What I did last week.
Last week I attended RootsTech, a conference that was originally for genealogy technology developers, but has become one of the larger gatherings of genealogists generally. I had a lovely time, but limited internet access, hence the dearth of posts last week.
First let me say that this was the first conference I’ve been to where I engaged in more networking than session hopping. Partly that was because most of the talks were about storytelling or basic research techniques, while I was there for the technology instead. Partly it was because I spent so much time manning the FHISO booth. And partly it was because I had so many online friends to meet who had their own friends to introduce to me.
Of the talks I did attend, the most interesting was Joe Martel’s talk on the Genealogical Workflow Model. This model is the outcome of observing and interviewing many genealogists and family historians to see what each actually does. It is thus distinct from models that describe how genealogy ought to be done such as the Genealogy Research Process Map. There was nothing surprising in the presentation but it was good to have many issues discussed together.
It was also nice to hear that GEDCOMX is nearing a 1.0 beta release. Right at the beginning of Ryan Heaton’s very good talk on the topic he mentioned the main reason I don’t think GEDCOMX will be the future: it assumes the existence of a single conclusion at all times, which doesn’t match my understanding of research at all. But it looks to be a well-designed specification and I am hopeful it will help smooth things over for the next few years.
I became seriously involved with the Family History Information Standards Organisation (FHISO) only a month ago, but have taken an active role for all my newness to it. Being talkative both by nature and by training, I spent a lot of time at the FHISO booth on the vendor floor helping people understand why FHISO matters and why it might succeed. In large part, the reactions were very positive, particularly from genealogists; almost everyone I talked to said something along the lines of “that’s exactly what we need; I hope you succeed.” Given there were at least five dozen vendors in the room each with a tool they at least believe outperforms all others in some particular, the need to have a way for the tools to work together without data loss is huge. FHISO spent the last year getting buy-in from most of the major genealogical software companies and is just starting the technical conversation. We’ll see how things unfold.
I also got to meet many marvelous people—and I used the word advisedly, I marvel at what many of them are and do. This included many of the big names in genealogy, but I personally got more enjoyment out of powwowing with fellow RootsDevers. Justin York and I in particular had multiple deep and interesting discussions. I was happily surprised at the many people who were willing to discuss depths of research and technology that I had given little mind before as well as some who were willing to humor my particular interests. Amidst the swarms of developers trying to keep up with customer demands, it was nice to find many people willing to entertain the kind of deep thinking that will help keep the community moving toward better ends.
Finally, I must say something about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I had heard them perform before, with deep appreciation, but this was the first time I heard them in the Tabernacle itself. I can honestly say the two performances I attended while at rootstech easily surpassed every other choral performance I have heard even though the arrangements and selections were not themselves noteworthy. The organ, the choir, and the acoustics of the hall made for breathtaking experiences. That is the kind of sound that no recording can even dream of approaching for it surrounds and embraces the whole body.