Globalizing RootsTech has long been an aspiration for FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood and those he works with. In their minds, it was a “multiyear process,” he said.
For example, RootsTech took its first international step in October 2019 with a three-day event in London. Throughout its 10-year history, RootsTech hosted visitors from several countries at its typical location in the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City.
But thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, that aspiration has quickly become a reality as the world’s largest family history celebration will truly be a global event Feb. 25-27.
For the first time, RootsTech will be completely virtual and entirely free. As of Feb. 16, 315,000 people from 224 countries and territories had registered for RootsTech Connect — 89% of whom will be participating in a RootsTech event for the first time.
“When the pandemic came, it was such a unique opportunity with this incredible restraint that we could not gather physically,” Rockwood said in a recent Church News interview.
“What we’ve always aspired to do we can now do by putting this online, increasing the accessibility of it and also the convenience of it, so that many more people can be blessed around the world.”
The primary objectives of RootsTech Connect, Rockwood said, are to create opportunities for participants to “learn by doing” and to provide meaningful connections “where the Holy Ghost can testify of the divine nature of the family.”
Family history is not just a Latter-day Saint pastime — it has become an international phenomenon, added Elder Kevin S. Hamilton, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Family His tory Department.
Church News podcast: An inside look at RootsTech Connect 2021 with Elder Hamilton and Steve Rockwood
“There’s a feeling that comes as you find your ancestors and as you connect with them. … It crosses across every demographic, every religion, every ethnicity, every language,” Elder Hamilton said. “And it’s our privilege to be able to help and to service that and participate in that growth as people around the globe feel the drive to connect. …
“We invite everyone to come to RootsTech.”
Creating a global event
Usually in mid-February, RootsTech event director Jen Allen is making final preparations to accommodate 30,000 attendees at the Salt Palace. But instead of planning where booths and chairs should go, all of the logistical planning this year is on a website — a website being built from scratch.
The RootsTech Connect website will include navigation in 11 languages and feature a 24-hour “center stage,” with keynote addresses airing in various languages and time zones. More than 1,100 classes will be offered in 40 languages, taught by local presenters on area-specific topics, Allen said.
Participants can browse the classes and create their own playlists of videos or use the Guide Me section to follow a journey-based experience of classes. The Discovery section will feature three- to five-minute videos of travel, food, heritage, traditions, dance and culture from around the world.
The traditional expo hall experience will also be online, with more than 90 virtual booths. “You’ll be able to jump into that booth and chat live with experts from that company,” in addition to watching demos, downloading flyers and resources, and purchasing products, Allen said.
By using the website’s Connect feature, attendees will also be able to chat with speakers, presenters and other attendees. The hundreds of RootsTech volunteers usually wearing “Ask me anything” T-shirts will be moderating the “Ask me anything” chat, Allen said.
“That chat feature is really going to be, I think, the magic of the event,” she added.
Allen encouraged participants to sign up for Relatives at RootsTech to connect to the FamilySearch Family Tree and find out how they are related to other RootsTech attendees. In years past, this feature applied only to the small radius around the Salt Palace, but now “you might find a cousin in Norway or Ireland or Argentina, depending on where your relatives live.”
While some features, like Relatives at RootsTech, will only be available during the live event, Allen said, “the classes and the keynote sessions will be available all year long.
“Really, what we’re creating here is a learning library for people to come back over and over — and it’s free.”
Latter-day Saint-specific events
Though RootsTech is an event for the general public, a few events are designed specifically for Latter-day Saints and their families.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, will be the featured speakers at Family Discovery Day on Saturday, Feb. 27, at noon MST. In the prerecorded segment, Elder and Sister Holland visit their hometown of St. George, Utah, with their family.
Youth and young adults ages 11-35, including married couples, are invited to participate in “Our Quest for Connection” through a series of 10 challenges during the three-day event. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund will be featured in a wrap-up event on Feb. 27 1 p.m. MST.
Also during RootsTech Connect, Elder David A. Bednar, Elder Gary E. Stevenson and Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will host training on temple and family history work for Latter-day Saint leaders. On-demand viewing will be available anytime beginning Thursday, Feb. 25.
This leadership training will begin with a panel discussion with youth from six countries, Elder Hamilton said, followed by a series of virtual visits of General Authorities and general officers with families and ward councils around the world.
Five of the 13 keynote speakers are members of the Church: Astrid Tuminez, president of Utah Valley University; Bless4, chorus and dance group from Japan; Tita, acclaimed Brazilian soccer player; Will Hopoate, professional rugby league player from Australia; and Bruna Benites, an Olympic soccer player from Brazil.
Impact on future events
The virtual platform will be a “game changer” for future RootsTech events, Allen said. “I would say there’s no way we can take this away from the world, now that we’ve learned all that we need to learn. And we’ll be able to do it so much better next year, knowing what we’ve learned.”
Elder Hamilton said planning for RootsTech Connect while adapting to the pandemic has broadened his vision of FamilySearch’s audience and mandate to “build the family tree of humanity.”
“If I look back a year ago, and compare it to now, I just have a much, much more expansive view of the world and of who we’re trying to service and who we’re trying to address,” Elder Hamilton said.
Compared to the 7.8 billion people in the world, Latter-day Saints are a “small sliver” of the population, he said: “So I think increasingly, we have to think of a much broader, much more worldwide, much more of a global vision of who is engaged in this work. … And we are thrilled to share our resources.”
“We don’t do this by ourselves,” Rockwood added. Throughout this year, “we’ve also seen the critical importance of our partners in the industry.” Whether they are archives, genealogical societies or commercial providers, “we are there to help them to be wildly successful.”
Rockwood continued: “All of these resources are part of the ‘bishop’s storehouse,’ if you will. And we just have this unique, nonprofit, noncompetitive position to bring them all together, whether it’s RootsTech or all together for you on a day-to-day basis. …
“You’ll see us do even more in inspiring all of the different individuals and organizations to currently participate in the gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil, no matter what their background or faith is.”
Learn more about RootsTech Connect and sign up for the free event at RootsTech.org.