Tuesday, October 31, 2023

First RootsTech keynote announced

The first of the Keynotes for the 2024 RootsTech conference has just been announced. It is Lynne M. Jackson. She is an author, president and founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation.

Now, I admit I have never heard of her, or this foundation, but when I read about it, I think it sounds like it will be a very interesting talk. That’s the thing I have found about past RootsTech conferences – even when I don’t know who the keynote is, I’ve still found them fascinating.

Dred and Harriet Scott were an enslaved couple who fought for their freedom and their case ended up in the US Supreme Court in 1857. The ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court was that enslaved people were not citizens of the United States and, therefore, could not expect any protection from the federal government or the courts. The opinion also stated that Congress had no authority to ban slavery from a Federal territory.  Details of this decision are available online here.

Although this sounds awful to us, we have to remember that it was only in 1967 (110 years after this ruling) that Australians voted in a referendum to change the Constitution so that like all other Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be counted as part of the population and the Commonwealth would be able to make laws for them.

The story of Dred and Harriet Scott is described as “a story of courage, fear, and faith to claim one's right to freedom, by the law of the land, and by the conviction that all human beings are entitled to stand up for their freedom.” I think it sounds like it will be another riveting RootsTech Keynote.

And remember, this talk will be available to view online as well as in person at the Salt Palace Convention centre.

DISCLOSURE: I am a RootsTech 2023 conference Media Rep and in return for my promotion of the conference I receive a free entry pass and some additional non-monetary perks. My transportation and accommodation are not compensated.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Win a pass to RootsTech and make new friends

There are so many things I love about attending a RootsTech Conference in person. Attending the talks of course, although they are also available on the online RootsTech Conference. Experiencing the buzz of the Expo Hall and seeing all sorts of interesting booths and demos of their products. And then there are the people. It's a great opportunity to making new friends who also share a love of genealogy, and catching up with friends who I have met at past conferences. Thanks to RootsTech I have so many friends from around the world who I would probably never have met if I hadn’t attended RootsTech conferences.

Just some of my RootsTech friends

RootsTech 2024 will give me an opportunity to catch up with these friends again. If you attend, you might also make some wonderful new friends.

If you are a resident of the United States (except Rhode Island) you have the opportunity to enter a sweepstakes to win a free 3-day pass to next year’s in-person RootsTech conference. Simply enter by clicking here and filling out the form. If you win and have already paid for an entry your payment will be refunded. The sweepstakes will run until 31 October, and will be drawn on 1 November.

The pass is valued at $99 and includes:

  • 250+ classes and workshops
  • The Expo Hall with 120+ Exhibitors and sponsors
  • Wonderful keynote speakers
  • Information about industry trends and innovations (and there are often some announcements made about new products or features)
  • Meet or catch up with genealogy friends
  •  A chance to visit the FamilySearch Library while you are in Salt Lake City

If you are not a US resident, then I can offer you a discount code of 10% off registration. This discount will last until November 2. When you register simply pop in the following discount code towards the end of the registration process when the discount code box appears. The code is RT24SWEEPSTAKES.

DISCLOSURE: I am a RootsTech 2023 conference Media Rep and in return for my promotion of the conference I receive a free entry pass and some additional non-monetary perks. My transportation and accommodation are not compensated.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Remember - RootsTech2024 Registrations open

The theme for next year’s RootsTech conference is “Remember”. I think that is a very appropriate theme, as remembering our ancestors is such an important part of our family history.

Nanny (Dorothy Spiller, nee Highett) and me
My interest in family history started with the stories my maternal grandmother used to tell me. Nanny, as we called her, was raised by her grandparents, so the stories she told me went back to my g-g-grandparents. She’d tell me about how she used to get into trouble for singing at the dinner table, and how her favourite part of going to church was singing the hymns. Other stories about her were told to me by my mother. These included the fact that Nanny’s grandfather was a very strict Baptist and wouldn’t let her go out to dances or things like that, but when he joined the bowling club and spoke to other men with daughters Nanny’s age, he found that they DID let their daughters go to these things, and so Nanny was subsequently allowed to do so herself. She therefore thought the bowling club was a very good thing.

Nanny's grandfather (Adolphus Alway) on left with his bowling friends

Grandma (Pearl Gibbons)

I had fewer stories from my father’s mother, Grandma as we called her, because she died when I was just nine, but had suffered a stroke about 18 months previously and been hospitalised and in care after that. I had only seen her once during that period. However, before she had that stroke, she had told me stories. She had told me that her father, who was a foreman in the steel works at Port Kembla, was involved in making rivets for the Sydney Harbour Bridge. She also told me about her daughter, June, who had died before my father was born.

As my mother worked full time when I was young, I spent lots of time staying with both of my grandmothers.

Grandma and me
As I said, the theme for RootsTech 2024 is “Remember”. That’s such an appropriate theme, as it is the memories that got me interested in my family history, and more importantly, it is the memories that keep my grandmothers alive for me.

RootsTech 2024 is on 29 February - 2 March. You can attend in person in Salt Lake City, or online from anywhere in the world. The online event is free and the in-person event has early birth pricing until 19th November of US$99 for the full 3 days, or US$69 for one day. There will be over 200 talks in Salt Lake City, and another 200+ online.

RootsTech conferences are always a wonderful experience, weather you attend in person or online.

DISCLOSURE: I am a RootsTech 2023 conference Media Rep and in return for my promotion of the conference I receive a free entry pass and some additional non-monetary perks. My transportation and accommodation are not compensated.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Memories of an earlier coronation

With the King’s coronation dominating the news at the moment, I thought it was time to recall the previous coronation.

My mother was in England at the time, on the obligatory working holiday, and I grew up with stories about that time. As well as the poverty of the East End at the time, and the “Great Smog”, the subjects of her reminiscences included the coronation.

She had a seat in a stand along the procession route that allowed her to watch the proceedings. It rained heavily on and off during that day and she recalled feeling very sorry for the poor policemen who had to put their raincoats on, then take them off and roll them up, then get them out again and put them on, then take them off and so on. Like everyone who was there, the Queen of Tonga waving to the crowd as if the crowd had gathered just to see her was a favourite memory.

When cleaning out my father’s house back in 2020 a box of letters came to light. They were the letters she had sent back to her parents while she was away.

I searched for the letters covering the period of the coronation to see what she had to say.


            I left you in my last letter having just returned from Paris. We arrived back to find the whole of London agog with coronation fever. In the short time that we had been away London had been transformed. Never before in history has London been such a blaze of colour - nor could you ever imagine the seething mass of people. Travelling unless you have all day to spare is a virtual impossibility.

            On Saturday afternoon last week Denys drove his mother … & I [sic] around the coronation route. Doubtless you have seen pictures in the Sydney papers which give you a better idea of what the decorations are like than any word picture I could paint.

            Although I failed to gain a seat in the ballot [in the stands to watch the procession] I was lucky because, either due to the fact that Australia House was given a larger allocation of seats than they anticipated, or perhaps quite a few people made alternative arrangements, they had a number over & consequently as so often happens by going in during the week I got a seat in Piccadilly. Of course it cost £4 but I'm sure that I would have never seen otherwise & I should imagine there will not be another coronation in my lifetime.

            Seat or no seat we have to be in position by about 6.30 am with about a 9 hour wait ahead of us before we see  anything. In my next letter I'll tell you whether it was worth it or not.


Her comment about not seeing another coronation in her life time stood out to me, because she was two years younger than the Queen. Yet her prediction about not seeing another coronation was correct, as she predeceased the Queen by eighteen years.

Her next letter was started as she waited for the proceedings to start.

Stand No 24

(near Green Park)



Dear Mum & Dad

            Well it is now 8.15 am & for the last hour and a half I have been in my position in the stand. The ease with which I arrived here was fantastic. I was laughingly escorted part of the way by Arthur & Denys albeit a trifle sleepy having been up since 4.30. I nevertheless managed to stagger here armed with food & a thermos capped by chocolates & a bottle of wine a present from the boys…

            The crowd is extremely orderly & good natured & although we face a seven hour wait before the procession proper already there seems to be a hushed air of expectancy. Amplifiers [sic] have been placed at convenient points all along the route & the B.B.C. is doing a magnificent job keeping up the spirits of a somewhat frozen crowd. Anything that passes is greeted with cheers. Earlier two coaches passed obviously carrying Abbey guests & a brave gentlemen on a push bike merrily lifted his hat to the crowd as he pedalled along followed by cheers. The troops have started to line the route & the police are practically shoulder to shoulder along both sides of the Road. Never before have I seen so many policemen.

4.6.53 [same letter]

            I was unable to continue this letter on the spot as I would have like to have done as soon after I had written that much the rain started to come down & unfortunately as you know continued most the day so that really by about 1.30 everyone (or at least I was) was very cold & miserable & rather subdued.

            The whole ceremony was broadcast to us & one of the things which impressed me most of all was the almost reverent silence of the crowd during the whole of the service. You could have practically heard a pin drop. It seems hard to believe that so many people crowded together could make so little noise. The B.B.C. really rose to the occasion & the reception of the ceremony was excellent.

            I had a very good view of all the procession. The Pageantry was really unforgettable & you will see it all on the films so I won’t even attempt to describe it in detail.

            Everyone around me agreed that Winston Churchill & the Queen of the Tongas rather stole the show & they are great showmen.

            Well later on this week I'll write & tell you about my hectic doings that evening.


As promised, her next letter detailed her activities that evening.



Coronation Issue No 2

Dear Mum & Dad,

            I left you in the last letter after the procession had passed us & after that I wended my somewhat weary way towards the party. I might add I had only about two hundred yards to go but it took me nearly an hour & a half. After a couple of drinks and a short rest in a comfortable armchair I revived somewhat…

            We then had a buffet tea & watched the ceremony re-televised. After that we all climbed onto the roof & watched the fireworks & had a marvellous view of London by floodlight. Somehow or other we managed to have the strength then to go on to Le Petit Club Fran├žais where we danced amongst Bohemian people till about 2 o'clock.

            Finding it extremely difficult to get a taxi we wandered along Piccadilly & saw the tail end of the merrymaking in the streets. It was 3.30 before I fell into bed…

            The Coronation had been the focal point for everyone's plans for so long that for rest of last week everyone in London seemed very flat - a sort of anticlimax.


I realise that her letters were written on an air letter, so she had limited space to write, but I was surprised that she didn’t mention her impressions of the gold state coach (which, to me, looks like something out of Cinderella), or the length of the procession (it was supposed to have taken 45 minutes to pass a single point), or the large number of representatives of the armed forces of the Commonwealth countries. I was also surprised, given her comment about Winston Churchill in her letter, that she'd never mentioned it to me.

I know that money was tight when she was living in London, but I am also surprised that she never brought back any coronation souvenirs, apart from a couple of postcards that are in her photo album. The album also contained a couple of photos she took on the day, which I have reproduced here. She did bring back the newspapers of the day, which I remember seeing, but by the time the house was cleared my father had thrown them out.

 I wonder what my impressions of this coronation will be, albeit seen on TV not from Piccadilly.






Tuesday, April 4, 2023

RootsTech interviews compilation

Here are the interviews I did at RootsTech 2023. There are interviews with Steve Rockwood (President and CEO of FamilySearch International), David Rencher (Chief Genealogical Officer at FamilySearch) and Nick Barrett (Historian).

Above: Steve Rockwood talking about whether there will be another overseas RootsTech.

Above: David Rencher on Irish additions to FamilySearch

Above: Steve Rockwood discussing the impact of the pandemic on FamilySearch.

Above: David Rencher on FamilySearch and Covid.

Above: A conversation with Nick Barrett.

Disclaimer: As a RootsTech Influencer I receive complimentary admission to the event, invitations to some extra events and dinners and a free registration to give to one of my readers. I bear the cost of my return airfares from Australia and pay for my accommodation and meals.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

RootsTech: United with the Keynotes

RootsTech was back in person this year, and although there had been keynotes during the online conferences, there was something extra special in having live keynotes again. There was an energy and an excitement from being in the Main Hall along with so many other people, all listening to the people on stage. The keynotes this year included Jordin Sparks, the youngest ever winner of American Idol, and photographer, Me Ra Koh, but for me the best session was on the Saturday.

I had grown up in the 60s watching Sean Astin’s parents on TV. The Addams Family starred his father, John Astin, as Gomez Addams, and I regularly watched his mother’s two roles in The Patty Duke Show. I knew he was their son, but I had never seen any of his movies, even The Lord of the Rings (even though I had read the books when I was young).

Sean Astin came across as such a grounded and self-effacing person. He seemed genuinely nice.  Never was this more apparent than when he was telling the story of how an Anasazi elder had given him a trail name: “Gentle Wind Eagle.” He told Sean ‘the eagle has the greatest vision of all animals and you have the ability to see into people’s hearts.’

Another thing that came across was how important to him his wife and daughters are.

He told us about his eldest daughter’s interest in genealogy. She investigated their family background, including the adopted and step members as well as the biologicals. When Sean told her he was doing RootsTech she said that she could trace his ancestry back to Charlemagne, but was stuck on one 4th great-grandfather on mother’s side and one person other on his father’s side – could he please ask the FamilySsearch people for help.

Sean texted her and asked why she loved genealogy, and a reply came through: “‘It’s the way to learn about the ancestors that live on through me. We are the key to our ancestors’ eternal life & through my children in a way I’ll live on forever, so it’s important to honor that … I think we all repeat certain generational patterns and learning from my ancestry is the biggest cheat-sheet to solving life’s greatest problems.” This is something that resonates with all of us who are addicted to family history.

Sean’s mother had told him stories when he was growing up, but he didn’t care, which he is now embarrassed about. Even when his daughter was looking into their family history he didn’t understand the attraction. Then Tamara from FamilySearch presented him with his genealogy. And there is so much that suddenly bought it alive – a great-grandfather who registered and served in WWI and as an old man in WWII, and a grandfather who served in WWII. He was particularly fascinated by the picture he was shown of the boat two of his ancestors came out on.

He was proud to learn that six of his eight great-grandparents had come from Ireland: “they were workers”. His mother had said of him “you worked so hard for this success”, which is one of the nicest things she’d said, and now he sees that that work ethic didn’t just come from his mother, but comes down through his lineage. Sean said that understanding where you come from really helps you become “more”. “This is a way to bring us together. There are so many things that pull us apart”. When asked what he wanted his grandchildren to focus on about him, he considered the question and answered “kindness”.

Next in that session was a surprise guest: Adassa, who voiced Delores in Encanto. A video was shown where she was presented with stories of her family history. Then she sang.

As the song started it sounded a bit familiar. The I realized that she was singing Uniting, the song RootsTech’s own Jonathan Wing had written as the conference song. She was joined in the performance by Chad Truman and the One Voice Children’s choir. This was a slower version of the song, but it sent a chill down my spine. Listen to the two versions and see what you think: the version on the kickoff video, and the Adassa/Chad Truman/One Voice Children’s choir version (the song comes in at 42:47).

Disclaimer: As a RootsTech Influencer I receive complimentary admission to the event, invitations to some extra events and dinners and a free registration to give to one of my readers. I bear the cost of my return airfares from Australia and pay for my accommodation and meals.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

RootsTech: United with the Expo Hall

Although we have had a virtual expo hall for the last two years (and there is also one this year), I have really missed wandering around the in-person Expo Hall. There is a great atmosphere there, and it has always been one of my favourite aspects of RootsTech.

Although smaller than the last few in-person conferences, it did not disappoint. Most of the major players were there (why were you missing Findmypast?), along with some new ones, and some previous ones who now took a bigger part.

There were the usual in-booth demos and special offers. I did manage to get around all the booths I was interested in, but didn't get to spend as much time as I'd have liked to have done as for the first time I had my own booth (Cite-Builder - the citation generator for genealogists) and was also giving three talks.

Disclaimer: As a RootsTech Influencer I receive complimentary admission to the event, invitations to some extra events and dinners and a free registration to give to one of my readers. I bear the cost of my return airfares from Australia and pay for my accommodation and meals.