7 messages from RootsTech 2022 keynote speakers: ‘Each of us can connect in our own way’

Choosing to connect can vary from researching family history to individual one-on-one interactions those connections made online, FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood said in the opening session of RootsTech 2022 on Thursday, March 3.

“Each one of us can connect in our own way. Choosing to connect is a powerful agent of change. Connections turn our sights from a divided world to one that is united,” he said. “As we choose to connect we will see the positive impact it has on our outlook in life.”

More than 1 million people from more than 225 countries and territories when the all-virtual family history celebration opened Thursday, March 3. The all-virtual, three-day family history celebration openedwith the introduction of the “Choose Connection” original theme song and video and invitations from Rockwood to reach out to others individually.

RootsTech 2022 includes seven international keynote speakers (see summaries of their presentations below) and more than 900 classes, plus a live Expo Hall. Popular features, such as Relatives at RootsTech, are back in the all-virtual format. Main sessions were streamed in 11 languages, with other sessions available in more than 30 languages.

Next year, RootsTech 2023 will be March 2-4, 2023. 

RootsTech 2022 isn’t quite over yet. The Relatives at RootsTech experience will be open through March 25 and the recorded sessions are available at RootsTech.org.  

FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood speaks during the opening session of RootsTech 2022 on Thursday, March 3, 2022.
FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood speaks during the opening session of RootsTech 2022 on Thursday, March 3, 2022. Credit: Screenshot from FamilySearch.org

“Reach out to that person and send him or her a text or give them a call or contact them on social media and bless their day today with simply a kind word or a simple ‘How are you?’” he invited.

Algorithms and artificial intelligence study a person’s online habits and work to customize what a person sees according to their interests. However, people still have a choice in what they click on.

“Can you imagine a social world where we all are choosing positive stories, stories of hope, trust and connection when we choose to scroll, like, comment and share?” he asked. “Little by little, we might all see the world differently.”

Artificial intelligence is helping to make strides in family history research, such as with handwriting recognition. 

He shared how soccer in Argentina, food from the Philippines and music from Ghana help connect people across cultures. 

“So as we see today is our chance to reshape the narrative being delivered. We each have the power to write our own narratives if we simply choose to,” he said. 

In addition to an opening welcome from Family Search CEO Steve Rockwood, keynote speakers are French-American baker Apollonia Poilâne, Palestinian comedian Maysoon Zayid, “Stranger Things” actor Matthew Modine, Argentine singer Diego Torres, Brazilian actress Thaís Pacholek, Food Network’s Molly Yeh and African boxing champion Azumah Nelson

Below are summaries from each speaker and each presentation is online at RootsTech.org.

Apollonia Poilâne: ‘The Magic of Bread-Making’

French-American baker Apollonia Poilâne speaks during her RootsTech 2022 presentation that was filmed with a live audience in Paris, France.
French-American baker Apollonia Poilâne speaks during her RootsTech 2022 presentation that was filmed with a live audience in Paris, France. Credit: Screenshot from FamilySearch.org

When Apollonia Poilâne was born, she was put in a bread basket, the third-generation bread maker said in her presentation recorded with a live audience in Paris, France, that also included a question-and-answer session and a presentation of some of her family history. It was part of the opening keynote session on Thursday, March 3.

Poilâne, who is French-American, was 16 when her mother suggested Poilâne do an apprenticeship at the bakery. And then, she learned how to use all five senses during the bread-making process. She was 18 when she became the CEO of the company after her parents died in an accident. She managed the bakery while she went to college in the United States. 

She realized that family is more than just those she was related to.

“What I realized was taking over the family business was possible not only because I had amazing colleagues, a team that my father had patiently crafted and worked with for many, many, many years, but also because they had friends,” she said of her and her younger sister working to keep the business. “What I came to realize in taking over the family business was that my family, my parents’ friends, and my friends were all that family.” 

Read more coverage of RootsTech Connect 2022

Maysoon Zayid: ‘Comedy, Disability & Embracing Our Differences’

Maysoon Zayid, a Palestian-American, comedian and disabilities advocate, speaks during a presentation for RootsTech 2022 that was shown on Thursday, March 3, 2022.
Maysoon Zayid, a Palestian-American, comedian and disabilities advocate, speaks during a presentation for RootsTech 2022 that was shown on Thursday, March 3, 2022. Credit: Screenshot from FamilySearch.org

Palestian American Maysoon Zayid took tap dancing and piano lessons as a young girl, and it helped with her disabilities due to her cerebral palsy. The New Jersey native, comedian and disability advocate shared experiences from her childhood during her RootsTech 2022 presentation on Thursday, March 3. 

When she was 12 years old, there was a convention, and her tap class got to “hang out with Broadway divas,” who taught them a number from “Phantom of the Opera.” When they were sitting in a circle sharing their dreams, Zayid shared hers of dancing. 

“She looked at me and she said, ‘Girl, you’re crippled, find another dream,’” Zayid recounted. 

“And I had always been aware that I was disabled. But I had never had anyone tell me I couldn’t do what I was doing. I was always doing what my sisters did, what my friends did, what my parents expected me to do. And I think of that moment often and think people don’t realize how connected we are. Because one person can change the entire course of another person’s life,” Zayid said. 

Zayid said it was during her summers of visiting her grandparents and other family members in Palestine that she learned about her heritage. With her cerebral palsy, she would sit with her grandmother and aunts as her sisters and cousins were off playing. 

“I didn’t know I was learning to be a storyteller from people who were just telling their stories,” she said. 

She studied theater and went on to pursue acting, but realized that people like her, who were visibly disabled, were not on TV. She then took a stand-up comedy class and continued to pursue comedy, in both English and Arabic. 

“My disability should have been isolating. The only reason it wasn’t isolating was because I was really blessed and lucky to have a community that supported me, that didn’t bully me, didn’t make fun of me and always included me.” 

Matthew Modine: ‘Acting and the Power of Connection’

Actor Matthew Modine speaks during a presentation for RootsTech 2022 that was shown on Thursday, March 3, 2022.
Actor Matthew Modine speaks during a presentation for RootsTech 2022 that was shown on Thursday, March 3, 2022. Credit: Screenshot from FamilySearch.org

“Stranger Things” actor Matthew Modine was living in New York working as a waiter when he was offered a role in the movie “Memphis Belle.”

“And I can’t believe it because I’m going to play the captain of the plane, which is what my uncle was,” he said during his RootsTech 2022 keynote presentation on Thursday, March 3. 

His uncle had flown 17 combat missions before being shot down in Belgium. Modine visited his uncle, who pulled his dress uniform out of the closet and had Modine try it on. 

“It fit like it was made for me,” Modine said. His uncle tells him to “wear it in the movie.”

Modine asked him if there was anything he could do to tip his hat or give a little wink to his uncle. 

“He said ‘Don’t do that.’ He said: ‘Do me a favor. When you put on that uniform, don’t disrespect it,” Modine said. And when Modine told that to the other actors it “changed the temperature of the behavior of each of the actors.”

“It’s the things that you do, the behavior that you have, that is going to have an impact on people’s lives. And every one of the actors in the film really shouldered that responsibility,” he said. 

He also shared the story of when he met his wife — he was a sous-chef at a restaurant ,and she had requested a dish to go that wasn’t going to work out as a to-go item — and how she gave him “that little push to be successful” in acting. 

Rockwood also joined Modine, sharing some of Modine’s family history from the 1600s, including ancestors who settled in what became New York City — not far from where Modine lives. 

Diego Torres: Finding deep connections in music  

Argentine singer Diego Torres performs during his RootsTech 2022 presentation on Friday, March 4, 2022.
Argentine singer Diego Torres performs during his RootsTech 2022 presentation on Friday, March 4, 2022. Credit: Screenshot from FamilySearch.org

Music can create a connection to an emotion or place, Argentine singer Diego Torres said during his RootsTech 2022 presentation on Friday, March 4. It was recorded with a live audience in Buenos Aires using a question-and-answer format conducted in Spanish. Torres also sang several of his songs, including “Color Esperanza” (or “Color of Hope”). 

“You associate something with a song and when you play that song … and it’ll take you right there. It’s like you’re living that moment again,” said Torres, who is the winner of Winner of three Latin Grammys and numerous Latin MTV music awards. “And so the connection is really deep.”

He also shared about his mother, Lolita Mariana, who was also a singer and sang in a variety of musical genres, which he has learned from her. 

He said his mother had the ability to turn the challenges of life into something good. 

As for his own challenges, he doesn’t see them going away. 

“I don’t know that I’ve overcome them, I think that insecurity and fears [are] things that all of us learn to live with now and they’re part of life,” Torres said.  

At the end of the presentation, a family historian shared with Torres some of his family history going back 15 generations to Juan de Garay, one of Argentina’s founders. Also, in researching Torres’ family history, the historian discovered that he and Torres were related. 

Thaís Pacholek: Creating a ‘cozy home’ 

Brazilian actress and model Thaís Pacholek with her 5-year-old son in a photo shown during her RootsTech 2022 presentation on Friday, March 4, 2022.
Brazilian actress and model Thaís Pacholek with her 5-year-old son in a photo shown during her RootsTech 2022 presentation on Friday, March 4, 2022. Credit: Screenshot from FamilySearch.org

What reminds Thaís Pacholek of her childhood is the feeling of a cozy home, the Brazilian actress and model shared in Portuguese during her RootsTech 2022 presentation on Friday, March 4. 

Her family didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but the feeling of a cozy home as they moved from apartment to apartment to a two-story townhouse was always there, she said. “As you enter the house, you feel welcome there.” 

When she moved to Rio de Janeiro as a young adult, she wanted that same feeling. And now that she’s married with a 5-year-old son, she wants to keep that welcoming feeling. 

“I want a home that is cozy,” she said.  

One of her first acting roles involved carrying a tray, tripping it and dropping it on one of the show’s main characters. And when they were filming, they called “cut” just as she was tripping and she struggled to keep her balance. But she got a “well done” from the crew. 

Her family has been very supportive of her in her career. 

“They cheer at every ‘tripping over’ of mine,” she said. “My family made me feel sure that this was the path I should follow. But without them I would not have the confidence to venture out.”

When she was 23, doctors found a malignant nodule on her thyroid and it required surgery. Her family’s help and supported her through that. 

“There was a very strong moment of overcoming a challenge for me. It was a challenge that could make you quit if you think too much about it,”  Pacholek said. 

And she wants to continue with creating a cozy home and connections with her family. 

“Good memories are created when you dedicate time to it,” she said. 

Molly Yeh: ‘Shaping Her Legacy Through Food’ 

Food Network's Molly Yeh during her RootsTech 2022 presentation on Saturday, March 5, 2022.
Food Network’s Molly Yeh during her RootsTech 2022 presentation on Saturday, March 5, 2022. Credit: Screenshot from FamilySearch.org

Molly Yeh’s main inspiration for the food she cooks is her family and her roots, the Food Network star of “Girl Meets Farm” and cookbook author said during her RootsTech 2022 presentation on Saturday, March 5. 

“My Jewish and Asian roots have influenced my life and my career in that they are my number one inspiration points for recipes that I create and for the flavors that I like to make because they’re the flavors and the recipes that I’m most comfortable with,” she said. 

When she had moved to New York for school and started “to discover how creatively satisfying creating food was,” she called her mother to ask for her hallah recipe — and the binder of Chinese and Jewish recipes her mother used. 

“I just started cooking through them and when I was cooking through them I was also creating fun variations,” she said. It was also the start of what she would put on her blog as she wanted to put a new twist on traditional recipes. 

Recently, she’s connected with her father and grandmother as she’s reached out about food her grandmother would make for her dad and his siblings. 

With her own family, where she lives on her husband’s family’s sugar beet farm on the Minnesota-North Dakota border, she wants them to have good memories associated with food. 

“The most significant role that I’ve taken on is being a mom and being a wife and just being a family member. And the way that I show my love and my care for them is that I love cooking for them and making the foods that they love,” said Yeh. She’s the mother of a toddler and had one on the way when the presentation was recorded. Her and husband Nick’s second child was born on Feb. 19

When she was recently making cookies with her older daughter, Bernie, and sprinkles were everywhere. 

“The counters were a little sticky and there were sprinkles on the floor. And she was literally taking handfuls of sprinkles and holding them up above her head and saying ‘It’s raining sprinkles,” Yeh said. “And that was hilarious and fun and I loved every minute of it.”

At the end of her presentation, she explored records of her grandparents, including when they immigrated to the United States from China. 

Samuel Azumah Nelson: ‘We are part of the global family

Former boxing champion Azumah Nelson films his keynote address for RootsTech 2022 in front of a small studio audience in Accra, Ghana, on Nov. 10, 2021.
Former boxing champion Azumah Nelson films his keynote address for RootsTech 2022 in front of a small studio audience in Accra, Ghana, on Nov. 10, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The first time Samuel Azumah Nelson was in a boxing match, he lost, the former World Boxing Council featherweight and super-featherweight champion shared during his RootsTech 2022 keynote presentation on Saturday, March 5. His presentation was filmed with a live audience in the National Theatre in Acrra, Ghana. 

“I didn’t land one punch,” he told the audience of his first match. 

He was 7 or 8 years old and saw a man who had small boxing shoes. When young Nelson volunteered to be in a match with another boy and the man told him to come to the boxing gym the next day. Nelson was convinced he would be the boy and could hardly sleep that night. 

After the loss, which was with his friends in the audience, he wondered what he could have done differently. He went back to the boxing gym the next day and learned how to be a little better – but was beaten again. He continued to go back to the gym and began to improve. 

“I told the coach I wanted to be a boxer,” Nelson said. From those beginnings, he won gold medals at the All-Africa Games and Commonwealth Games, three World Boxing Champion titles in two weight classes, and was crowned by the World Boxing Council as the greatest super-featherweight boxer of all time. During his career, Nelson fought a total of 47 fights and won 39.

As a child, Nelson was the oldest of six children and spent his childhood at Timber Market. Their family struggled financially, and he went to work at a young age to help support his family. His parents taught their children about God and pray and it “ is the most important gift I believe our parents give us.”  

“We were encouraged to love and care for one another,” said Nelson, who today is married and the father of six children.  

He encouraged listeners to learn about their family histories, connecting with family members. 

“It is very important for us to know that even with our different genealogies, we are part of the global family,” he said. “The world will be a beautiful place if we decide to make it. We are one people.”

Closing session: FamilySearch in Dubai

Jen Allen, director of events at FamilySearch, speaks from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, during the RootsTech 2022 closing session on Saturday, March 5, 2022.
Jen Allen, director of events at FamilySearch, speaks from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, during the RootsTech 2022 closing session on Saturday, March 5, 2022. Credit: Screenshot from FamilySearch.org

And during the closing session on Saturday, March 5, Jen Allen, director of events at FamilySearch, joined RootsTech live from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where FamilySearch representatives were participating in the World Expo 2020. 

“There’s over 190 countries that have come here and set up a pavilion or an experience for you to go through, walk through, and learn about their country, their innovations, their culture, heritage,  traditions,” Allen told Jonathan H. Wing, RootsTech manager, who was in Salt Lake City. “So you get to really have this immersive experience.” 

During their time in Dubai, FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood had a conversation with a sheik, who shared how many cultures can come together. 

“Our love of family history and heritage is universal,” Allen said. “And as we have met with many people here in Dubai, we have been impressed by so many great stories.”