Back to Brick Walls

Back to Salt Lake City to work on family history research and to attend the RootsTech convention. The brick wall in genealogy is symbolic of those points in research where you can’t seem to break through to the next level of ancestor, there’s no documentation, etc. We’re hopeful the resources of the LDS Family History Library will help. That’s tomorrow.

After arriving today, we decided to trek out to Ruth’s Diner, about 20 minutes out of town. Ruth’s is a diner in what was a former dining railcar. How they got it up into the mountains in 1949 is a mystery to me.

A couple of days in the Family History Library (5 stories of research resources). A few other people here as well. While on the way for a lunch break, we passed through Temple Square.

On Wednesday, the RootsTech sessions in the Salt Palace Convention Center begin. It’s huge and will add some steps to my walking challenge. 515,000 sq ft of exhibit space, 164,000 sq ft of meeting space. As large as it is, it’s less than one quarter the size of Chicago’s McCormick Place.

To get to my first event you have to pass this ferocious dinosaur.

The conference has gradually improved their app and social aspects. Though a separate app from RootsTech, the Family Search app has a section where you can see other RootsTech attendees who are (supposedly) related to you. Clicking on any one person, it builds out a tree of ancestors back to your MRCA. Pretty neat. You can even send a message to that person about the relationship.

My wife found a fifth cousin once removed. Viewing the tree, she could see the MRCA and arranged for a meetup. The cautionary side to the matching is that matching is based on family trees at FamilySearch.org that others have created which (naturally) depends on that person’s decision to include an ancestor in their tree. You don’t know whether that ancestor is correct (Frankentree – a tree made up of relationships that look good, but may not be well researched or validated ).

Family history research has become a land grab of information resources, with the principals including FamilySearch.org (through LDS), Ancestry.com MyHeritage and other less well known or specialized players like FindMyPast , Irish Genealogy . Each is racing to gather (or buy) information assists, whether it be the family tree information you contribute by building a public tree on their site, buying assets like newspapers.com (historical papers), Fold3, City directories, obituaries, linking to other services like DNA testing, even acquiring sites dedicated to cataloging burials ( FindaGrave, BillionGraves.com)

These services are building a critical mass of billions of records (Ancestry alone has 20 billion) to attract even more users who are now increasingly likely to find “matches”. These services are (mostly) closed ecosystems that do not directly connect or link to each other, though there are means of extracting information from one to upload to another, but unless you belong to several/many of them, you only connect to others in the same ecosystem.

DNA is a relatively new and rapidly changing tool to supplement the basic research you might do with any of the online services. By itself, DNA testing probably can’t tell you exactly how you’re related to someone else, only that you are. Your task is to find the MRCA between you and your DNA match. Consumer level DNA testing services like AncestryDNA, 23andMe, FTDNA and others (some specialized). Again though, the companies use different versions of the chip, may test for different aspects (medical, geolocation,etc) , and different types of tests (autosomal, Y, Big-Y, mitochondrial, etc) at varying levels (depending on how much you want to pay). And, the tests aren’t directly compatible. But, true to form, there are ways to exchange data from different testing services: GEDMatch , DNA Painter and I’m sure, many others. DNA tests have increasingly been used to solve crimes. TV Shows like Finding Your Roots, Who Do You Think You Are also use DNA tests to tell the story of the celebrities they feature.

As you might expect, DNA testing and sessions about DNA have become a big topic at conferences like this.

Off to the main event today. No idea how many people are here.

On Friday, Derek Hough of Dancing With The Stars fame made an appearance on the main stage. Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond, Malcolm in the Middle) appeared on stage yesterday to talk about the role of family in her life.

Thanks to Peter Krogh who gave two fantastic presentations on using photography to manage your photos, like scanning photos with your digital camera and adding metadata to your photos with Adobe’s Lightroom.

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