3 takeaways from RootsTech Connect: ‘An experiment that worked’

RootsTech organizers weren’t quite sure how many participants to expect when they announced in September the annual conference would be an all-virtual, global event for the first time in its 10-year history. 

Earliest projections for RootsTech Connect 2021 estimated 40,000-50,000. After the first few days of signups, that number doubled. Soon 250,000 were registered. In the week prior to the conference, the number spiked to 500,000. 

As of Tuesday, March 2, a total of 1,117,000 from 242 countries and territories have participated in RootsTech Connect. 

With sessions from the Feb. 25-27 event available to watch on-demand throughout the year, “We expect there will be many, many more people [that] come in the months and weeks to follow,” said Elder Kevin S. Hamilton, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Family History Department. 

President Russell M. Nelson said during the April 2018 general conference, “Our message to the world is simple and sincere: we invite all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior, receive the blessings of the holy temple, have enduring joy and qualify for eternal life.”

Said Elder Hamilton: “I felt that as the driving motivation behind RootsTech. We’re trying to gather Israel on both sides of the veil — the living connecting to the living, the dead connecting to the living, the dead being gathered on their side of the veil. I just really felt that.”

Three days after the conclusion of the conference, Elder Hamilton — along with FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood and RootsTech event director Jen Allen — highlighted three key learnings and how they can apply to future RootsTech events moving forward. 

1. Connection is key 

RootsTech has always been a place for people to learn and participate in classes, Rockwood said, “but it’s also much, much more than that.” This year, it offered a sense of connection many were desperately searching for. 

“People just long to connect,” Elder Hamilton said. “It’s in our DNA, it’s just deep in our psyche. We want to be part of a family, we want to know where we come from, who we come with, and how we connect.”

This was evident in the overwhelming participation in “Relatives around Me,” which allowed them to see who of their living relatives were attending. 

3-day RootsTech Connect was simply the ‘ribbon cutting’ for what’s to come

Without the drive for connection, Allen said of the event, “I don’t know that it would have been quite as successful.”

“There was so much light in the world last week because people were joining this experience and learning, but also connecting with people all over the world,” she said. “Just shrinking that world a little bit is a powerful thing that came from this that we never, never would have imagined.”

2. Going global worked

In addition to the desire for connection, the three-day RootsTech Connect demonstrated that “global worked,” Elder Hamilton said. “It was actually an experiment that worked.”

RootsTech Connect was streamed in 11 official languages, with content in over 40 languages. 

Keynote speakers from all over the world will participate in RootsTech Connect in February 2021.
Keynote speakers from all over the world will participate in RootsTech Connect in February 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Hamilton said the goal from the beginning was to make RootsTech Connect a global conference localized to the needs and interests of various cultures — a big step forward from the traditional event in Salt Lake City, Utah.  

“It should feel like it’s your RootsTech conference in whatever country you live in. And we got part way there, we’re not 100% there. Next year, we’ll do better and in the years to come,” he said. 

Allen noted there are some technology improvements to be made with language support. 

In the chat feature, Rockwood said it was “heartwarming” and “a bit of a surprise” to find the community answering each other’s questions, rather than relying on FamilySearch volunteers. “It ended up being a community-hosted conference.”

3. There was something for everyone

Another takeaway from RootsTech Connect is what Allen described as “a model or feeling of inclusivity.” A few commented that “there was something for everybody.”

Elder Hamilton echoed a similar thought. “We had beginners. We had intermediate, advanced. We had industry. We had professionals. We had archivists,” he said. Because RootsTech Connect was so inclusive, “it had this really broad reach and appeal.”

14 messages from RootsTech Connect keynote speakers

Instead of hourlong classes, many of the presentations were 15-minute videos — “much more consumable for a vast learning audience,” Rockwood said. 

And now, most of that content can be found on YouTube.

Similar to videos on how to fix a car or a plumbing issue, Elder Hamilton said he sees a need for hundreds of thousands of user-generated videos about family history on YouTube that would answer questions in dozens of languages.

“We can’t possibly create that much internally, but our users can, and those that have expertise in this field can,” he said. “So this will be kind of the jumpstart to that, with 1,200 video classes that have been prepared, and we’ll add to that in the coming year and in the years to come.”

Information about RootsTech 2022 is forthcoming. To watch keynote speakers or browse sessions from RootsTech Connect 2021, visit RootsTech.org.