Friday, January 25, 2019

New Virtual Pass for RootsTech

There is an exciting new development for this year's RootsTech conference, which will be a real bonus for those who can't attend the conference in person (as well as for those who are attending).  You will now be able to purchase a virtual pass which will give you one year's access to recordings of 18 of the talks. This is in addition to the live streamed sessions, which as well as being able to be viewed live, will be online for free, as they have been in past years.  The Virtual pass will cost $US129 for those who aren't attending RootsTech, and only $US79 as an add-on for those who are attending. The sessions can be viewed on your desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. 

The complete list of the 18 talks is online here (and one of them relates to my passion, which is medieval English genealogy & history), and the list of the live-streamed sessions is online here.

Why not register for these sessions?

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Less than 40 days til RootsTech 2019!

It is now less than 40 days til RootsTech 2019!  Whether you are a first timer, or a seasoned attendee, you will have a fantastic experience if you attend. And there are many reasons you should attend.

The RootsTech Expo Hall
Firstly, the classes. There are over 300 classes (labs and lectures), and they cover a variety of topics, so there will be something for everyone, not just those with American Ancestry. DNA will feature heavily in the class schedule, as it has become so popular.
The main hall, waiting for the Keynotes

Then there is the Expo hall. This is always a highlight for me, as I love the opportunity to speak to the big vendors and to see any new and upcoming ones.  This year there will be close to 200 exhibitors, so it's a great way to keep up with new developments in the industry.

Another draw-card are the Keynote speakers. They are always interesting, and this year looks to be no different.  Thursday's Keynote will be actress PatriciaHeaton from Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle. Friday's Keynote is Saroo Brierley, who was separated from his family when he was five and eventually adopted by a family from Tasmania. His story was told in the movie Lion.

Then Jake Shimabukuro from Hawaii, who is a master of the Ukulele, will feature on the Saturday. But before you turn up your nose at this, thinking that the ukulele is a bit twee and amateurish and brings back memories of George Formby, you should look at some of his YouTube videos. This is his version of George Harrison's WhileMy Guitar Gently Weeps and a classical style piece called Dragon and the ever-popular Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Me (far left), waiting for a Keynote speaker in 2018

Last year the "Relatives at RootsTech" part of the FamilySearch Family Tree app was a lot of fun. It is based on the giant family tree hosted by FamilySearch, and highlights other people who are at RootsTech who are related to you.  This year's version has some improvements, detailed here.

There is a lot of useful information in the Road to RootsTech videos, and a very useful blog post about what to wear and what to bring to RootsTech.

Register before Jan 25 to talk advantage of special price of $209.

But if you can't attend in person, details of the live streaming schedule are available here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Fabulous Find on Trove

I was looking at Trove recently, and had finished the search I was doing and decided to search to see if I could find an announcement of the wedding of my grandparents, William Spiller and Dorothy Highett. I think I'd searched for it before, but I just entered two words: the two surnames "spiller" and "highett" without the quotation marks. I was hoping to find one of those little notices in the births, deaths and marriages section, but I got much more than I could have dreamt of.

The first article I found in the Prahran Telegraph, 11 Nov 1927, was a full description of the wedding and the clothes worn by the bride, bridesmaids, and others.

 A pretty wedding was celebrated on October 10 at the Presbyterian Church, Wattletree road, Malvern, when Dorothy Viola Highett, grand-daughter of Mrs. A. F. Alway, of Dixon street, Malvern, became the wife of William Spiller, youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Spiller, of Wattletree road, East Malvern.
 The bride, who was given away by her grandfather, Mr. Fiddes, looked charming in a frock of palest pink georgette heavily embroidered with crystal and showing an uneven hem line. Silver lace caught with orange blossom secured her pale pink tulle veil, and she carried a shower bouquet of pink roses and lily of the valley.
 Misses Nance Green and Vi MacDonald, as bridesmaids, wore dainty pale pink, georgette frocks under silver lace coats, and their shower bouquets were of pink roses and delphiniums. Mr. K. Cummins was best man, and Mr. D. Robinson groomsman.
 The reception was held at 9 Darling street, South Yarra, and was followed by dancing. The bride's grandmother wore a black georgette frock trimmed with goffered frills, and carried a posy of dark red roses. The bridegroom's mother wore black georgette, the panels embroidered with mauve beads, and pansies formed her posy. Mr. and Mrs. W. Spiller will reside in Sydney.

The next article I found was from Table Talk, 2 Nov 1927. It carried the same text, but included a photograph! This was a particularly important find as my grandparents had accidentally thrown out their wedding photos during one of their house moves, so I had never seen any.

It may be just a grainy photo from a newspaper, but it is invaluable to me.

It illustrates perfectly that even if you have already searched Trove for something, you should keep searching, as new publications are added all the time.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Win a free Registration for RootsTech 2019

UPDATE: The winner of the free pass to RootsTech 2019 is Charlene Ferris!
The correct answers were counted and the winning entry chosen by a random number generator (

Registration is now open for RootsTech 2019, which will take place in Salt Lake City from 27 February to 2 March.

RootsTech is always a wonderful experience, and here are nine reasons to attend and another five reasons to attend. You may have heard a bit of negative feedback about this year's conference, but the good news is that the organizers also heard that feedback and are making changes accordingly. The first episode of the Road to RootsTech details some of these changes in response to the feedback. Do keep an eye on this series, as new videos will be added every few weeks.

So don't let anything you heard about this year stop you from enjoying the experience in 2019! Register before 25 January to get the special price of $209.

As a RootsTech Ambassador, I get to give away a free pass 4-day pass for RootsTech 2019, valued at $299. If you win and have already registered for the conference, your registration fee will be refunded.

The pass gives access to
  • Over 300 classes
  • Keynote / General sessions
  • Expo hall
  • Evening events

This 4-Day Pass DOES NOT include airfare, hotel or the coverage of any other expenses like paid lunches or paid labs.

In order to go into the draw to win you must send an email to with the answer to the question below:

Who am I?
1.    I was born in 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
2.    My show biz career started which I was a child, appearing in vaudeville, and aged 13 I got a movie contract with MGM.
3.    A remake of one of my critically acclaimed movies has just been released.
4.    One of my daughters married Peter Allen.
5.    I starred in the first ever colour movie.
6.    I died age 47

**Please don't enter if you do not intend to attend the conference

All correct entries received by the closing date of 12 noon, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) on Sunday 11th of November, will go into a draw and one lucky person will win the RootsTech pass.

The winner will be notified by email by Wednesday 14th of November at the latest. One entry per person.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Time to Plan for RootsTech 2019

The next RootsTech conference is taking place from 27 February to 2 March 2019, so it will be here before you know it. Now is the time to start thinking about your accommodation.

Four Salt Lake City Hotels are now taking reservations at special conference rates. The hotels are
  • Salt Lake Marriott Downtown at City Creek
  • Radisson Hotel Salt Lake City Downtown
  • Hilton Salt Lake City Center
  • The Salt Lake Plaza Hotel

More details about them are available here

Discounted rooms in these hotels usually fill up very fast, so act now. There are, of course, other accommodation options in Salt Lake City, and the Salt Palace Convention Centre is located fairly close to a TRAX stop (called trains by the locals, but more like trams to me).

The conference organizers are always seeking ways to improve the experience, and are making some changes based on feedback from last year. Details of "What's New at RootsTech 2019" are available here.

Although I will not be able to attend next year's conference, I have been to four of them and I highly recommend them. RootsTech is a fantastic experience for every genealogist.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The last of the Keynotes at RootsTech

Saturday morning’s opening session for RootsTech featured two keynote speakers. But before they were introduced, Ken Chahine from Ancestry (who was the major sponsor for that day) spoke.  He showed a video clip from 2014 when he had last appeared on stage at RootsTech. At that time he made lots of predictions for the future, and we were shown a video clip of that. Many of his predictions had come true, with the notable exception that we would be able to sketch what our ancestors looked like based on reconstructed DNA. One thing that I don’t think I would have been believed possible at the time was the explosion in the number of people who have done a DNA test. In 2014 about 300,000 people had tested with Ancestry. A year ago it was four million people. In early March 2018 seven million people have tested with That is more than the entire population of Sydney, which is currently estimated at about five million people. This expediential growth in DNA can only be good for genealogists and is fantastic for adoptees seeking their roots.

It was then time for the Keynotes. Emcee Jason Hewlett interviewed Mexican pop-rock singer Natalia Lafourcade. She told us a little of her life and sang a few of songs.  The phrase “the voice of an angel” has become very clichéd, but I can’t think of anything more appropriate to describe her singing. After her first song Jason Hewlett was wiping the tears from his eyes. The third song she sang was Remember Me from the movie Coco which she would be singing the following night at the Oscars. [1]

This being RootsTech Natalia was told a little bit about her family history.  She commented that the name Lafourcade sounded more French than Spanish, but thought it was probably just a family myth that her family had a French connection.  Well it wasn’t. She was informed that her ancestor Pierre was born in 1842 in Bordeaux in France. The 33 year-old woman was jumping about in excitement on hearing that. Knowing where you come from has that effect on people.  Pedro, as Pierre became known, moved with his family to Santiago in Chile when he was just 13, from where his descendant, Gaston (Natalia’s father) fled to Mexico after the 1973 coup. There he met Natalia’s mother and the result was this elfin angel-voiced woman.

The next keynote speaker was Professor Henry Louis Gates Jnr. This Yale and Cambridge educated professor became interested in his family history when he was a nine-year-old boy and saw a photo on the day of his grandfather’s burial. It was a photo of his great-great-grandmother Jane Gates, who purchased a house in 1870 for cash, just five years after being a slave (she was freed at the end of the Civil War). On that day Gates’ father also showed him a newspaper report of her death, calling her “Jane Gates, an estimable colored woman.” Ever since that day he had wanted to know about his family tree.

The scrapbook with the report of Jane's death
In the year 2000, before commercial DNA tests were available, he was invited to give a blood sample to find his motherline ancestry[2]. The results came back indicating that he had Nubian ancestry which thrilled him, as at one time the Nubians were the black pharaonic dynasty of Egypt.  He started to wonder if he could combing his interest in genealogy with genetics, and would this help reveal the pre-slavery location of his ancestors.

The answer was yes, in the form of a TV series African American Lives. But after two series of this program he was called a racist! He faced criticism for not featuring white or Jewish people. So the program morphed into Faces of America and finally Finding Your Roots.

Once newspapers started to be digitised he started looking for the obituary of Jane Gates he had seen as a young boy. But it was only less than a week before he stood before us that he finally found it on

So his messages were
  1. Don’t give up – things are being digitised all the time
  2. America is a nation of immigrants. There is no such thing as racial purity – we are all the same under the skin
  3. The best evidence of our unity is our DNA

[1] Remember Me won Best Original Song at that Oscar ceremony.
[2] Mitochondrial DNA

Disclaimer: As a RootsTech Ambassador 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.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Two Inspiring Keynotes

The Thursday morning RootsTech session featured Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York as a keynote speaker. Over seven years, Brandon has photographed and interviewed more than 10,000 people. But the route to that position was full of many changes of direction. Brandon told us about his life, starting with flunking out of college, when he hit rock bottom and felt like a total failure. He felt he should be doing something meaningful with his life, but didn’t know what. Eventually he went back to college, got straight “A”s, and fell into a good job in a financial company. For two years he thought about the markets constantly, their movements occupying his mind 24x7. He had a sense of importance from doing something people respected. Then he lost his job.

Brandon Stanton

Brandon asked himself “what do I want to do?”. He came to the realisation that he had been so busy holding onto his sense of self-importance that life had been passing him by. So he decided that he wanted to make just enough money to allow himself to choose what to do with his time.

He bought a camera and started taking photos of people. Initially it was a frightening experience, just taking the photos, but over time Humans of New York evolved and became more about the stories. Brandon has now started travelling the world and some of the people he has photographed have so inspired his readers that they have crowd-sourced funds to help them.  In fact his audience has crowd funded over $10 million for a variety of causes.

Brandon with the first photo he ever took

Brandon has now reached a point where he says he can choose the work he want to do. But he stresses that he chooses the work, and doesn’t choose not to work, because “following your dreams correctly is nothing but hard work.”

Friday’s keynote speaker was Olympian figure skater Scott Hamilton. Adopted at just 6 weeks old, he joined a family that clearly meant so much to him. He had very bad health as a child (which he claims is the cause of his short stature) and went to skating lessons as a way for him and his family to do something to get their minds off his illness. Eventually, after many ups and downs, this led to him winning gold at the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984.

He overcame testicular cancer and was unsure whether he’d ever be able to have children.  Nine months and 2 days after his marriage his son Aiden was born.  For the first time he looked at his own flesh and found the moment overwhelming.  When his red-headed second son, Maxx, was born Scott suddenly decided that his unknown heritage must surely include Irish ancestors. This afternoon he will get to find out as FamilySearch staff have researched his biological background and will tell him about his ancestry.  Scott and his wife went on to adopt two children they had met when they were working with the disaster relief after the Haiti earthquake, allowing him to give back something important to other adoptees: a happy family. But health problems hadn’t finished with him. In 2004 it was announced that he had a benign brain tumour and needed risky brain surgery. But still he remains happy and positive.

He finished up with these words, which resonated so much with every genealogist listening:
“Our past is the foundation of everything that comes off it. For without a past we have no future.”
Scott next to MC Jason Hewlett - he wasn't joking about
being short. In fact he's only about my height

Disclaimer: As a RootsTech Ambassador 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.