.

Rootstech 2019 Expo floor

I’ll be in the booth from 6-8 PM and have prepared special two mini-sessions for my blog followers and anyone else who would like to attend.

You don’t have to stay for the whole time of course!

Please stop by and say hello. I’d love to see you.

Thank you to Family Tree DNA for graciously allowing us to meet in their new presentation center.

Beyond Pie Charts: Using Y and Mitochondrial DNA Testing to Solve Genealogical Puzzles – Friday – 3 PM – Ballroom B

Jim Brewster was originally presenting the session, “Beyond Pie Charts: Using Y and Mitochondrial DNA Testing to Solve Genealogical Puzzles” at 3 PM on Friday.

Unfortunately, Jim is unable to attend and late last week – yes – as in 4 or 5 days ago, I agreed to present this session.

Now, the good news is that I’ve been working with Y and mitochondrial DNA 19 years, long enough to have some really good examples to include. You’ll laugh, I promise, and maybe even shed a tear or two. DNA and families are anything but boring!

Rootstech 2019 Roberta Estes session

Please, come and see the presentation at 3 on Friday afternoon in Ballroom B, on the map below.

Rootstech 2019 Ballroom B location

I promise you’ll be entertained and learn something too!

For those who can’t attend, several sessions are going to be LiveStreamed, 12 recorded and available later for free, and 18 more will be available with the purchase of a Virtual Pass. My session is not being recorded, so you’ll have to come and see it live!

LiveStream Schedule

Several people have asked about the LiveStream schedule, which you can find here. I believe this is also the link to view the LiveStreamed sessions.

An additional 12 sessions will be recorded and available for free viewing later.

  • Blending Family History and Technology with the Art of Storytelling
  • Descendancy Research: Another Pathway to Genealogy
  • Making Memories of You
  • New York Research Essentials
  • You Can Do DNA
  • How to Write Your Life Story in Five Pages or Less
  • Heirloom, Documentation or Junk: What to Keep or Toss
  • S.O.S. (Save Our Stuff): Stories and Heirlooms
  • Families Discovering Family History Together
  • Writing and Publishing a Family History: Ten Steps
  • Artificial Intelligence in Photo Management (and How It Can Boost Metadata)
  • Breaking through Brick Walls in Scottish Research

Virtual Pass Classes

A Virtual Pass is available for $129 (or $79 if you have already registered for RootsTech) which entitles you to the following recorded sessions as well.

  • Chromosome Mapping for Absolute Beginners—Jonny Perl
  • Must-Use U.S. Records at Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, findmypast, and MyHeritage—Sunny Morton
  • A Deep Dive into Understanding Your DNA Results—Blaine Bettinger, Angie Bush, Jonny Perl
  • The Surname Is Key: History of Surnames and Conducting Surname Research in Germany—Dirk Weissleder
  • One Touch Genealogy Research: Handle a Record Once—Thomas MacEntee
  • You Need Both! Uniting DNA and Traditional Research—Angie Bush and D. Joshua Taylor
  • Chromosome Mapping Tips and Techniques—Blaine Bettinger
  • Deeper Analysis: Techniques for Successful Problem-Solving—Elissa Scalise Powell
  • The Magic of German Church Records—Katherine Schober
  • My Ancestors Are from Germany, and I Don’t Speak German—Tamra Stansfield
  • When Details Disagree: 8 Ways to Resolve Conflicts—D. Joshua Taylor
  • 20 Hacks for Interviewing Almost Anyone, and Getting a Good Story—Joanna Liddell and Karen Morgan
  • Going Dutch: Finding Families in Online Records of the Netherlands—Daniel Jones
  • Beyond the Mists of Time: Sources for British Medieval and Early Modern Genealogy—Nick Barratt
  • The Combined Power of DNA, Records, and Family Trees—Jen Baldwin, David Nicholson, Diahan Southard
  • The Genealogist’s Google Search Methodology—Lisa Louise Cooke
  • Jewish Genealogy: How to Start, Where to Look, What’s Available—Lara Diamond
  • Slave Traders, Speculators, and the Domestic Slave Trade—Kenyatta Berry

Your Imbedded Reporter😊

I bought an Ultimate Pass this year, which means I’ll be able to have up-front seating which facilitates good photos for blog articles. I have also arranged to attend many of the vendor lunches and several of the vendor sessions so that I’ll be able to report back to you about new announcements and what’s coming, of course with a focus on DNA.

I hope to publish articles daily while I’m there, although I’m not promising given the hectic nature of my ever-evolving schedule. Rest assured I’ll let be writing as soon as I can. My ability to publish is sometimes constrained by poor Wi-Fi which makes it impossible to upload photos and articles.

My regular article publication schedule will be disrupted while I’m gone, so those ancestors will just have to wait!

For me, the best part of RootsTech last year was meeting people in person. I look forward to seeing you there, so please come to the meetup Wednesday evening or my regular session Friday at 3 and be sure to say hi.

I’m easy to recognize – l’ll be wearing something “DNA.”

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay, but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

2018 – The Year of the Segment

Looking in the rear view mirror, what a year! Some days it’s been hard to catch your breath things have been moving so fast.

What were the major happenings, how did they affect genetic genealogy and what’s coming in 2019?

The SNiPPY Award

First of all, I’m giving an award this year. The SNiPPY.

Yea, I know it’s kinda hokey, but it’s my way of saying a huge thank you to someone in this field who has made a remarkable contribution and that deserves special recognition.

Who will it be this year?

Drum roll…….

The 2018 SNiPPY goes to…

DNAPainter – The 2018 SNiPPY award goes to DNAPainter, without question. Applause, everyone, applause! And congratulations to Jonny Perl, pictured below at Rootstech!

Jonny Perl created this wonderful, visual tool that allows you to paint your matches with people on your chromosomes, assigning the match to specific ancestors.

I’ve written about how to use the tool  with different vendors results and have discovered many different ways to utilize the painted segments. The DNA Painter User Group is here on Facebook. I use DNAPainter EVERY SINGLE DAY to solve a wide variety of challenges.

What else has happened this year? A lot!

Ancient DNA – Academic research seldom reports on Y and mitochondrial DNA today and is firmly focused on sequencing ancient DNA. Ancient genome sequencing has only recently been developed to a state where at least some remains can be successfully sequenced, but it’s going great guns now. Take a look at Jennifer Raff’s article in Forbes that discusses ancient DNA findings in the Americas, Europe, Southeast Asia and perhaps most surprising, a first generation descendant of a Neanderthal and a Denisovan.

From Early human dispersals within the Americas by Moreno-Mayer et al, Science 07 Dec 2018

Inroads were made into deeper understanding of human migration in the Americas as well in the paper Early human dispersals within the Americas by Moreno-Mayer et al.

I look for 2019 and on into the future to hold many more revelations thanks to ancient DNA sequencing as well as using those sequences to assist in understanding the migration patterns of ancient people that eventually became us.

Barbara Rae-Venter and the Golden State Killer Case

Using techniques that adoptees use to identify their close relatives and eventually, their parents, Barbara Rae-Venter assisted law enforcement with identifying the man, Joseph DeAngelo, accused (not yet convicted) of being the Golden State Killer (GSK).

A very large congratulations to Barbara, a retired patent attorney who is also a genealogist. Nature recognized Ms. Rae-Venter as one of 2018’s 10 People Who Mattered in Science.

DNA in the News

DNA is also represented on the 2018 Nature list by Viviane Slon, a palaeogeneticist who discovered an ancient half Neanderthal, half Denisovan individual and sequenced their DNA and He JianKui, a Chinese scientist who claims to have created a gene-edited baby which has sparked widespread controversy. As of the end of the year, He Jiankui’s research activities have been suspended and he is reportedly sequestered in his apartment, under guard, although the details are far from clear.

In 2013, 23andMe patented the technology for designer babies and I removed my kit from their research program. I was concerned at the time that this technology knife could cut two ways, both for good, eliminating fatal disease-causing mutations and also for ethically questionable practices, such as eugenics. I was told at the time that my fears were unfounded, because that “couldn’t be done.” Well, 5 years later, here we are. I expect the debate about the ethics and eventual regulation of gene-editing will rage globally for years to come.

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA was also in the news when she took a DNA test in response to political challenges. I wrote about what those results meant scientifically, here. This topic became highly volatile and politicized, with everyone seeming to have a very strongly held opinion. Regardless of where you fall on that opinion spectrum (and no, please do not post political comments as they will not be approved), the topic is likely to surface again in 2019 due to the fact that Elizabeth Warren has just today announced her intention to run for President. The good news is that DNA testing will likely be discussed, sparking curiosity in some people, perhaps encouraging them to test. The bad news is that some of the discussion may be unpleasant at best, and incorrect click-bait at worst. We’ve already had a rather unpleasant sampling of this.

Law Enforcement and Genetic Genealogy

The Golden State Killer case sparked widespread controversy about using GedMatch and potentially other genetic genealogy data bases to assist in catching people who have committed violent crimes, such as rape and murder.

GedMatch, the database used for the GSK case has made it very clear in their terms and conditions that DNA matches may be used for both adoptees seeking their families and for other uses, such as law enforcement seeking matches to DNA sequenced during a criminal investigation. Since April 2018, more than 15 cold case investigations have been solved using the same technique and results at GedMatch. Initially some people removed their DNA from GedMatch, but it appears that the overwhelming sentiment, based on uploads, is that people either aren’t concerned or welcome the opportunity for their DNA matches to assist apprehending criminals.

Parabon Nanolabs in May established a genetic genealogy division headed by CeCe Moore who has worked in the adoptee community for the past several years. The division specializes in DNA testing forensic samples and then assisting law enforcement with the associated genetic genealogy.

Currently, GedMatch is the only vendor supporting the use of forensic sample matching. Neither 23anMe nor Ancestry allow uploaded data, and MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA’s terms of service currently preclude this type of use.

MyHeritage

Wow talk about coming onto the DNA world stage with a boom.

MyHeritage went from a somewhat wobbly DNA start about 2 years ago to rolling out a chromosome browser at the end of January and adding important features such as SmartMatching which matches your DNA and your family trees. Add triangulation to this mixture, along with record matching, and you’re got a #1 winning combination.

It was Gilad Japhet, the MyHeritage CEO who at Rootstech who christened 2018 “The Year of the Segment,” and I do believe he was right. Additionally, he announced that MyHeritage partnered with the adoption community by offering 15,000 free kits to adoptees.

In November, MyHeritage hosted MyHeritage LIVE, their first user conference in Oslo, Norway which focused on both their genealogical records offerings as well as DNA. This was a resounding success and I hope MyHeritage will continue to sponsor conferences and invest in DNA. You can test your DNA at MyHeritage or upload your results from other vendors (instructions here). You can follow my journey and the conference in Olso here, here, here, here and here.

GDPR

GDPR caused a lot of misery, and I’m glad the implementation is behind us, but the the ripples will be affecting everyone for years to come.

GDPR, the European Data Protection Regulation which went into effect on May 25,  2018 has been a mixed and confusing bag for genetic genealogy. I think the concept of users being in charge and understanding what is happened with their data, and in this case, their data plus their DNA, is absolutely sound. The requirements however, were created without any consideration to this industry – which is small by comparison to the Googles and Facebooks of the world. However, the Googles and Facebooks of the world along with many larger vendors seem to have skated, at least somewhat.

Other companies shut their doors or restricted their offerings in other ways, such as World Families Network and Oxford Ancestors. Vendors such as Ancestry and Family Tree DNA had to make unpopular changes in how their users interface with their software – in essence making genetic genealogy more difficult without any corresponding positive return. The potential fines, 20 million plus Euro for any company holding data for EU residents made it unwise to ignore the mandates.

In the genetic genealogy space, the shuttering of both YSearch and MitoSearch was heartbreaking, because that was the only location where you could actually compare Y STR and mitochondrial HVR1/2 results. Not everyone uploaded their results, and the sites had not been updated in a number of years, but the closure due to GDPR was still a community loss.

Today, mitoydna.org, a nonprofit comprised of genetic genealogists, is making strides in replacing that lost functionality, plus, hopefully more.

On to more positive events.

Family Tree DNA

In April, Family Tree DNA announced a new version of the Big Y test, the Big Y-500 in which at least 389 additional STR markers are included with the Big Y test, for free. If you’re lucky, you’ll receive between 389 and 439 new markers, depending on how many STR markers above 111 have quality reads. All customers are guaranteed a minimum of 500 STR markers in total. Matching was implemented in December.

These additional STR markers allow genealogists to assemble additional line marker mutations to more granularly identify specific male lineages. In other words, maybe I can finally figure out a line marker mutation that will differentiate my ancestor’s line from other sons of my founding ancestor😊

In June, Family Tree DNA announced that they had named more than 100,000 SNPs which means many haplogroup additions to the Y tree. Then, in September, Family Tree DNA published their Y haplotree, with locations, publicly for all to reference.

I was very pleased to see this development, because Family Tree DNA clearly has the largest Y database in the industry, by far, and now everyone can reap the benefits.

In October, Family Tree DNA published their mitochondrial tree publicly as well, with corresponding haplogroup locations. It’s nice that Family Tree DNA continues to be the science company.

You can test your Y DNA, mitochondrial or autosomal (Family Finder) at Family Tree DNA. They are the only vendor offering full Y and mitochondrial services complete with matching.

2018 Conferences

Of course, there are always the national conferences we’re familiar with, but more and more, online conferences are becoming available, as well as some sessions from the more traditional conferences.

I attended Rootstech in Salt Lake City in February (brrrr), which was lots of fun because I got to meet and visit with so many people including Mags Gaulden, above, who is a WikiTree volunteer and writes at Grandma’s Genes, but as a relatively expensive conference to attend, Rootstech was pretty miserable. Rootstech has reportedly made changes and I hope it’s much better for attendees in 2019. My attendance is very doubtful, although I vacillate back and forth.

On the other hand, the MyHeritage LIVE conference was amazing with both livestreamed and recorded sessions which are now available free here along with many others at Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Family Tree University held a Virtual DNA Conference in June and those sessions, along with others, are available for subscribers to view.

The Virtual Genealogical Association was formed for those who find it difficult or impossible to participate in local associations. They too are focused on education via webinars.

Genetic Genealogy Ireland continues to provide their yearly conference sessions both livestreamed and recorded for free. These aren’t just for people with Irish genealogy. Everyone can benefit and I enjoy them immensely.

Bottom line, you can sit at home and educate yourself now. Technology is wonderful!

2019 Conferences

In 2019, I’ll be speaking at the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference, Journey of Discovery, in St. Charles, providing the Special Thursday Session titled “DNA: King Arthur’s Mighty Genetic Lightsaber” about how to use DNA to break through brick walls. I’ll also see attendees at Saturday lunch when I’ll be providing a fun session titled “Twists and Turns in the Genetic Road.” This is going to be a great conference with a wonderful lineup of speakers. Hope to see you there.

There may be more speaking engagements at conferences on my 2019 schedule, so stay tuned!

The Leeds Method

In September, Dana Leeds publicized The Leeds Method, another way of grouping your matches that clusters matches in a way that indicates your four grandparents.

I combine the Leeds method with DNAPainter. Great job Dana!

Genetic Affairs

In December, Genetic Affairs introduced an inexpensive subscription reporting and visual clustering methodology, but you can try it for free.

I love this grouping tool. I have already found connections I didn’t know existed previously. I suggest joining the Genetic Affairs User Group on Facebook.

DNAGedcom.com

I wrote an article in January about how to use the DNAGedcom.com client to download the trees of all of your matches and sort to find specific surnames or locations of their ancestors.

However, in December, DNAGedcom.com added another feature with their new DNAGedcom client just released that downloads your match information from all vendors, compiles it and then forms clusters. They have worked with Dana Leeds on this, so it’s a combination of the various methodologies discussed above. I have not worked with the new tool yet, as it has just been released, but Kitty Cooper has and writes about it here.  If you are interested in this approach, I would suggest joining the Facebook DNAGedcom User Group.

Rootsfinder

I have not had a chance to work with Rootsfinder beyond the very basics, but Rootsfinder provides genetic network displays for people that you match, as well as triangulated views. Genetic networks visualizations are great ways to discern patterns. The tool creates match or triangulation groups automatically for you.

Training videos are available at the website and you can join the Rootsfinder DNA Tools group at Facebook.

Chips and Imputation

Illumina, the chip maker that provides the DNA chips that most vendors use to test changed from the OmniExpress to the GSA chip during the past year. Older chips have been available, but won’t be forever.

The newer GSA chip is only partially compatible with the OmniExpress chip, providing limited overlap between the older and the new results. This has forced the vendors to use imputation to equalize the playing field between the chips, so to speak.

This has also caused a significant hardship for GedMatch who is now in the position of trying to match reasonably between many different chips that sometimes overlap minimally. GedMatch introduced Genesis as a sandbox beta version previously, but are now in the process of combining regular GedMatch and Genesis into one. Yes, there are problems and matching challenges. Patience is the key word as the various vendors and GedMatch adapt and improve their required migration to imputation.

DNA Central

In June Blaine Bettinger announced DNACentral, an online monthly or yearly subscription site as well as a monthly newsletter that covers news in the genetic genealogy industry.

Many educators in the industry have created seminars for DNACentral. I just finished recording “Getting the Most out of Y DNA” for Blaine.

Even though I work in this industry, I still subscribed – initially to show support for Blaine, thinking I might not get much out of the newsletter. I’m pleased to say that I was wrong. I enjoy the newsletter and will be watching sessions in the Course Library and the Monthly Webinars soon.

If you or someone you know is looking for “how to” videos for each vendor, DNACentral offers “Now What” courses for Ancestry, MyHeritage, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and Living DNA in addition to topic specific sessions like the X chromosome, for example.

Social Media

2018 has seen a huge jump in social media usage which is both bad and good. The good news is that many new people are engaged. The bad news is that people often given faulty advice and for new people, it’s very difficult (nigh on impossible) to tell who is credible and who isn’t. I created a Help page for just this reason.

You can help with this issue by recommending subscribing to these three blogs, not just reading an article, to newbies or people seeking answers.

Always feel free to post links to my articles on any social media platform. Share, retweet, whatever it takes to get the words out!

The general genetic genealogy social media group I would recommend if I were to select only one would be Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques. It’s quite large but well-managed and remains positive.

I’m a member of many additional groups, several of which are vendor or interest specific.

Genetic Snakeoil

Now the bad news. Everyone had noticed the popularity of DNA testing – including shady characters.

Be careful, very VERY careful who you purchase products from and where you upload your DNA data.

If something is free, and you’re not within a well-known community, then YOU ARE THE PRODUCT. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it sounds shady or questionable, it’s probably that and more, or less.

If reputable people and vendors tell you that no, they really can’t determine your Native American tribe, for example, no other vendor can either. Just yesterday, a cousin sent me a link to a “tribe” in Canada that will, “for $50, we find one of your aboriginal ancestors and the nation stamps it.” On their list of aboriginal people we find one of my ancestors who, based on mitochondrial DNA tests, is clearly NOT aboriginal. Snake oil comes in lots of flavors with snake oil salesmen looking to prey on other people’s desires.

When considering DNA testing or transfers, make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions, where your DNA is going, who is doing what with it, and your recourse. Yes, read every single word of those terms and conditions. For more about legalities, check out Judy Russell’s blog.

Recommended Vendors

All those DNA tests look yummy-good, but in terms of vendors, I heartily recommend staying within the known credible vendors, as follows (in alphabetical order).

For genetic genealogy for ethnicity AND matching:

  • 23andMe
  • Ancestry
  • Family Tree DNA
  • GedMatch (not a vendor because they don’t test DNA, but a reputable third party)
  • MyHeritage

You can read about Which DNA Test is Best here although I need to update this article to reflect the 2018 additions by MyHeritage.

Understand that both 23andMe and Ancestry will sell your DNA if you consent and if you consent, you will not know who is using your DNA, where, or for what purposes. Neither Family Tree DNA, GedMatch, MyHeritage, Genographic Project, Insitome, Promethease nor LivingDNA sell your DNA.

The next group of vendors offers ethnicity without matching:

  • Genographic Project by National Geographic Society
  • Insitome
  • LivingDNA (currently working on matching, but not released yet)

Health (as a consumer, meaning you receive the results)

Medical (as a contributor, meaning you are contributing your DNA for research)

  • 23andMe
  • Ancestry
  • DNA.Land (not a testing vendor, doesn’t test DNA)

There are a few other niche vendors known for specific things within the genetic genealogy community, many of whom are mentioned in this article, but other than known vendors, buyer beware. If you don’t see them listed or discussed on my blog, there’s probably a reason.

What’s Coming in 2019

Just like we couldn’t have foreseen much of what happened in 2018, we don’t have access to a 2019 crystal ball, but it looks like 2019 is taking off like a rocket. We do know about a few things to look for:

  • MyHeritage is waiting to see if envelope and stamp DNA extractions are successful so that they can be added to their database.
  • www.totheletterDNA.com is extracting (attempting to) and processing DNA from stamps and envelopes for several people in the community. Hopefully they will be successful.
  • LivingDNA has been working on matching since before I met with their representative in October of 2017 in Dublin. They are now in Beta testing for a few individuals, but they have also just changed their DNA processing chip – so how that will affect things and how soon they will have matching ready to roll out the door is unknown.
  • Ancestry did a 2018 ethnicity update, integrating ethnicity more tightly with Genetic Communities, offered genetic traits and made some minor improvements this year, along with adding one questionable feature – showing your matches the location where you live as recorded in your profile. (23andMe subsequently added the same feature.) Ancestry recently said that they are promising exciting new tools for 2019, but somehow I doubt that the chromosome browser that’s been on my Christmas list for years will be forthcoming. Fingers crossed for something new and really useful. In the mean time, we can download our DNA results and upload to MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch for segment matching, as well as utilize Ancestry’s internal matching tools. DNA+tree matching, those green leaf shared ancestor hints, is still their strongest feature.
  • The Family Tree DNA Conference for Project Administrators will be held March 22-24 in Houston this year, and I’m hopeful that they will have new tools and announcements at that event. I’m looking forward to seeing many old friends in Houston in March.

Here’s what I know for sure about 2019 – it’s going to be an amazing year. We as a community and also as individual genealogists will be making incredible discoveries and moving the ball forward. I can hardly wait to see what quandaries I’ve solved a year from now.

What mysteries do you want to unravel?

I’d like to offer a big thank you to everyone who made 2018 wonderful and a big toast to finding lots of new ancestors and breaking down those brick walls in 2019.

Happy New Year!!!

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay, but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

Dear RootsTech: Let’s Make the 2019 Conference Awesome

Dear Rootstech,

I just returned home from the 2018 RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City yesterday.  And what a conference it was.

This was my first experience at RootsTech, and I’ve shared it day-by-day with my readers.

Truthfully, although I did have a lot of fun, it wasn’t BECAUSE of the conference sessions, but IN SPITE of the problems. I was intent on making lemonade out of lemons. The conference itself was very disappointing in many ways, but awesome in others – and has so much rich, unfulfilled potential.

RootsTech, I think, based on the attendance and facility, you’ve become a victim of your own success. Perhaps you need to step back, take a breath, engage in heartfelt reflection and regroup.

I’ve always told my kids and employees not to bring me a problem without potential solutions, so I’m doing the same for you. I even asked my blog followers to contribute as well and have incorporated their suggestions. So, if this kind of sounds like a “sit down and listen” mother talk, that’s because it is:)

RootsTech, I really hope you’ll read and listen carefully and thoughtfully – and then retool to make the necessary changes.

In a nutshell:

A $2000+ trip to visit with people when you planned to attend educational sessions that were full beyond capacity and be repeatedly refused admission after standing in very long lines is simply not acceptable!

Let’s fix the problems going forward.

  • An apology goes a long way. You screwed up, plain and simple. Acknowledge the problem. At least a partial refund to the attendees because we all were significantly impacted, along with a statement that you are going to address this issue by next year, and possibly how, would go a very long way. Many people plan for next year’s conference now – and I can tell you from talking with many attendees that they aren’t planning to attend next year.
  • Extremely long registration lines – Find a way to eliminate the two and a half hour wait to register. That too is unacceptable and without justification. No, I don’t care WHY it happened. Period. Full stop. For the amount of money that this conference plus trip costs, if you need to charge an extra $10 to mail the badge and bag in advance, then do it. Please hear this loud and clear. The registration line was full of people old enough for senior discounts, in pain. No excuses – just fix the problem.
  • Sessions unavailable due to being overfull. The sessions (especially DNA sessions) were so popular that they were often filled to capacity long before the session began. On the first day, NONE of the ballrooms had empty seats, and people who had just finished standing in line for two and a half hours couldn’t get into the sessions they wanted. Perhaps having people pre-register for the session they are most interested in would help with sizing rooms adequately. Having to stand in line for an hour and a half, or more, to get into a session means that you can’t attend a previous session, and in many cases, the people in line were STILL not able to get into the session.
  • Standing in very long line for every session, and still not getting in. Many people simply cannot stand in line for hours, repeatedly, and this should not be required in order to attend the conference sessions. Otherwise, you should state before registration that the conference requires that level of physical ability multiple times daily AND that after standing in long lines for an extended period, you’re still not going to get into several sessions. Many people would not have attended had they known what they faced and those who did attend would have had their expectations set correctly.
  • Reach out to planners of other large conferences outside of the genealogy sphere that utilize electronic registration much more effectively and do not encounter these issues.
  • Handicapped Access – There are not enough elevators for effective handicapped access, especially since an exorbitant amount of standing/walking was required. More people in the future will avail themselves of scooters, because many people simply cannot stand for the required lengths of time, which will compound this problem. Additionally, several times the escalators were not functional.
  • Layout of session rooms combined with turning people away meant that many were frustrated and unable to attend sessions. Trying to find a second session that wasn’t full, especially with the rooms distant from each other, meant that you simply couldn’t attend any session for that timeslot. I attended a grand total of 1 session, and that was because I volunteered to help the speaker. In essence, I finally gave up trying due to the long lines and repeated frustration.
  • Many people simply gave up trying to get into sessions they wanted and looked for the session they felt would be least popular and tried to attend that session. It’s absolutely unacceptable for conference attendees to have to devise strategies such as this to attend sessions.
  • Spillover rooms with large screen monitors would be helpful for incredibly popular sessions, even if they were in scattered among adjacent hotels. I don’t care if I see the speaker physically – I want to hear the message and without standing in line outside of every room.
  • Capacity and facility – Determine what your capacity actually is before the problems on this list emerge, and close registration when your capacity has been reached.
  • Expo Hall – The flip side is that the expo hall was very popular, because people couldn’t get into sessions, so the vendors weren’t nearly as unhappy as the attendees. This isn’t a competition between the classes and vendors. I like the idea of scheduling some time where there aren’t sessions so that attendees don’t have to choose between seeing the expo hall and attending (or missing) sessions. This is, of course, assuming that you address the capacity problem and attendees actually can attend sessions.
  • Beginner sessions focused on Saturday – Consider making the main RootsTech conference Tuesday through Friday for intermediate and advanced, with Saturday fully open with only beginner classes. More advanced attendees can plan accordingly.
  • Signage would be a huge help. For example, multiple “you are here” signs throughout the building with room names and numbers indicating the location you are trying to find.
  • Vendor map – A large map/sign enabling attendees to find vendors in the expo hall would be very useful. You provided a “map” but other than the largest vendors, it only showed booth numbers. Finding specific vendors was a challenge.
  • Announce luncheon and keynote speakers well in advance. Other major conferences do, and RootsTech should be able to follow suit.
  • Adding on paid sessions – After a ticket is purchased, in the conference schedule application, if you discover that you want to attend a lab or sponsored meal, there is no way to add that onto your schedule. Or, if there was, I couldn’t find it. When I click on that event and star that I’d like to attend, either indicate that it’s full, or allow me to pay.
  • Track capacity – Conversely, on the schedule, don’t allow me to select a session or event that is already full to capacity.
  • Pay the speakers – Compensate the non-vendor speakers, meaning people who are not speaking for an employer who has a booth at the conference. I’m not referring to keynotes either, who, given what I know about (some of) their speaking fees, are compensated. Not compensating speakers (other than a pass to a conference) sends the wrong message that genealogists are expected to provide free services and have no or little value or worth. Not OK. Really NOT OK. Don’t egotistically presume that speakers are going to be “attending the conference anyway.” RootsTech needs to step up and be a leader instead of building the conference on the back of unpaid others. This is not how ethical leaders in any industry treat other people, let alone people of the talent and caliber that speak at RootsTech. This would also allow RootsTech to select from all speakers, not just ones that are willing to work for free or token compensation. Being expected to work for free is a demeaning message.
  • Vendor demo agenda – Provide a secondary agenda listing the locations of vendors providing sessions in the expo area. I realize you may see these as “competing” with the larger sessions, but in this case, that might be the only way for an attendee to see a speaker or a topic of interest – given that the general sessions were full and required standing in long lines, best case. I only discovered the vendor sessions quite by accident.
  • Subscription virtual conference – Since attending the conference doesn’t mean you can see the sessions you would like, consider a subscription “conference” where purchasers can see the livestreamed sessions, but also receive access to the other sessions as well. This might be popular with people who do attend, as part of a conference package because there are often multiple sessions in the same time slot that attendees would like to see, but can’t. Sending a thumb drive to all of this year’s attendees with all of the recorded sessions would go a long way towards that apology.
  • Luncheon timing and space – Given the distances between rooms, the luncheon sessions were packed too tightly against before and after sessions. Some luncheons were too full, with long lines and no place in the room to sit.
  • Scanning badges upon entering rooms was a significant bottleneck. Requiring attendees to leave the room after the previous session and go to the back of the line simply assured that if you were actually in the previous session, you certainly weren’t going to be in line in time to be admitted to the next one in that room. Additionally, some people felt that scanning badges was an invasion of privacy.

It’s understandable that snafus happen, but these issues together combined to create a rather miserable experience if an attendee wanted to do much of anything except visit the expo area.

Things I Liked:

  • The teal-shirted volunteers were absolutely amazing, especially given that the attendees were often extremely unhappy about the situation in which they found themselves.
  • The variety of speakers and sessions was great – which is also why the sessions were so popular and filled beyond capacity.
  • I loved seeing and visiting with the vendors, large to small.
  • Meeting other attendees, my blog followers and cousins.
  • Livestreamed sessions. I’ll be watching those now that I’m back home.

Readers – Please Help!

If you know anyone with any influence at RootsTech or FamilySearch, please forward this article or link. Let’s make sure RootsTech actually sees this article and addresses these issues in a positive manner so Rootstech can be a totally awesome conference in 2019!

RootsTech Day 4 – My Inner Child…and Genealogist

Who scheduled the party last night from 8-11 and then breakfast this morning at 7AM, anyway? Did they think they were being funny? And that breakfast is in the furthest possible corner room of the conference center, not my hotel. I suppose showing up in jammies would be frowned upon, although I see that at Walmart all the time…but I digress.

Yes, the sun was just peeking out on the way to the MyHeritage Friends breakfast. You’ll just have to forgive me for no photos at that breakfast. My brain was just not working yet. I’m fine at 2AM, but 7AM, to me, is like the middle of the night to most people.

The MyHeritage Friends breakfast was to facilitate communication between the company and the community with a representative of MyHeritage at every table to answer questions and listen. Feedback was really positive, overall.

FamilySearch and LivingDNA sponsored breakfasts too, but the only one I attended was todays. Meal events are by invitation (or ticket purchase) only because let’s face it, they have to control the number of attendees and companies generally view these meals as a give-and-take public relations event.

After the breakfast, the expo hall wasn’t open. Nothing was open yet. I went back to the hotel to prep for what turned out to be an entire day of embracing my inner child.

My plan was to visit the Family History Library, but before I did, I still had not managed to connect with at least two people or vendors I wanted to talk to.

Remember my friend Josh Hall from day 1?  Upon returning to the conference center, I spotted Josh and let’s just say that he looked very interesting.

I asked Josh what was up with the new makeup design. I did recall that he has a 2 year old at home, but, even so, this isn’t exactly what I expected to see Josh wearing – although his makeup color was coordinated perfectly with his outfit.

Josh told me the conference was sponsoring free face painting, given that Saturday was Family Day – and offered to show me where this was happening. He said adults could be painted too and suggested this might be a good idea for me.  Now you all know how straight-laced, reserved and non-adventurous I am. Right?

I’ve never had my face painted, but there’s a first time for everything and it sounded like fun.

No one expects me to behave normally anyway!

There were an entire group of face painters at the bottom of the entry stairs.  The wait was only about 10 minutes, which, compared to later, was NOTHING.

At the bottom of the steps, you selected your design elements so that you were ready for the face painter when it was your turn.

The face-painter’s station looks like this.

My face painter, Denise Cold whose business is Painted Party, is actually an artist who teaches face painting as well as hosting parties.

First, she applied a “base” of some type to my skin. I know they were trying not to do custom work, but when I showed Denise my double helix necklace and told her why I wanted a helix incorporated, she said it was no problem at all.

Denise and I together with the result – it was amazing.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this. The double helix curves behind the flower and out the bottom again.

I had so much fun wearing this all day!

If you want to see a closeup, here goes…

The next place I stopped was the WikiTree booth to get two words in edgewise with Mags Gaulden.

I met her at the Family Tree DNA conference in November and she, like me, is a DNA junkie.

WikiTree is a great collaborative resource. I’ve given WikiTree volunteers permission to experiment with my tree and their tools including any DNA results they need. Haplogroups and DNA results are populated up trees, if the user provides their DNA information, and is confirmed when multiple individuals from the common ancestor have tested with confirming results.

I’m not terribly cracked up about collaborative trees in general, but WikiTree does provide volunteer dispute resolution based on documentation and sources.  Be still my heart!

I just love this photo of Mags and me, clearly in our element.  I can’t wait to see Mags again in November at this year’s Family Tree DNA conference.

By the way, today’s DNA outfit is my ethnicity painted on my chromosomes utilizing the GedMatch ethnicity results, made into a tunic.

And yes, someone did give me a “dork” ribbon.  They didn’t have any “DNA” or “nerd” ribbons.  Hmmm, an idea I might have to do for next year!  What do you think?

No, wait…I said I’m not going to RootsTech again…

I forgot.

The next place I wanted to find was the WordPress booth.

If you don’t know, this blog is a WordPress blog – meaning it uses the WordPress blogging platform. I’ve written about how to blog using WordPress.

I specifically wanted to ask a couple question, so I was very pleased to meet Happiness Engineer, Anna.

Yes, that is actually what they call their engineers and customer support people.  And I have to tell you, they earn this title and they are AWESOME.

I’ve had a number of people mention that they’d like to migrate an existing blog off of the Blogger platform, and WordPress says they provide a very easy migration tool now.

I also had a couple suggestions for enhancing WordPress, and maybe, just maybe, we might work on something collaboratively focused specifically for genealogists.

Now, I’m finally ready for the big adventure.

The Family History Library

I intentionally waited until Saturday to visit the Family History Library (FHL). I’m really not a fan of extremely large crowds. I knew that on Saturday, RootsTech opens the doors to all LDS and children for free, in addition to the paid conference attendees, and Saturday would be even more crowded and insane that Wed-Fri had already been.

One of the RootsTech people told me later on Saturday that they had more than 40,000 people.

I also hoped that RootsTech just down the street meant there would be fewer people at the FHL, which is located just about a block and a half from the convention center.

On the way, I walked by the Contemporary Art Museum, and not all art was inside.

No, I don’t know why. It’s art, there doesn’t have to be a why.

Across from the FHL is Temple Square. I did not have time for a tour. Somehow the tree in front seems fitting.

In front of the library are trees that drop these seed pods. Of course spring is approaching (or was that day, even though winter returned on Sunday) and the seeds will soon be scattered to the wind, nestling in fertile soil.

These seeds are just like we are, members of families – seeds, scattered to the wind, rooted elsewhere and then coming home to the library to find our ancestors.

Yes, I know, sappy, but that’s how I was feeling.

I’m not Mormon, but I’m a 40-year genealogist this year.  I’ve never been to Salt Lake City before. Visiting the FHL is kind of like the pilgrimage to Mecca for genealogists.

For me, this is a big deal.

You KNEW I was going to take the obligatory selfie, of course, in front of that iconic doorway to the past.

Come on in with me!

The library is 5 floors in total, and the entryway hosts exhibits and interactive displays to engage people and generate interest.

How do you like this tree created to absorb sound?  I needed this kind of “family tree” in my house when I had young children.

Why California has more Robertas than any other state is beyond me.

Of more interest to family historians is that today, there are more Estes individuals in Texas than anyplace else. Good place to look for Estes DNA testers. That’s actually not at all what I would have expected, but then again, Texas was, for a long time, a destination location for much of Appalachia.

Now, on to the research floors.

Tom and Chris, my friends so kindly assisting with my German family research had prepared for me a list of records to review. Since films can no longer be ordered in to the local Family History Centers, and not everything is available online (not to mention, indexed) in SLC, in the interim there is no option other than either going physically to SLC yourself, or paying someone else to do so on your behalf.

I spent the first hour talking to one helpful volunteer after another, and by the time I had talked to 4 volunteers and unpacked my laptop bag 4 times, I was finally in the right place for the in-house-only CD reader and then the HD (high density) collection.

Everyone was super friendly and smiled at me. It was only when I remembered that my face was painted that I realized that maybe they weren’t exactly smiling at me, but laughing or at least being amused.  Not one of them said a word. I was struck by how very nice everyone was, not only in the FHC, but in Salt Lake overall.

Let’s just say that 4 hours later, I know several “good candidate” places that my German families weren’t. I keep reminding myself that negative evidence is evidence too – but that’s somehow a bitter pill to swallow.

Nope, not here either. Back to the drawing board.

After I finished with my depressing research, I grabbed a quick bite at the restaurant next door, JB’s, which is surprisingly reasonably priced. That food was far better at less than half the price, and much quicker than the hotel food.

From there, I wanted to say a final goodbye to a couple of folks at RootsTech before the doors closed, so I popped back into the conference center for just a few minutes.

Another family focused event was cultural dancing throughout the day. When I wandered by, a Native dancer was “fancy dancing,” typically performed at powwows, explaining the culture and significance of the dance to several viewers, mostly children.

The dancer’s regalia (they aren’t called costumers) was beautiful. I’m glad to see children (and adults) being educated about cultures other than the one most familiar.

As I walked back to the hotel, the sun was beginning to set over the mountains in the distance.

This scene would be very different from what greeted me a few hours later, the following morning.

What a difference a few hours can make. You certainly can’t see the mountains now.

Sunday was spent making my way home, dealing with delayed flights and other inconveniences. It’s almost midnight now. I’ve been home for almost three hours – and man-alive am I glad to be here.

RootsTech Evaluation

  • Am I glad I went?

Yes, but that’s only after discovering I had to make lemonade out of the situation.

  • Was I disappointed?

Incredibly so, given that check-in was horrendous with hours-long lines followed by sessions that were too full to attend, some full to capacity hours in advance.

  • Did I enjoy the expo hall?

Yes, absolutely! I visited with the vendors and other attendees. For me, this was the saving grace of attending RootsTech. It’s an awfully expensive “reunion” though.

  • Did I get my money’s worth for the ticket?

Absolutely not. If all you can only attend if the expo portion due to overbooking and overcrowding, then they need to sell an expo-only ticket. They have to do something about the two and a half hour check-in wait.

  • Would I recommend RootsTech to others?

Only as long as expectations are set correctly. If you tend towards claustrophobia or don’t do well in large crowded situations or those requiring massive patience, this isn’t the conference for you.

  • What am I going to do about this?

I’m putting together a list of ideas that RootsTech may find useful. I’m not a big fan of complaining without offering solutions. I’ll publish as soon as I assemble the list. If you have ideas, comments or suggestions, please leave them in the comments section.

RootsTech Day 3 – Jewish DNA, Schmoozing and the Flapper Party

Day 3 at RootsTech was characterized by meeting lots of people, talking to several vendors and a party. Plus, I finally got to attend a session. Yes, really!

Ok, confession, I offered to help the presenter in order to garner a seat in the room. It was well worth a small amount of effort on my part to be able to see Bennett Greenspan, CEO and founder of Family Tree DNA present on The DNA of the Jewish People.

For those who don’t know, Bennett and his partner Max Blankfeld are the founding fathers of the direct to consumer genetic industry with the birth of Family Tree DNA 18 years ago.

I love Bennett’s DNA tie!

Even though Family Tree DNA hosts the annual conference for project administrators, Bennett has never presented at his own conference. I’ve heard him present once before, and he’s one of two speakers whose sessions I’d attend if they were talking about making mud pies. (Judy Russell is the other one.)

Bennett certainly didn’t let the audience down.

He began by telling folks how, just before his bar mitzva, his grandmother passed away. At the cemetery, his mother took his hand and walked him around, introducing him to the graves and family members buried there. Bennett didn’t realize how many relatives they had in Kansas.

Later that day, as family members arrived at the house to console the family, Bennett walked from person to person interviewing them about their memories of the “old country.” Bennett said, in their thick old-world accents, they told him about various family members, providing a link back in time.

Bennett then drew his first pedigree chart. I’m just amazed that he still HAS this chart. Thankfully, someone saved it. Little did he know how prophetic this would be or what staying power it would have. Nor could he have ever dreamt that his genealogy addiction was destined to someday change the world for all genealogists.

Indeed, Bennett was hooked at a very young age.

After Bennett sold his photographic supply company about 20 years ago, he became “too helpful” at home, offering to reorganize his wife’s pantry, and let’s just say that he got sent to his room. However, it just happens that in the room were his boxes of genealogy and well…history was about to be written.

In 1996 and 1997, Bennett had read two academic studies written about Y DNA in men. The first study was about the Jewish Cohen lineage, and the second was about the Jefferson males and Sally Hemmings.

Bennett’s Jewish family was torn apart by WWII and those who survived were scattered to the winds. This history makes genealogy particularly difficult for Jewish people, both the record destruction in Europe and the fact that the family remnants are so widely scattered and often lost to each other.

In Bennett’s case, he found a Nitz family in Argentina that claimed to be from the same village as his maternal grandmother’s Nitz family, and he wanted to verify that it was the same family by Y DNA testing – just like the Cohen study and the Jefferson/Hemmings case.

Bennett called Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona who was one of the authors on the Cohen paper, and whose lab had processed the samples. Dr. Hammer told Bennett that they only did academic processing, not for consumers. Bennett asked Dr. Hammer where he could turn to write a check and get an answer, but Dr. Hammer informed Bennett that such a company or location didn’t exist. Little did Dr. Hammer know that Bennett was an entrepreneur whose wife had banished him to timeout, in essence because he “retired” too young and was bored and underfoot.

Here’s what happened next!

I love to hear Bennett tell this story.

As a result, Family Tree DNA was born.

Bennett’s question about his Nitz line was indeed answered by a perfect Y DNA match. Indeed, it was the same family line!

Bennett then proceeded to search for Greenspan males, but that answer didn’t arrive for more than another decade. Bennett tested a lot of Greenspans, but it wasn’t until he met a Mr. Green at a conference that he found a match.

Jewish men fall into specific haplogroups or clusters, sometimes referred to as clans, on the Y DNA phylotree. The same is true for mtDNA, but that wasn’t the topic of his presentation.

Therefore, by testing a male, you can tell by his haplogroup and his matches whether or not he is Jewish.

The Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews are very similar in their haplogroup breakdown and distribution, as are the rest of the non-Jewish residents of the Middle East.

They do, after all, originally descend from the same ancestors.

You can see the difference in the haplogroup spread between the people with Middle Eastern heritage, above, and the Ukraine, below.

These slides refute the theory that the Russian Khazars converted to Judaism en masse and subsequently migrated to eastern Europe. If this were the case, the DNA of the Ashkenazi Jews would be split much more closely along Ukrainian lines than Middle Eastern lines, and you can see for yourself which pie chart the Ashkenazi population more closely resembles.

The real message here is that thanks to DNA testing, we know that the sons of the Levant are far more alike than different – and that the Ashkenazi Jews are indeed from the Middle East and not from Russia.

Bennett’s family is from Eastern Europe, so the last thing he expected to discover was that his family was actually a displaced Sephardic line – but alas, through DNA matching and following the path of the DNA, that’s exactly what Bennett discovered.

As Bennett said, it rocked his world. No oral history reflected the 1492 expulsion of his family from Spain. This information gave him a new lens into the fate of his family when the Jews were displaced from Spain, penniless, their property confiscated, and leaving hurriedly to avoid death.

Bennett may never know their names, but he knows where they traveled on their long, perilous journey of over 2000 years from the Levant to Spain, then to Eastern Europe and finally into Argentina and the States.

I’ve summarized Bennett’s presentation significantly, but Bennett’s family history, revealed by Y DNA is a powerful story of family reunification.

Meet and Greet

In the Starbucks in the hotel, my 7th cousin, Laurel, found me and we talked about our common genealogy in Wilkes County, NC – the Sarah Rash (1748-1829) and Robert Shepherd (1739-1817) lines. If these are your lines too, please give a shout out.

I discovered that Laurel is going to be returning to Wilkes County for additional research, and she discovered that I know the location of the now-bulldozed-into-the-creek cemetery. Yes, we’re going to exchange information.

We’ve actually chatted a few times over the past few days and I’ve enjoyed it immensely.

On to the conference.

By day 3, I’ve finally developed a sense, at least somewhat, of the lay of the land. RootsTech is massive and the convention center is laid out anything but intuitively.

I walked by the theater in Lisa Louise Cooke’s genealogy Gems booth and caught a sentence where the presenter was explaining about cluster research, also known as FAN – friends and neighbors. In essence, people traveled in packs and you’ll tend to find them together. I wanted to agree vehemently, but did so silently and was very glad to see others listening attentively.

On down the aisle, I spotted an ad for DNA charts. As irritating as I find the ethnicity estimates, I must admit, these are really attractive.

However, I then spied the wall chart.

How fun is this? A gift maybe? How about adding the haplogroup for each person on the chart? So many possibilities. I can see a wall…

Speaking of walls, Living DNA created a “photo booth” in their booth, and David Nicholson, one of the Living DNA Founders and I hammed it up a bit. It’s always nice to meet the people who own and run the various companies. David and I have spoken and skyped previously, but never managed to be in the same place at the same time until now.

Most of the DNA vendors had long lines throughout the conference. That’s the good news, because no matter where you’ve tested, you’ll be getting new matches soon.

I stood in line to purchase a Living DNA kit for a friend, so I eaves-dropped anonymously.

Living DNA indicates that they provide a “3 in one” test, meaning autosomal ethnicity estimates (no matching yet, but anticipated this year), a mitochondrial haplogroup for your direct matrilineal line, and if you are a male, a Y DNA haplogroup for your paternal line.

For the sake of clarity, men receive 3, but women receive a “2 in one” since they have no Y chromosome.

I’m still hoping to be able to connect and have a few minutes to sit down and discuss Living DNA development for 2018.  Hopefully maybe tomorrow.

By now everyone should know that I find the full Y and mitochondrial DNA test, which provides you with actual test results and matching for those lines, extremely beneficial. I want to be very clear that knowing your Y and mtDNA haplogroup is very interesting and can be useful, but it’s not the same thing as receiving the actual results which can provide you with a significant history, along with matching.

Y and mitochondrial DNA is not an alternative to autosomal DNA testing, but these types of DNA tests supplement and enhance each other.

Of the major vendors, Family Tree DNA is the only vendor who offers that level of testing and has a data base for Y and mitochondrial DNA matching.

I’m so grateful that Family Tree DNA continues to offer these tests, although the autosomal market clearly outstrips the Y and mtDNA market. At trade shows, I think offering multiple types of tests is actually a detriment to Family Tree DNA, because they have to take time to educate their customers as to the different types of DNA that can be tested, ask about their goals, and then advise as to the appropriate test for the customer’s specific situation.

Above, in the Family Tree DNA booth, Bennett Greenspan is explaining the various types of tests to a potential customer.

Ran into Tom MacEntee again. It’s too bad he blends into the background and is so shy. Wait till you see what he’s wearing at the party later in the evening. OK, OK, I’ll shown you now.

Tom looks stunning in his tiara, doesn’t he!

Now, in the gratitude department – meet Dave Robison.

Dave introduced himself to me by saying something like, “You don’t know me, but you were such an inspiration to me when I was just getting started.” I was kind of taken aback, but then he continued by saying that he was somewhat doubtful of where he was “going,” so to speak, and that he had e-mailed me and I had answered him. From that, he decided that if I could do this, so could he, and lo and behold, he has, in spades.

Dave is now a professional genealogist who also donates a great deal of his time to several genealogical organizations. Please check out Dave’s story here.

Part of Dave’s trip to Salt Lake was to visit the Family History Library to perform some client work. On Saturday, I escaped to the library as well. (Don’t worry, you’re going along.) As luck would have it, we both found ourselves having lunch at the closest restaurant. Of course, we broke bread (or ate salad actually) together and had a lovely, lovely meal. I can’t wait to see Dave again.

Dave’s introduction moved me greatly. So often, we really never know the extent of the difference a kind word at the right time and place may make to someone.

I’m very grateful for Dave telling me, because it’s all too easy to be grouchy and tired when answering the 235th e-mail of the day.

I’m so pleased to have a new friend too.

Wandering on down the aisle, my eye was drawn to a ring that looked like it might be a helix. Could it be?

I do sometimes think I’m married to DNA.

Whoever thought you’d see the day when helix jewelry was available in a bead booth?

With earrings to match.

If you’re interested, I’m sure The Bead Farm would gladly ship.

Anyone watch Relative Race? BYU TV describes this show as, “With their own DNA as a roadmap, and $25,000 on the line, four couples must race coast-to-coast and discover a different relative every day.”

The season premier is March 4th!

Do they actually drive these brightly colored cars in the series? Obviously, I’ve never watched. Clue me in, someone…

Next, I had an amazing surprise.

Last summer, when Jim and I were in Europe chasing my ancestors across the continent, we met a lovely couple on the same journey. We enjoyed several meals together, parting ways and promising to keep in touch, with the best of intentions. However, life just got in the way, until today.

I looked up, and there stood my friend, Lisa Hunt. Of course, entirely out of context, I recognized her but for a moment, was somewhat confused. It’s a very long way from the Rhine River to Salt Lake City.

As it turns out, Lisa was at the conference hoping to meet up with a new cousin and stumbled across me! No, I’m not the cousin.

If you have a tree at Family Search, and you register for the conference, the app will search your tree and the trees of other attendees and tell you how many cousins you have at RootsTech, who they are and how you are related – with the idea that you can find each other. What fun!

And yes, Lisa did find her cousin!

One of the booths I noticed was the Society of Mayflower Descendants.

As luck would have it, Jim Brewster who presented at RootsTech (and works for Family Tree DNA) is my cousin through the William Brewster line. For those who don’t know, William Brewster is one of the Mayflower passengers. Ironically, I applied last week to join this society, right after I documented my line in order to join the Mayflower DNA Project at Family Tree DNA. Do you have any Mayflower ancestors?

I came to RootsTech with a list of vendors that I absolutely wanted to see and meet. Pierre Cloutier who wrote Charting Companion was one of those people. I’ve used this product for years to produce great charts and reports. It works with almost any genealogy software!

Here, Pierre’s explaining the McGuire Method to a visitor. I wasn’t quite sure how he could have implemented this methodology, so he kindly explained it to me. Charting companion now includes special mtDNA lineages displayed on charts, X chromosome inheritance as well as the new McGuire methodology.

If you’re trying to figure out where a DNA tester places in a group of other testers, the McGuire Method will be helpful, and Pierre has automated this methodology. Thank you, Pierre!

Flapper Party

Apparently, the MyHeritage After-Party has become a RootsTech tradition, even though this is only the third year.

I found more photos online of the party than of any other single conference related event last year, and maybe more than all vendors and sessions combined.

Who says genealogists are boring people?

Yes, indeed, the party this year was themed. Fortunately, you didn’t have to dress the part to attend, but many did. I also discovered, albeit too late, that Salt Lake City has a costume rental where you can rent and return. I’ll file that one away for future use! I wonder what they have in “DNA.”

The best part of this party was networking with others. I’ll introduce you to a few people you may know from their blogs and online presence.

Leah LePerle Larkin, who blogs as The DNA Geek, and I are cousins several times over through our Acadian lines. One day, when we have a breather, maybe we’ll actually figure out exactly how many times we’re related. Acadian lines are like that.

We’ve known each other online for years now, and finally had a chance to sit down at a table and actually talk. No, not at the party, earlier.

From left to right, front row, Angie Bush, genetic genealogist with ProGenealogists, Leah LaPerle Larkin, me. Rear, left to right, Rob Warthen and Richard Weiss with DNAadoption and DNAGedcom and Jony Perle of DNAPainter fame, peeking over the top.

Upon arrival, supplies were provided at a craft table to create hats and headbands. When you’re late, you get to celebrate your Native heritage by sticking some feathers in your hair. That was fine with me. However, my headband was too tight, so I dispensed with the headband and instead, liberated an orange feather centerpiece to use as a “parasol.” Hey, be creative and go big or stay home.

To be clear, Richard had not sprouted an orange bird on this head – that’s my parasol in my hand positioned on his shoulder.

Richard is a far more talented dancer than I am, but I had loads of fun anyway! This is one place where, thankfully, you don’t have to be good to have fun.

Jessica Taylor with Legacy Tree Genealogists, at left, with unknown people at right and a special friend. I’m sure there’s a story, I just don’t happen to know what it is!

Line dancing, disco lights and costumes.

A huge thank you to our host, Gilad Japhet, CEO and founder of MyHeritage.

Tomorrow, you’re going with me to visit the Family History Library! Never been there?  Neither have I!

_____________________________________________________________________

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Day 2 RootsTech – Vendors, Visits and MyHeritage is Smokin’ Hot

This morning view just doesn’t get old!

Across the rooftop, you can see two churches in front of the mountain.

Day 2 was jam packed, and that’s without attending any sessions. I did hear through the RootsTech grapevine that some of the afternoon sessions did have a few seats available. Of course, you would need to select the right sessions.

There’s a lot of very unhappy rumbling here about the conference: lines, full sessions, lack of signage, etc.

I spent the day doing four things:

  • Visiting vendor booths
  • Talking to people
  • MyHeritage Lunch
  • Vendor appointments

Let’s take a look at each of the four.

Visiting Booths

There are probably hundreds of booths. Some quite large, of course, like FamilySearch (show sponsor), Ancestry and the other big players, to Mom and Pop shops.

I managed to visit maybe half of the booths today. I’ll try for the other half tomorrow. I am going to make myself absent for part of the day to visit the Family History Library.

I noticed a LOT of vendors offering products to digitize and catalog your photos. Others encouraged recording memories and of course, given that we’re in Salt Lake, there was lots of focus on the Mormon faith and many obviously local vendors.

In addition to the sessions, there was a vendor demo area in the rear of the hall. I wandered past a couple of times, but the two vendors I saw didn’t really catch my eye.

At the Legacy Tree Genealogists booth, I found Jessica Taylor (at left, beside me), Paul Woodbury and Amber Brown (far right). (I apologize for not getting the lady’s name at the far left.) Jessica is the owner and founder of Legacy Tree Genealogists, Paul Woodbury is the amazing genetic genealogist that specializes in adoptee and missing parent family reconstruction and Amber Brown is their marketing representative. They were kind enough to give me with a RootsTech survival basket. I’ve never been to a conference before where you needed one of these, and by the end of the day, I was extremely grateful.

A really big thank you Jessica and crew!

Next, I ran into my old friend, Peter Roberts, at the conference as a volunteer for WikiTree, a free site for you to upload your family tree and collaborate with other genealogists. I’ve known Peter for years from the Family Tree DNA annual conference where he is the project administrator for the Bahamas DNA Project.

Peter took the time to sit down with me and explain some of the new DNA features at WikiTree that include Y DNA, mitochondrial, autosomal and most recently, the ability to link your WikiTree tree to your DNAPainter profile. WikiTree utilizes various types of DNA information to support or disprove ancestral connections.

Peter and I also discussed that putting information like links to any articles or blog posting you have written about your ancestors into the description area about each ancestor would be a great idea! I was thinking about the 52 Ancestors series, of course.

I briefly met Chris Whitten, founder of WikiTree, but I wasn’t quick enough to grab a photo.

Speaking of DNAPainter, Jony Pearl, from England, won the Innovation Showcase with DNAPainter. I’ve been using this extremely useful tool for about a month now, and I have an article half written. I’ll be finishing it as soon as I get home. You’re going to love this tool!

Congratulations Jony! Well deserved.

This conference has lots of beginners. FamilySearch had a very large area called the Discovery Zone. Just walking past, I did notice people entirely engrossed and making discoveries.

One of the Discovery Zone areas encouraged you to take your photo, or a group photo, with a backdrop of your choice.

I couldn’t resist. Plus, it’s free and the results are messaged to your phone immediately.

I was amazed to find this backdrop, given that I have actually stood in exactly this place in Germany – in real life. In fact, I can tell you there are two lovely lace shops just past that clock tower arch, one on either side of the street, and a quilt shop just beyond. In fact it was right here that the quilt shop-owner’s husband came riding up on his bicycle to deliver our purchases at the end of the day.

A few minutes later, I came across MYndVault, a digital cloud storage solution that includes servers stores in the granite mountain.

To prove his point, the founder of MYndVault was giving little boxes of granite – well, chocolate that looked like granite anyway. The chocolate was great – and everyone needs to think about this type of “inheritance issue.” It’s not just cloud storage, but an electronic directive that lists your personal representative, things like social media accounts and passwords. Obviously, I suggested that he add a specific field for DNA results at vendors, but there is already ample room to include this in non-specific fields.

There were lots of “charts” vendors in attendance, but I particularly liked this one from BranchesArt.

I’ve been wanting to meet Lara Diamond, who blogs at Lara’s Jewnealogy. Lara is Jewish and specializes in endogamous DNA and the inherent frustrations therein.

The lovely thing about meeting in person is that you actually get to talk to the individual. Lara tested with 23andMe initially and it was that test (before the FDA restricted the information they could provide to consumers) that led her to discover she had both a mutation for cancer, and cancer itself. Take a minute and read Lara’s story here. DNA testing very literally saved her life!

Lara will be writing about a super-cool record find soon that defies all logic. Right, Lara, right???

Next was the MyHeritage lunch, where I was thrilled to meet Randy Seaver, finally, in person.

My joke is that I wake up each morning to Randy, because that’s when I read his blog, Genea-Musings, every day. Randy writes more quality content than any other blogger I know. In fact, he has a great compendium of RootsTech conference articles that you can check out on his blog yesterday and today.

The MyHeritage luncheon speaker was Gilad Japhet, founder and CEO of MyHeritage.

Gilad and I had a personal meeting later in the day, and he gave me permission to share the slides from the luncheon with my readers.

I must say, MyHeritage is making very big waves in the genealogy community.

For a company that just started DNA testing about 18 months ago, and had significant startup challenges with matching, they’ve come a very, very long way.

First, Gilad announced a new initiative to test 15,000 adoptees or those seeking unknown parents by donating free kits. You can read more about this program here or apply to receive a kit. Those with financial need will receive priority.

Second, they also announced Family Search Tree sync between Family Search and MyHeritage that allows collaborative syncing of trees between LDS members and MyHeritage.

Third, they announced the publication of a paper culminating from 7 years of research, published today, discussing 86 million family trees from Geni and the patterns that emerge from this much data about migration and families. For example, exceptional genetics only adds abut 5 years to life expectancy, but poor lifestyle habits can deduct 10.

They are on a tear, I’m telling you. They weren’t done yet.

Fourth, they announced that they are adding new records at an amazing pace. Three new collections, including the digitization and indexing of high school yearbooks from the US.

Fifth – new advancements in genetic genealogy.

MyHeritage has observed that many people don’t understand the details of genetic genealogy or how to use the tools. Additionally, many people don’t have or create family trees.

MyHeritage has created what they call “The Big Tree” where all of their customers are connected in one large “tree of humanity,” or at least as much of humanity as has tested or uploaded to MyHeritage. They then look at how your own node is connected to others in that large tree and distill the results into something useful for you.

The next step, Gilad calls the “Theory of Family Relativity,” where MyHeritage combines your DNA matches, their trees and documents from their collection to construct a theoretical tree between you and your matches.

The connection may need to go up and down other people’s trees a couple of times, and may be discovered in the tree of someone you both match.

In summary, “The Theory of Family Relativity” will provide a paper trail theory for how you match your DNA matches. That theory will be for you to confirm or disprove. Gilad says that it’s easier with a tree, but can be accomplished at some level even without one AND it will be released before year end 2018.

Sixth, a new triangulated chromosome browser that compared up to 7 people simultaneously.

Downloads are being added as well.

MyHeritage is focusing a marketing drive in Europe. Their market research revealed that in Germany (I think,) only 22% of the population had even heard of DNA testing. Their goal is to infiltrate that market space.

France Gilad…focus on France😊

Gilad has christened 2018 “The Year of the Segment.”

And as if that wasn’t enough, Gilad added even MORE items.

  • Paper trail theories and connections to explain DNA matches.
  • Theories genetically of how your matches connect to you.
  • Clustering of triangulated segments.
  • Automatic chromosome painting.
  • Identification and recreation of ancestors through the testing of multiple descendants by creating an “ancestral segment bank,” of sorts.
  • Resurrecting the DNA of dead ancestors which would be made into a kit for matching. For example, your grandfather.
  • Automatic tree building.

If you’re sitting there with your mouth hanging open in shock…well, so was I. This is what I’ve talked about for years, now coming to fruition.

Gilad credits these strides to a combination of vision, applied technology and very smart people!

All of these development items are either in beta or past proof of concept. Some are available now, some shortly, the “Tree of Family Relativity” by the end of 2018.

Truthfully, I don’t even know what to say after that massive announcement, except transfer your DNA results to MyHeritage.  If you ever had doubt, it’s gone now.

Finishing Up

In the Innovation Showcase competition, obviously DNAPainter won first place, but the rest of the entrants also deserve recognition. Rootsfinder and ItRunsInMyFamily took second and third. You may want to go and take a look for yourself.

I have not had a chance to review these myself, so you’ll have to let me know what you think.

Apparently LivingDNA made an announcement as well. Many vendors make private appointments with bloggers, movers and shakers at RootsTech. In the past few days I’ve been fortunate enough to have private meetings with Ancestry, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage. Living DNA is not on that list. I did stop by their booth today, but the right people weren’t there.

We’ve known for some time that matching was to be released in 2018, but we didn’t know that LivingDNA planned to reconstruct trees from genetic data alone, with no trees or other information involved.

You can read the announcement for yourself here.

I don’t anticipate that I’ll have the opportunity to meet with a Living DNA representative to garner additional information, unfortunately.

I would be more comfortable with this goal if they had matching experience at all. MyHeritage, with their early out-the-door matching issues is proof of how difficult it can be to get matching right.

I also feel matching and tree reconstruction will be much more accurate with a blend of trees, documents and DNA.

However, Living DNA is giving it a shot, and everyone has to start someplace. I will be very interested in what their new product will look like and how well it will work.

On the way out the door this evening, I noticed a bunch of teenagers who had obviously been to the conference, having fun.

Various vendors give away ribbons to attach to the bottom of your badge.

These kids had obviously been very busy. I enjoy seeing young people having good clean fun, and especially if those young people are the future of genealogy!

RootsTech Meetup and Super-Cool DNA Finds!

The Expo hall opened promptly at 6 this evening and remained open for 2 hours. It was a lightning fast 2 hours, let me tell you!

First, on my way to find a restroom, instead I found a VERY COOL vendor, GeneaCreations.

Bet you can’t guess what she had in her booth!

And this is just the beginning!

There are earrings to match the double helix necklace too!

But, the best is yet to come.

Jeannette, the artist, is holding up my new t-shirt. What you can’t really tell is that the decoration is actually rhinestones.  Yea, I’m a Rhinestone Genetic Genealogist!

She carries a couple of other DNA items, including denim shirts for men, and I’m going back tomorrow for those.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, she does accept customer orders.

Meetup

I needed to be back at the Family Tree DNA booth by 6:30 for the meetup with my wonderful blog followers. Thanks so much to all of you who came by to introduce yourselves and say hello.

It’s so nice to talk to other genealogists who are loving genetic genealogy. The gentleman at left has been doing genealogy more than 40 years. The man at right hosts a DNA special interest group.

I’m sorry, I’m really awful with names.

Richard Weiss at left, and Rob Warthen at right, www.dnaadoption.com. I refer people to DNAadoption every single day, for search angels, for education and for tools. It was wonderful to meet these find folks in person, after all these years.

Janet Seegmiller and I met years ago on the Cumberland Gap group. Our ancestors were from some of the same places, and we’ve been on parallel journeys every since. I feel like I’ve known Janet forever! It was so wonderful to actually get to put a face with a name and many, many e-mails.

A group had a Q&A session. We were folks still remaining at closing time, when they dimmed the lights, telling us we’d had enough fun.

Jim Brewster with Family Tree DNA represents my Brewster line. Yes, that’s Brewster as in William Brewster, the Pilgrim who arrived on the Mayflower. I did notice that the Mayflower Association booth is nearby. I think I’ll have to go by and let them know I’ve applied for membership.

I wasn’t able to take photos of everyone who came by, including a cousins I had wanted to meet for years. I apologize to anyone I didn’t get to say hello to personally.

I’ll close this article by showing a really unique guest. Ever wonder what a family tree really looks like?

This tree even came complete with a few birds. I wonder if those would be looney birds! Every tree has them, you know!

You know, I just couldn’t resist the temptation of seeing what would happen if you pulled on one of those shaky leaves.

Conference Pricing

For people AT the conference, pricing for DNA kits as told by vendors so far include:

MyHeritage – $49 and 50% off subscriptions.

Family Tree DNA – 2 Family Finder kits for $49, one for $59, but great bundles prices where you can add a Family Finder test to any other new Y or mitochondrial purchase for in essence $39.

The rumor mill tells me that Living DNA is selling kits for $49.  They made an announcement yesterday that matching will be released later in the year and that they will be introducing a new feature to create your family tree genetically, without any genealogical input.  I must tell you, I have a great deal of skepticism about this, understanding how the technology works and that you can share the exact amount of DNA with a wide variety of people in your tree.  I’ll be visiting them today to see if I can obtain more information.

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.

Regroup

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.

Summary

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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