Wednesday, March 4, 2020


Another RootsTech conference is in the books. By the looks of it, I missed many great presentations and expos. Again. In fact, I've never attended RootsTech. I don't know when I will get to attend. Why? There are several reasons, and I have a hunch that they may apply to others as well. If the ubiquitous Twitter hashtag #NotAtRootsTech is any indication, many people don't attend but are interested in the event and would be there if they could. I believe this speaks to some issues with both the conference and with the genealogy community at large. If a few commentators I've read are really serious about getting more people involved in RootsTech, they should consider the following factors.

1. RootsTech is held at an inconvenient time. 

Late February/early March may not be the best time for this conference for multiple reasons. First, many students and younger professionals are busy with school and work. Often, younger professionals are parents of kids who are in the thick of attending classes. Even if you're not an educator (like I am) or another professional for whom February is a very busy month, chances are good that you're tied down somehow if your kids are still at home and you're not retired. In short, anyone directly involved with the school year or their professional industry events (where other travel and conferences that occur throughout the winter take precedence) is going to find it difficult to attend RootsTech without going to some very inconvenient lengths. Second, this time of year is right in the midst of cold and flu season. People are often more vulnerable to these sicknesses when they travel, and traveling from January to March coincides with when they're at their peak.

2. RootsTech is held at an inconvenient place.

I understand why RootsTech is held in Salt Lake City every year. There are sound logistical, commercial, and cultural reasons. But people who live in Utah, Arizona, California, etc. aren't the only ones who are interested in genealogy or this conference, and they disproportionately benefit from their perennial proximity to it. More than half of the country's residents live east of the Mississippi River. Even for many who don't, SLC is a remote location requiring extra time and dollars to reach. Many professional academic societies hold their annual conference in a different city throughout the continent every year. This makes it convenient for willing parties to attend at least once in a while. Perhaps RootsTech should consider a similar approach. (I know there is now a London RootsTech conference, but we could use more options on this side of the Atlantic, too.)

3. RootsTech may be cost-prohibitive. 

I've looked over the prices for the 2020 conference. I like how many package options there are, depending upon how much one wants to participate in the events. But the cost of substantial participation will seem considerable to many, especially if they also have to pay for airfare to far-flung SLC in addition to lodging and extra food. Certainly many younger people paying off houses, student loans, and other such necessities would find the total venture cost daunting. Maybe RootsTech should consider offering cheaper student rates. This would encourage more youthful participation and perhaps be a good investment in the future of the genealogy hobby. (I'm also not sure that the celebrity speakers justify their cost, but that's another matter.)

4. RootsTech strongly comes across like it's marketed toward seniors and industry insiders. 

For the reasons given above, RootsTech seems to communicate that the conference is primarily for: A. retired hobbyists with the time and resources to attend, and B. industry insiders whose livelihoods depend upon networking, working booths, and/or otherwise finding customers and business leads. I know that the conference has experienced remarkable growth, and that there are nice options for those who must tune in remotely. Also, I don't expect all of these ideas to go over well. But if there are very many people in my boat, or in boats like mine, I believe that the conference organizers stand to dramatically extend its reach and influence, not to mention those of its vendors, by taking some of these concerns to heart.


  1. I have to say that I agree with you on your first point. Until I retired from teaching in 2010, I couldn't go off to a hobby conference for almost a week, either. Even after I retired, it was another five years before I actually went to RootsTech. However, as for your other points, I have to disagree. Salt Lake City is a major airport hub so access to the city is very easy. It isn't any more difficult to get to than, say, Kansas City or Fort Wayne. Also, it is rare that FGS or NGS ventures much west of the Mississippi when they schedule their conferences. Having NGS in Salt Lake in May is an aberration. Almost everyone is going to have to travel a distance - and likely have to change planes at least one - no matter what conference they want to attend. For your third point - the cost - RootsTech doesn't seem to be any more costly to attend than other national conferences. Adding in the cost of paid lunches, banquets, etc. is optional and I keep my costs down by never attending those events. Lastly, your 4th point about attendees at RootsTech - if anything, the conference is drawing in more and more younger people. I didn't attend this year, but have gone for the previous five years, and have seen the average age seem to drop. Also, rather than being industry insiders, I've met many more people who are just beginning to research their family history. RootsTech is becoming less "techy" and more family history research oriented.

    1. Thanks for reading.

      1. Well, compare airfare from LA to SLC with airfare from Boston or even Houston to SLC. That's a big difference. And even driving 5-8 hours is not the same thing as flying or driving 12-15. All I'm saying is that people who live "back east" may find it nice to have the conference hosted closer to them once in a while.

      2. I agree that RT isn't more costly than many conferences, but again, why would you feel great about paying this cost unless you're a retiree or an industry professional? I still think there's a way to price things friendlier for younger casuals or those new to the hobby.

      3. I'd be interested to know how many hobbyists, as opposed to professionals, who attended RT live fairly close to SLC...or how many (because of cost) attend the conference once in a while as opposed to regularly.

    2. I live in Tucson, so airfare is expensive just about everywhere except to LA and changing planes two or three times is necessary to get anywhere in the east. I've felt the same way about FGS and NGS conferences almost always being held in the middle or eastern part of the country. My point is that everyone lives an inconvenient distance from one conference or another and since FGS (soon to be only NGS) and NGS don't come west of the Mississippi very often, I sit and drool and wish I could get to them.

      I have no idea about how many hobbyists live close to SLC, but I have met many who even came from Europe. I also have no idea how many attend RT once in a while, but that would probably also be true of the other conferences because of costs.

      All the conferences are expensive because venues have to be paid.

      For your #2 - I am a retiree - why would you think I would feel great about paying the high cost when I'm on a fixed income? I budget, plan ahead and try to keep my costs as low as possible.

      What I am trying to put across in this is that all conferences are expensive and unless an attendee has all the time and money in the world, we all have to pick and choose. Since FGS and NGS tend to favor the East, it is actually nice that RT is based in the West. That offers something for everyone.

  2. I'm in Canada so it's even more expensive for me. Plus, I'm still working full-time and while genealogy help is part of what I do at the library where I work, there's no way the library can afford to send me there for PD. I was lucky enough once to get to SLC for a different conference, but did spend half a day at the FHL.

    I guess there's no chance they would ever consider doing something north of the border where genealogy is also huge.

    I just have to keep hoping that I win a lottery so I can go to RootsTech London at some point (assuming it keeps going)...that way I could combine the conference with research and family visits.

  3. My first and only Rootstech was 2018. I can't afford it every year, but I hope to return. I understand all your points. I too worked in a school, so I could not go until I retired. And while your other points definitely have merit, just wait until you ARE able to go. It's fantastic! Perfect, no! Awesome yes! It's one of those trips where you save, plan, etc, travel inconveniently, learn alot, meet people and have a wonderful time.