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I have been to comic-cons and paranormal cons, but I think I was most excited for this: my first genealogy conference. On Friday March 21 I found myself in Utah at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City — with Ancestry.com and 6,700 other people — for the third annual RootsTech conference.
Focusing on the use of the newest technology in genealogy, RootsTech had something for everyone. Whether you are just getting started or are experienced, the conference offered hands-on workshops and interactive presentations led by genealogy experts from across the country. The bustling exhibition hall — packed with booths run by genealogy-based vendors, all introducing their newest products — gave attendees the opportunity to browse and connect with other genealogy enthusiasts. Over all, RootsTech’s focus on the use of technology to research, organize, preserve and share one’s family history was a perfect mix of new verse old which attracted both the new and experienced genealogist.
Most of my time at RootsTech was spent at the Ancestry.com booth, where I got to meet many of the team members I have interacted with over the last year. Honored to even be asked to join the conference with them, I admit I felt a bit nervous about my presentation, which covered how my love of genealogy eventually drew me into the world of the paranormal. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve attended several events and conferences around the country, but this was different. Even though I have always seen the clear similarities between the paranormal and genealogy, I wondered if the genealogy world would.
The biggest challenge that comes with being involved in the paranormal is the possibility of being received as a crackpot. In all honesty, I blame a good part of my skepticism on the years spent researching my ancestors; genealogy is all about finding evidence through records and family documents in order to uncover your family’s past. I take the same approach with the paranormal; in my time in the field, I needed documented proof to rationally uncover or debunk the mysteries plaguing the locations we investigated.
While I shared my favorite locations to investigate at the Ancestry.com booth, I also explained the steps I took as a genealogist to research the location and the supposed ghost. I watched as expressions from the audience transformed from uncertainty to acceptance as they saw the connections I was drawing between unexplained and the explainable.
At the end of the day, genealogical research and paranormal investigation revolve around exploring the dead, while also filling our need to keep the dead alive. The biggest difference between the two being, instead of investigating any old location or ghost, genealogy gives you the opportunity to investigate the ghosts of your own past.
As a genealogist, attending RootsTech with Ancesty.com was an amazing opportunity, and opened my eyes to just how much genealogy research has advanced in such a short amount of time. When I first started my research 21 years ago, the only options I had were phone calls and handwritten letters. I had to rely on family members in hopes of gaining new information and hints to help obtain records from vital statistic offices, historical societies, libraries and cemeteries. All of this took a lot of legwork, time and patience.
Even though you can still hit dead ends and roadblocks in your research, where knowledge of the old research techniques are definitely useful, today’s technology has made the entire process easier and faster. The ability to research, connect with others, organize and store your information has become incredibly streamlined.
Ancestry.com alone offers many helpful, user-friendly options for those just getting started in this research, and for those who have been at it for years. All of their products and services encourage and enable users to connect with other users in order to enhance their experience and further their research. While the service makes it possible to access over 11 billion records and over 40 million family trees from the comfort of your own home, the AncestryApp for iPhone, iPad and Android smartphones make it possible for you to research and build your family tree on the go. If you are looking for a better way to store, organize and share your information on your computer, there is FamilyTree Maker, which even gives you the ability to sync your tree with your online Ancestry.com tree.
Although I have utilized all of Ancestry.com’s services over the years, I am still amazed by the addition of DNA testing to enhance genealogy research. With one easy-to-take test, AncestryDNA has helped me discover my ethnicity, introduced me to several other members who I share a common ancestor with, and provided me the ability to collaborate with them.
That was another excellent part of RootsTech; it introduced people to these awesome services that they may not have known about. Moreover, for me personally, it was a joy to connect with a community I’ve been a part of since I was 11 years old. Genealogy is all about researching people, but it can sometimes feel like a solitary pursuit. I learned so much about the new innovations in the field, but also learned from the other people. Thanks to Ancestry.com, I really felt like I was a part of something truly bigger.
I look forward to attending more genealogy conferences in the future and can’t help but wonder what new discoveries are waiting just around the corner that will continue to advance our ability to dig deeper into our past. And look forward to more chances to be with my fellow researchers again. Despite all the conferences I’ve been to before, this one was my favorite.
By: Kris Williams