SALT LAKE CITY — Allison Kimball does not see herself as a genealogist, yet attending last year's RootsTech Conference changed her.
"Genealogy is for old people (my grandparents), and although my children consider me old I am still quite young," Kimball wrote in a November blog post at allisonkimball.com. "I have never felt a push to do genealogy in a traditional sense. So how did RootsTech change me?"
Kimball realized that by sharing family stories, she was preserving records and linking generations, she wrote. The past also led her to consider the future.
"I find myself thinking more about what I want to leave future generations and what is important for them to know," Kimball wrote.
It's the type of message that RootsTech organizers hope patrons will take away in 2016 as well.
The largest family history event in the world, sponsored by FamilySearch International, will take place Wednesday, Feb. 3, through Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Salt Palace Convention Center. As in years past, RootsTech will feature prominent keynote speakers, more than 200 classes for all ages and levels of family history skill, an expo hall, entertainment, and a day specifically designated for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with messages from LDS Church leaders. For those unable to attend, video streaming of some events and classes will be made available online at RootsTech.org.
The list of keynote speakers includes a variety of people with different experiences and backgrounds.
Ken Krogue, the founder of InsideSales.com and a former director of sales at FranklinCovey, will be the keynote speaker on Wednesday, Feb. 3.
Stephen T. Rockwood, the managing director of the LDS Church's Family History Department and president/CEO of FamilySearch International; Bruce Feiler, a popular columnist and best-selling author; and Paula Williams Madison, chairman and CEO of Madison Media Management and a former NBCUniversal executive, will speak Thursday, Feb. 4.
In her remarks, Madison will recount an experience in which she and other family members tracked her maternal grandfather from New York to Jamaica and back to his homeland in China, where they connected with around 300 other descendants. Her journey was first made into a documentary and later published as a memoir, "Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China."
"While searching for your family, don't give up. My brother was told he wouldn't find any information," said Madison, who recently helped a friend find her grandfather's birth certificate after the friend had scoured records for years. "And yet in 2012, I found an unbelievable amount of information, even in the time period he was told documents had been destroyed. New things are coming up all the time. Don't give up."
The lineup on Friday, Feb. 3, includes David Isay, an author, documentarian and founder of StoryCorps, as well as Josh and Naomi Davis. Naomi Davis, known by millions as "Taza," started a blog/digital diary in 2007 that has grown into a global business and is online at lovetaza.com.
Former Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, who served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and secretary of health and human services under President George W. Bush, and presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin will speak on Saturday, Feb. 6.
Leavitt, a native of Cedar City, said he will talk about his own family history and perhaps share experiences and lessons he has learned in public service. Growing up as the oldest of six children, Leavitt said he benefitted from a close association with both sets of grandparents. He was also inspired by reading the personal history of an ancestor named Sarah Sturtevant Leavitt.
"It was handwritten and told the story of her life in a simple and direct way. It spoke of her faith, the hardships she had faced and the gratitude she felt," Leavitt wrote in an email to the Deseret News. "It spoke to me in a very personal way, and now I’m in the process of writing a personal history I hope my children and grandchildren will find a fraction as inspiring."
About a year and a half ago, the New England Genealogical Society gave Goodwin an award that included her family's genealogy. While she knew her father was from Ireland, she knew very little about her mother's side of the family. Genealogists discovered that Goodwin's maternal ancestors came to America in the 1600s.
"That's means I'm a Puritan as well as an Irish-Catholic. It was just stunning," Goodwin said. "It was really fascinating. I'm going to talk about it."
LDS Family Discovery Day
In 2014 and 2015, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke at RootsTech on LDS Family Discovery Day and challenged LDS Church members to prepare names for temple ordinances and then to help someone else do the same.
A young woman named Mandy Phillips accepted the challenge and in the process reconnected with grandparents she'd lost contact with 20 years earlier.
This year, Elder Dale G. Renlund, one of the new members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, along with his wife, Sister Ruth Renlund, will be featured speakers on Saturday, Feb. 6, during the LDS Family Discovery Day, the last day of the conference. The Renlunds will be joined by Primary General President Rosemary M. Wixom and Brother Stephen W. Owen of the Young Men general presidency.
Sister Wendy W. Nelson, wife of President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Deseret Book CEO Sheri L. Dew, BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and Utah receiver Britain Covey will also speak at Family Discovery Day. Saturday's events will include a variety of classes and entertainment. Families can also engage in a number of interactive activities, such as creating visual family trees or recording stories.
Family Discovery Day is free for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ages 8 and older, and each person should register for the events at rootstech.org.
For those unable to attend Family Discovery Day in Salt Lake City, the LDS Church supports stakes, wards and communities around the world in hosting their own family history fairs at church and community facilities. These events are open to members and nonmembers. FamilySearch will give printed and taped content from RootsTech in 10 different languages to support these locally administrated events, said Paul Nauta, FamilySearch marketing manager.
"Last year there were 1,800 local fairs worldwide, and more than 225,000 people attended those events," Nauta said. "We want those numbers to continue to grow."
Events and activities
Caleb Chapman's Crescent Super Band, featuring Ryan Innes, will perform at a kickoff event on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 4.
The Innovator's summit on Wednesday, Feb. 3, is an event designed to help developers and entrepreneurs generate new business ideas and technology within the family history industry.
In addition to Wednesday's classes and activities, an Innovator Showdown with six finalists will take place on Friday, Feb. 5, with $100,000 awarded in cash and prizes. A panel of judges will take a Shark Tank/The Voice approach with live voting by a studio audience and online viewers.
A "Celebrate Your Heritage" night on Friday, Feb. 5, will feature performers, music and dancing from various world cultures.
Get me to RootsTech
Last year, an Australian teenager played his saxophone on the streets of Sydney to earn the money to attend RootsTech.
This year, Kenneth Green, an LDS family history missionary in Denver, is trying to raise the money for the conference through a gofundme.com fundraiser. As of Tuesday, he had collected more than half of his $350 goal.
"I love family history so much, but I am blocked when it comes to my father's side of the family," wrote Green. "I know that by going to RootsTech I will become a better missionary, a better family history consultant in my ward and I may find the keys to unlocking my family's genealogy."
For additional information or to register for RootsTech, visit rootstech.org.
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