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Enthused, if not fully energised, I tackled the third day of Roots Tech which was as intense and interesting as the previous two. The morning keynote was a panel discussion by senior members of the Ancestry team, led by their CEO Tim Sullivan. There was a lot of discussion about what they do and why – company ethos – but some of the most important moments surrounded what they didn’t reveal, such as a forthcoming top secret ‘soon to be released’ DNA project, which holds out the future promise of more sophisticated DNA analysis that will allows us to eventually use science alongside documents to pinpoint where someone has come from – down to the nearest town almost! – and when they arrived there. We were also treated to a couple of demos of new enhancements to existing functionality, such as intelligent character recognition for semi-structured datasets such as city directories to make them easier to search and incorporate in family trees; and a new way of reading census returns, with a hover and highlight functionality that brought up transcription and context data when you view a matched entry. All very impressive and exciting stuff; the general aims for the future were strongly geared towards user experience and DNA, from the sounds of things.

After another round of great meetings, and a superb presentation by Dave McAllister on open source codes, licences, intellectual property and collaborative working practice (perhaps more relevant to my work with FreeBMD than the general reader of this blog!) I went to the last session of the day by Josh Taylor, who looked at what genealogists want from the future. For those who haven’t heard of Josh, you will do soon; he’s been appointed Chief Genealogist for Find My Past’s US operations and will be at Who Do You Think You Are later this month. He outlined some of the exciting ways that technology needs to adapt to the requirements of the genealogy community, and strongly believes that the way forward is through collaboration – between commercial companies, volunteer groups, archives and technologists – open software and data, greater links with the academic community, and reaching out to new communities including the younger generations.

This was my first foray into the American genealogical community, and I was most impressed. The scale of operations at Familysearch is bind-blowing – the size of their library and resources, the interest in providing free access to billions of records, and the desire to collaborate being just three key reasons why we need to look at how we operate as a genealogical community in the UK. All the genealogists I met were so knowledgeable and friendly – far too many to mention, but a special thanks to Lisa Louise Cooke, who interviewed me for www.genealogygems.tv, Caroline Pointer, Valerie Elkins and all the bloggers at the media hub. Also looking forward to seeing the team from www.mocavo.com at Who Do You Think You Are as well…

So, in short, Roots Tech was a fantastic experience, and something completely different to the usual genealogy conferences, shows and conventions that we are used to. I think the British need to have a far greater involvement in this event as a community, not just organisations such as Find My Past who are moving into the US market, but representative bodies such as the Federation of Family History Societies, and the Society of Genealogists – this is where the technology of tomorrow is being requested, shaped and tested today, and we need to be a part of that.


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