I'm not heavily involved in the greater genealogy community, but I have been doing family history for over 20 years. Thus, what were the best classes at RootsTech and who presented them in the eyes of an unknown presenter?
I had better luck than my wife with my selection of classes. There weren’t any that I didn’t like. There were a couple that I would have liked better if they had more substance to them. In a nutshell, I like show and tell classes better than just tell. Rather than give me 10 examples of spreadsheets, show me how to create 3 really useful ones.
Another thing is if the class is just a regurgitation of the syllabus, then what is the point of the class (hence why I like show and tell better)? With 295 classes to choose from, I can download all of the syllabuses and read them. If the class doesn’t give me any more depth than what is on the syllabus (i.e. it doesn’t go into more detail or provide examples of application of principles) then I don’t want to sit in the class. If the class is being streamed and I can watch it later, then I don’t want to sit in the class.
Tammy is a good speaker and her presentation was about how to find out everything about an ancestor. She used her great grandfather as an example and started with all of the stories she was told about him growing up. Over several years and full time for the last year, she has been delving into this family and found a lot. Her use of timelines and questions and pointing out where and how she found certain records was fascinating. I liked it so much that I want to be related to the Hungarian Jews from Homestead.
She indirectly brought up some good points. Primarily, a deep dive is going to take a lot of time. A lot of time. Which makes sense, and is important to be reminded of so you know what you are getting into. She also gave some pointers about talking to Archivists, the gate keepers of some of the best records. Finally, she classified her sources into categories that I loved. Basic, Extended, Government, Historical, Broad Reading, and Personal. I’m not sure if she found this system from somewhere else but it was something that I have been working on and that weekend I jiggered up a research log based on this kind of categorization. So from that point alone, the class was worth it. Everything else made it even better.
Tom Jones - Inferential Genealogy and Maximizing Your Use of Evidence
When I was planning out the classes to attend, these two seemed like they would have some overlap and so I originally planned on only going to one. I misread my schedule and ended up going to both of them. I am not sure if I missed out on a great class about identifying photographs but I am glad I went to both of Tom’s classes.
Tom packs a lot of information into his one hour. He is talking non-stop and flows smoothly between the points he is making. This was a great show and tell. In each class he walked step by step through a very detailed example. Most of the genealogy research I do is in the 1800s (I like to keep close to census records). He used examples from the late 1700s and made it look easy (it’s not for me, but probably for him). It was funny because my daughter had been doing those puzzles where you are given 3 or 4 statements and have to deduce 9 or more facts from it. That is what Inferential Genealogy is all about.
His Maximizing Evidence class was so full that several people had to be turned away. He is a well known speaker in the genealogy community so I am surprised that RootsTech didn’t give him a larger classroom. Tom’s Q&A at the end was enlightening also. During both classes he answered a question about keeping all data (including unsourced ones) because it may have a clue. I haven’t completely bought into this idea, then again, I do 99% of my genealogy work digitally, so maybe I am keeping everything. He also said that he doesn’t worry about those who perpetuate errors (i.e. copy wrong trees which are copies of wrong trees) or actively try to correct them. He publishes his research which puts the correct information (from what he has found and deduced) in print.
Kitty was a very fun presenter. The other Kitty Cooper was there to help and we even had Mr. Kitty Cooper to provide tech support. Kitty makes the complex subject of DNA easy to understand and grasp. I actually didn’t take any notes. Better than anyone else I have read or heard, she clearly explained which companies to test from when and why.
She showed up to class about 15 minutes early and started an informal Q&A session. This progressed right into her presentation and she ended about 15 minutes early. I ended up asking her a DNA question I had been working on about the relationship between some individuals. She confirmed that the method I was using was correct to establish the correct relationship.
The original presenter was unable to make it so a couple of pinch hitters filled in. They did a good job. I am familiar with newspaper research and found a lot of information to flesh out the story of one of my ancestors by going through 15 years of newspapers from the 1800s. This presentation was more informative about the process of digitizing newspapers. I like learning how things are done and the process of digitizing was pretty neat. Not at all like I would have imagined. So, while this wasn’t a class that gave me information to extend my research, I thoroughly enjoyed it. And the mug shot picture was perfect (sorry, you’ll have to ask someone who attended).
I saved the best for last. Let me go through how I ended up here. Last year my wife wanted to present at RootTech so she prepared some proposals. I said, why not, I’ll prepare some too. In the end, I was selected and she wasn’t. After the initial class schedule was announced, we went over them to pick the classes we each wanted to attend. A couple of months later, we were talking about what we could prepare for her to submit as a presenter for next year and landed on the idea of doing a lab. We each decided to take a lab class to scope out how they were run and what we could learn from them about running a computer lab (the actual content of the lab wasn’t the priority).
When I marked the labs that I might be interested in and compared it to my schedule, the PowerTripAnalytics class ranked higher than my other classes during that timeslot. One problem, it was right after the class I was teaching. I contemplated going to a different lab so that I could have time to take everything down and answer any questions. All of the other labs were during classes that I didn’t want to miss. One of the first things I did at RootsTech was walk my routes between classes on Wednesday so that I knew where I was going. For the transition from my class to this computer lab, I timed it. As long as I wasn’t hung up too long, I’d have time.
Stephen and Eileen McDaniel were great. They aren’t dynamic speakers like Tammy, Tom, and Kitty who I mentioned above. But they were professional and knew their stuff. They do data analytics for companies and so my guess is this was a bit of a change in clientele. Eileen has been involved in doing genealogy for a couple of years and so she is looking at this area with some fresh ideas. Her experience with data analytics brought something that I have been looking for. If I went to no other class than theirs, the trip to RootsTech would have been worth it for me.
Ready for a Lab at RootsTech?
The first 15-20 minutes of their lab was mundane. Uploading and downloading a file. The GEDCOM converter is very useful. I had created something related several years ago. My version took indexes of British parish records and created a GEDCOM file. Theirs turns your GEDCOM file into a spreadsheet of information that can then be manipulated.
Their example was Donald Trump’s family, very fitting for the time. Saying that this first 20 minutes was mundane is not meant as a criticism, I upload and download files all of the time, but not everyone in there was at the same technical level and you would need to know how to do this so that you can do it later.
Then the magic happened. I am an engineer. I love spreadsheets. I love graphs. I love analyzing data so much I figure out what health insurance to buy each year based on a prediction of medical expense from historical data. Stephen and Eileen showed us Power BI.
Power BI is a free data analytics software from Microsoft that I would describe as the charting function of Excel on steroids. It was easy to use, and Stephen and Eileen guided us through a couple of graphical examples where two graphs (one of births and one of deaths) were connected to each other so that you could visualize the data better. They mentioned that you could do this in Excel but it would take hours of programming work. I know, I have done it in Excel. It takes hours. This did it in 1 minute. Absolutely. AWESOME!!
For their finale, we made a map of the people’s residence and Stephen took us through the history of the Trump family. From running brothels in the Northwest and Alaska mining towns to settling down in New York. The map even allows you to zoom in to the street level so if you had a group of ancestors that lived in a particular area of the city you could map out their movements just as easily as you could map out migration patterns across the oceans. There are lots of possibilities for this and I started writing down some different things I want to try with it. I have some large datasets that analyzing would be simplified with this software.
Photo from Devon's Computer Lab. It's not as easy as it looks. (Not Stephen or Eileen)
I learned a lot about running a lab. It needs to be simple. There can only be about 3 things to do. I am not sure if my wife and I will try to do a lab next year. With 60 people in a lab it seems very easy to get caught up in a tech problem and have time run out on you. I really would like to see a presentation by Stephen and Eileen next year where they show us more in depth what kinds of data analysis they have done and how it has improved their research.
I have not yet downloaded Power BI onto my computers. The only reason is I am planning a Family History Conference for our area and if I download Power BI, then I won’t be able to focus on that. Come late March, I’m all over it!