The big picture of how London is the gateway for RootsTech’s global reach

LONDON — Beyond thousands of attendees, nearly 200 vendors and exhibitors, and more than 100 classes and workshops, one of the key purposes of RootsTech London deals with records — vital information, including names, life events, dates and places, and collecting, documenting, storing, preserving and sharing those records. 

Without records, there is no theme of “connect and belong” at the three-day RootsTech London, the first FamilySearch-hosted technology and family history convention held outside of Salt Lake City and the United States.

On Thursday RootsTech London hosted ambassadors of various nations, archivists, records keepers and government officials. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its FamilySearch — along with directors of organizations partnering in the access of records — provided tours of RootsTech exhibition and class areas and concluded with a VIP reception and dinner.

“We simply explained why we do what we do,” said Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “and that despite different races, languages, and cultures, we are all brothers and sisters, and sharing that linkage is very powerful.”

Guests are photographed in the VIP section of the RootsTech London exhibition hall during tours for ambassadors and records custodians on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, in London, Great Britain.
Guests are photographed in the VIP section of the RootsTech London exhibition hall during tours for ambassadors and records custodians on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, in London, Great Britain. Credit: Scott Taylor

That requires partnerships — family history entities partnering with the records custodians to make data available, collectable and storable. “You can’t accomplish this work alone,” he said, underscoring FamilySearch’s purpose “to create the family tree of humankind and make it available to everyone.”

Joining Elder Bednar in hosting on behalf of the Church in Thursday’s gatherings were FamilySearch CEO Stephen T. Rockwood; Elder Kevin S. Hamilton, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Church’s Family History Department; and Elder Erich W. Kopischke, a General Authority Seventy and counselor in the Europe Area presidency. Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles joined them for the Thursday evening dinner and reception.

On Saturday, Oct. 26, Elder Bednar and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, will host member events that afternoon and evening at the London ExCel Convention Center. RootsTech London is expected to reach attendance totals of 10,000.  Many people attend RootsTech to take advantage of the free resources and access enabling them to discover, gather and connect family relationships.

As of last month,  7.21 billion searchable names are available via FamilySearch.org’s historical records as well as 1.4 billion digital images and 4.84 billion searchable records.

“Despite different races, languages, and cultures, we are all brothers and sisters, and sharing that linkage is very powerful.”

Acknowledging RootsTech London as “a tremendous chance to advance family history work,” Elder Bednar said, “A noteworthy thing about being in the United Kingdom and in Europe is that Europe and the Middle East began civil-record keeping.”

To underscore the importance of involving record keepers, Rockwood unfolded the development of RootsTech — first bringing “the technologists and the genealogists together,” followed by the enthusiasts, the curious and then the youths, children and millennials. The latter groups brings life and vitality to both the annual event and family history efforts.

“We thought a few years ago: ‘Who’s still not at the table? The archivists’ — so we started to invite them,’ he said. “There are many here, and they’re curious to see if there’s a way they can service not just the people of their countries, but the diaspora of their countries. FamilySearch and all the other players here at RootsTech can help them with that.”

While some archivists and records overseers have attended events in Salt Lake City over the years, the current RootsTech London delivers a similar opportunity to others who weren’t able to travel to Utah because of distance, time or cost, Elder Hamilton said.

Credit: Scott Taylor

“We can bring them to RootsTech, and all of a sudden, we’re established, we’re credentialed as a player,” he said, adding that when the ambassadors and record-keepers walk through the exhibition area, see family history in action and note the interest it draws, “the light bulbs go on.” 

Rockwood emphasized the on-site benefits with such RootsTech visits: “They’re seeing this, they’re experiencing this firsthand. And they want their people to understand where their family comes from, so they especially want their government to feel what’s here. 

“So London has a very key role in opening up the rest of the world — for us, our partners and all the others who are here.”

Some archivists and record custodians may be hesitant to align with a specific church or religion when making their records available, so FamilySearch and the Church can help facilitate access through a public partner. Others may opt to avoid a public approach and instead provide access through the Church.

“We don’t need to own all the records, we just need access,” said Elder Hamilton of the benefits of FamilySearch’s partnership relationships. “We’re trying to bring together all of our Heavenly Father’s children — and all means all.”

Attendees confer with staff at the FamilySearch booth in the RootsTech London exhibition area at London ExCel convention center on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019.
Attendees confer with staff at the FamilySearch booth in the RootsTech London exhibition area at London ExCel convention center on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Credit: Scott Taylor

London then becomes a gateway not just for RootsTech’s global expansion but also for increased records access worldwide.

“London will be our gateway to Asia, our gateway to the Middle East and our gateway to Africa,” Rockwood said.

“This is all exciting,” he said, gesturing in sweeping fashion across the exhibition hall toward the nearly 200 vendors and exhibitors interacting with RootsTech attendees in group sessions and one-on-one huddles. “But there are tremendous relationships being built in some of the conference rooms around here as well.

“We’re just so humble that archivists and other records custodians — government officials, church officials, clan officials, tribal leaders — are gaining interest, and RootsTech gives us that one central place to bring them all together.”

Elder Hamilton said statisticians estimate some 100 billion people have lived on earth since the time of Adam. “Our goal is to identify them — all of Heavenly Father’s family,” he said. “There will be some identified now and some later — in the millennium — but we’re going to try to do all that we can now.”

Elder Bednar explained that to most people, compiling a family tree of humankind that spans all time and all distance seems like an impossible task. But it will be done, he said, speaking at Thursday night’s dinner, “one by one, one family at a time” and be made available to everyone free of charge.

“We are not impractical, but we are audacious,” he said to the more than 100 dignitaries, family history leaders and records keepers. “Together with the Lord’s help, we will accomplish something that one would think cannot be done.”