RootsTech 2016: I Survived 26 Classes and Lectures!

Somehow, I sat in on 26 classes, seminars, and/or labs in a span of just four days at RootsTech 2016. It was a whirlwind of learning! I absorbed as much as I could as fast as I could and scribbled lots of messy notes (and was fascinated by one man in front of me in a lecture who painstakingly created the most gorgeous, perfect set of notes on his IPad Pro with his Apple Pencil that I have ever seen).

This conference offers attendees over 250 classes to choose from, so choosing can be difficult! Here’s a synopsis of a few of those 26 classes that I took. These were pulled from the very well-organized mobile RootsTech app provided attendees before the event.

Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China: The author of Finding Samuel Lowe: China, Jamaica, Harlem, Paula Williams Madison, a black woman whose heritage traces to Jamaica, introduced her powerful memoir about the search she and her siblings made for their long-lost maternal Chinese grandfather, Samuel Lowe. This story of a remarkable and emotional journey of self-discovery has been made into a documentary, which I had the privilege of watching. I just ordered the book on Amazon, and I can’t wait to read it.

DNA: How is it Redefining Our Industry?: This class offered a panel discussion about how DNA testing is redefining the genealogy industry. Panel: Judy G. Russell, Diahan Southard, W. Scott Fisher. The biggest developments and needs in DNA testing that were discussed included: the ability to bring together documented pedigrees with documented genetics; the need for more companies to create algorithms to help testers identify how we are related to matches; greater accuracy in ethnicity charts; ethical considerations—who owns the data; the ability to obtain data from overseas in light of tightening of privacy rules in the European Union.

Mapping Ancestral Gravesites with Google® Maps: A hands-on lab that demonstrated how to create and save maps using Google Maps and how to share maps with family members.  I haven’t tried it yet, but will soon- hopefully.

Finding Your Slave Ancestors: This class, taught by Sherri Camp, President of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, presented strategies to locate enslaved ancestors. Of the classes I attended, this one was truly the most participatory by attendees; people shared and conversed and introduced each other. I enjoyed the sense of comradery– whether the ancestors of the attendees had been the enslaved or the enslaver. Participants learned how to find various documents to help determine where their ancestors were enslaved, and who their owners were. Much was said about how to use the newly indexed Freedmen’s Bureau Records (and a suggestion was made that this should be its own class subject next year).

More Than Just Names: Advanced US Census Research: U.S. censuses are gold mines of names, ages, birthplaces and all-kinds-of-other-useful data about ancestors. There is so much to find if we know where to look, from socioeconomic status to crops grown or products made, from school attendance to marriage dates, from physical disabilities to causes of death, from military service to clues that lead us to other sources. We were reminded to study all available censuses, such as Manufacturing Schedules, Agricultural Schedules, and Mortality Schedules. As well: Find the FAN club (neighbors, cousins, etc. living nearby who may offer additional information); find the record makers (doctors, lawyers, etc.); find ALL censuses.

Parish Registers of England and Wales: For researchers with ancestors from England or Wales, it is essential to know about parish registers that were created and stored in local churches, and the main source of vital records before 1837.

Introduction to Chromosome Mapping: This technique allows the testee to determine which segments of DNA came from which ancestor. It is the assignment of genes to specific locations on a chromosome. By comparing autosomal DNA test results between several family members, we can assign specific segments of DNA to common ancestors. The RootsTech website provided the following description: “… participants will use a public dataset and third-party chromosome mapping tools to create a chromosome map. They will be guided through all steps of downloading segment data, preparing a csv file, and running the mapping tool. Participants will learn about considerations for hierarchical versus collateral relationships and will create maps for both.”

DNA Test Results: Handling the Unexpected: Crista Cowan, also known as The Barefoot Genealogist and employee, covered best practices for handling those surprise DNA results that we will all see if we test enough people. She used her own family as an example of what can be found, and how to handle it with grace.

How to do a DNA Triangulation: Case Studies: Kitty Munson Cooper, of fame, is a blogger as well as a web developer who has created excellent tools for the genetic genealogy community to use. In this session, she provided a demonstration of autosomal DNA triangulation—the process of reviewing pedigree charts of people who match on the same IBD autosomal DNA segment to try to find a common ancestor. On her own blog she states, “The way to prove the common ancestor is to see if A and B match each other in the same place that they match you. This is what we call triangulation.”

I will be looking forward to attending RootsTech 2017. A friend from college, who I had not seen in 30 years, met me in Salt Lake City and attended this year’s event with me. It was so much fun reconnecting!

Next year, I already have another friend scheduled to meet me there. Our families are connected via slavery and trace back to Virginia in the late 1700s and early 1800s. She and I have never met in person—we communicate via Facebook and email about our shared love of climbing the family tree. I will be honored to meet her.

For the record, RootsTech 2017 will be held on February 8 – 11, 2017, again at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. If you have a passion for genealogy at any level, from beginner to professional, you will be grateful that you went.

At some point, I hope to be a RootsTech Ambassador (family history industry influencers and social media enthusiasts)—blogging and tweeting and Instagramming from the event!


  1. BetsyInVT

    What a blast we had at RootsTech! Maybe we can get a whole bunch of Oak Grove Genealogists to gather there next year! Thanks for your posts and insights! Keep ’em coming!!!

    1. Julie (Post author)

      You requested more posts about basic genealogy and research. I just posted an entry on DNA testing, so pass it on to your friends!

  2. Jana Last


    RootsTech really was a blast, wasn’t it!?

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

    1. Julie (Post author)

      I was impressed with RootsTech. It was fun as well as incredibly educational. I’ll be back next year.

    2. Julie (Post author)

      And thanks for the shout out. It’s appreciated– and it’s good to know someone is reading my blog!


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