Monday, February 13, 2017

RootsTech Expo Hall

Here are some photos from the Expo Hall at this year's #RootsTech.
The Expo Hall entrance

View of the Hall

Findmypast booth

Rear of findmypast booth

Book scanning by Family Search

One of the stands

Ancestry booth

Family Tree Maker Booth

Genealogy WallCharts booth

Heirloom Show & Tell

The area for media to record interviews

Discovery Zone from FamilySearch

Green screen in Discovery Zone where you could get your
photo on a background of your ancestral home

Record a message for a deceased ancestor

In the media hub

MyHeritage stand

Jill Ball interviewing Ron Tanner from FamilySearch

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Our genealogy is coming alive through our DNA

CeCe Moore is a professional Genetic Genealogist and one of the keynote speakers today at Rootstech. 

Genetic Genealogy – or DNA research – has boomed in the last few years, and the findings that are coming out of it would have been unimaginable even ten years ago.  The experiences of our forebears really do affect us in many ways.

People are now often taking DNA tests out of curiosity, and the results are leading them to try and follow up with the paper trail. One example of this was CeCe’s own brother-in-law. He had grown up with a strong oral tradition in his family that they had native American DNA.  So, hearing about the DNA tests that CeCe was working with, he thought he’d take one to try and prove this story.

But his test came back with 0% native American DNA and 6.6% African DNA. His mother was still alive so she got a test which came back indicating that she was 12.25% African. CeCe started to investigate her brother-in-law’s ancestry via the traditional paper trail.  She managed to trace him back to an illegitimate child of Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings.

CeCe’s brother-in-law now knew he was the descendant of enslaved people.

According to the 1924 racial integrity act from the Virginia General Assembly, anyone with 1/32 or more African blood was declared to be black, with all the restrictions and discrimination that went along with that.  That corresponds to 3.25% of African blood, and CeCe’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned nieces and nephews would have been classed as black until that act was repealed in 1967.

Discovering slave ancestors has a profound effect on many people, and changes the way they view history.

But our DNA can affect us in other ways. Before he knew he was descended from Jefferson, CeCe’s brother had visited Jefferson’s house and felt an immediate connection with the place.  Coincidence? Maybe, but science is now showing that we CAN be affected by events which have happened to our ancestors.*

Through her work with adoptees, CeCe often sees the connection between biological relatives.  Reunited families often share personality traits and behaviours that adoptees did not share with their adopted families. The same car, the same hairstyle, the same clothes – none of these things are unusual. Epigenetic changes to our genes affect their expression and turn them on or off, resulting in a form of genetic memory. Once again our ancestors are affecting our lives.

CeCe is able to use genetic genealogy in the same way she does with adoptees to help a few high profile cases of people who don’t know who they are, like Paul Fronczak and Benjamin Kyle.

DNA testing is solving family mysteries old and new and changing peoples lives.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

LeVar Burton's session brings us all to tears

I just listened to an incredibly powerful, emotional and wonderful presentation. LeVar Burton was one of today’s keynotes at Rootstech. LeVar played Kunta Kinte in the 1977 version of Alex Haley’s Roots, starred in Star Trek: The Next Generation and for 23 years worked on Reading Rainbow.

He first spoke of his mother who introduced him to the magic of storytelling. She was always reading and always reading to him. She instilled in him the belief that he was able to triumph over any adversity.

He said that Gene Roddenberry was a fantastic storyteller. As a young boy it was rare for LeVar to see people on TV that looked like him. It was rare for him to see people like Clarence Williams III with his incredible Afro hair style on Mod Squad, and it was rare for him to see people like Diahann Carroll on Julia. So seeing Star Trek on TV was huge.  Seeing Nichelle Nichols gave him the message to him that there was a place for people like him in the world to come.

Star Trek inspired people in so many ways.  Seeing Captain Kirk flip open his communicator and say “Beam me up Scotty” must have been the inspiration for some engineer who later developed the flip-phone.  Uhura’s ear piece must have inspired the Bluetooth ear pieces we see now. Technology to bring sight to the blind like Geordi’s Visor is currently under development.

“Our superpower is our imagination”, he said. “It connects us to our birthright as storytellers.” Those stories provide the context for who we are, why we are here ad where we are going.

LeVar Burton spoke of the profound effect that Alex Haley had on his life in 1977. Roots helped shift the focus of the nation’s consciousness and showed the unvarnished truth of the country’s slave holding past. “There was an America before Roots, and an America after Roots, and they were not the same America.”  All this was accomplished by a program telling one family’s story which achieved record shattering viewing figures. 

He spoke eloquently and powerfully in his rich and expressive voice.  The host for the day, Nkoyo Iyamba returned to the stage as the audience gave LeVar a standing ovation. Her voice was cracking with emotion as she introduced Thom King from FamilySearch to give LeVar a special gift. They had researched his family tree.

Suddenly the eloquent man had gone, and a tearful and vulnerable man called out in an accent that was a throw-back to his youth “Is this what y’all do all day?”

Thom showed him the marriage certificate of his beloved grandmother Estelle Cain, who had always encouraged him and who was so proud to see him in Roots just before she died. Thom pointed out the signature of LeVar’s grandfather and the graceful man became even more emotional.

“We have managed to find two of your two-greats-grandparents and five of your three-greats-grandparents” said the giant Thom who towered over LeVar. He pointed out those who were born into slavery and witnessed emancipation.

“These are my people!” he cried out. Tears came from my eyes to join his and those of everyone in the hall.

That is what the impact of knowing your family does.

Rootstech Innovator Summit

Liz Wiseman
Wednesday, the first day of Rootstech, was the Innovator Summit Day. The keynote was Liz Wiseman from The Wiseman Group who talked about “Rookie Smarts”, the key message of which was that sometimes we are at our very best when we know the least. In that position we can often come up with unique ways to approach a problem because we don’t know how it has always been done. And sometimes that can lead to great successes.  She has written a book about this idea – Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work.

After her talk a few of us got to chat to her and much of the time was spent discussing some of the ideas from another of her books – Multipliers: How the Best Leaders MakeEveryone Smarter.

Her definition of a Multipliers are
leaders who use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. When these leaders walk into a room, light bulbs go on; ideas flow and problems get solved. These are the leaders who inspire the people with whom they work to stretch themselves and surpass expectations. These leaders use their smarts to make everyone around them smarter and more capable.

In contrast, other managers are Diminishers, holding back their employees.

We then had the showdown for the semi-finalists for the Innovator Challenge.  The 10 semi-finalists were
  1. QromaTag – tags photos with all sorts of information which is stored in the metadata and is preserved forever with the photo. Not only can this include names and places, but it can also include voice recordings of people talking about the photo.
  2. JoyFLIPS – another photo program similar to the previous one. One aspect of this I loved was that you can scan the front and back of a photo and store them as a 2-sided digital copy. This program is freee, and can be run as a app on a phone or via a web interface
  3. Cuzins – this shows you what celebrities you are related to. It uses the data from the FamilySearch Family Tree to see the connections. It only runs on Android and there is a free version that lets you see how one celebrity is related to another, but you will have to pay to see how you are related to the celebs.
  4. CSI: Crowd Sourced Indexing – this manages group indexing projects for family history societies, controlling the allocation of pages to be transcribed.
  5. Kindex – a free searchable archive that anyone can build and share with anyone else.
  6. Rootsfinder – makes genealogy easy by integrating with FamilySearch, Ancestry etc. It captures sources, screen shots and more
  7. Champollion 2.0 – a transcription tool with all sorts of ways to improve the quality of the original image and to link the image to the transcription
  8. emberall – a smart phone app that records a person’s life through questions asked of the person, capturing their voice and storing the results in the cloud
  9. Double Match Triangulator – a great tool for doing DNA Triangulation
  10. OldNews USA – a mobile app that does targeted searches in the newspapers included in Chronicling America by the Library of Congress
The finalists that were chosen were the Double Match Triangulator, emberall, kindex, OldNews USA and QromaTag.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The new Family Discovery Experience

Tuesday afternoon was so much fun. I was invited to a preview of the new Family Discovery Experience before it officially opens to the public the following morning, timed to coincide with RootsTech.

The Family Discovery Experience is located on the ground floor (or 1st floor for my American Friends – anyway, it’s the one you first walk into) of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The previous Family Discovery Center (note the slightly different name) in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building was so popular that they couldn’t accommodate all the people who wanted to come.

When you go in you get given a special iPad and you log into your FamilySearch account.  These accounts are free to create, and are needed if you are going to put your family tree onto the Family Search Family tree. You will get most from this experience if you have entered your tree.
You then go round each station and dock your iPad into the station so it can personalise the experience for you. Most of the stations consist of large touchscreen showing a particular facet of you and your heritage.
Docking Station for the iPad
Docked iPad

The first stop I made was Where I Come From which showed a map with the routes your ancestors took to get to where you were born. Since all mine came to Australia from England, Ireland or Scotland it was pretty self-evident. Interesting the different routes it seems to think they took to get there!

You can see a break down of where your ancestors came from, but that is only as accurate as your tree is complete. You can see that it says I have 9% Australian, but since I have no indigenous ancestors this represents people for whom I haven’t entered any parents.
You can see “vintage photos” of locations your ancestors may have come from. The only picture in the UK was one of London, though there were lots of European photos and American photos, but my family were never in those places.
One of the stations was My Time Machine which allowed you to select an ancestor from your tree on FamilySearch and see events in their life. Those events were mainly their births, deaths an births of children, but you could also see events that were happening in the world, like the introduction of disposable nappies (diapers), the start of World War I or the invention of penicillin. The final set of timeline events related to the church, such as the completion of the Tabernacle.

There was another section with a green screen where you could place yourself against a location in the world and have your photo taken.

There were booths for recording yourself or a group of people either telling a story or being interviewed, and the Picture my Heritage station similar to the one that had been in the previous centre. Here you could “put” your face on an image of a person from a different time.  It wouldn’t work for me, so here are some other people’s images that I have permission to use.

Amy Archibald

Myko Clelland from findmypast

Myko controlling the station

But for me the most fun part of the day was the My Famous Relatives station. Based on your tree it worked out who you were related to. For example, apparently I am a 13th cousin once removed of former US President Warren G Harding, an 11th cousin 3 times removed of Thomas Edison, and a 9th cousin 5 times removed of Joseph Smith (1st President of the LDS church).


But it also compared you to other people who had recently been in the center. A large number of those who came in knew each other and it was great fun to discover that I was related to some of the people I knew there.  Pat Richley-Erickson (aka DearMyrtle) and I are 12th cousins, Renee Zamora and I are 11th cousins once removed and Peggy Clements and I are 10th cousins once removed. Helen Smith and I are both related to President Harding and Philo T Farnsworth, but are not related to each other.
 More information about this can be found here and here.