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How 2 years of online events have helped shape the future of RootsTech

Family History Department executive director and FamilySearch CEO discuss lessons learned from the last two years and what RootsTech audiences can expect this year

The massive growth and success of the last two years have helped to create a new vision for the future of RootsTech.

Reaching millions in more than 240 countries and territories with a virtual-only model in 2021 and 2022 means RootsTech will continue to be, at its core, an online global event, said Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International.

“The pandemic solidified a long-term relevance and role for RootsTech, once it became global,” he said. “The key is to keep it relevant globally.”

There has also been a great demand to resume the in-person gathering in the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, featuring the live stage, a vast expo hall of sponsors, innovators and vendors, along with the opportunity to connect with others face to face.

Salt Lake City will continue to have some kind of RootsTech presence in the years to come, said Elder Kevin S. Hamilton, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

RootsTech attendees walk through the Salt Palace Convention Center
RootsTech attendees walk through the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 2, 2018. RootsTech 2023 will feature an in-person event again for the first time since 2020. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“I have missed the enthusiasm and the energy that comes when you gather a diverse group of people together into an on-premise event,” Elder Hamilton said. “It’s remarkable.”

RootsTech 2023, now only a week away, March 2-4, will provide both online and in-person options, and organizers are already looking for ways to enhance both experiences.

“Now the real learning is going to be how do you make sure and continue with the global reach of millions and millions of people joining us online while at the same time enhancing the excitement, the energy, the intimacy of the on-premise event, and to manage both,” Rockwood said. “One is not going to be done at the expense of the other, but they are both going to be able to be very, very successful. RootsTech is always where we learn new things.”

New RootsTech strategies

One key lesson RootsTech organizers learned during the last two years was the need to create relevant, localized content for participants in different areas of the world.

The first hurdle was providing multiple languages, but then organizers realized much more was needed. For people in São Paulo, RootsTech needed to feel like a Brazilian event; for people in Manila, like an event for the Philippines.

To help with that, RootsTech 2023 enlisted 15 “emcees” who will act like sideline reporters and represent countries and regions of the world. These emcees will speak their native languages as well as provide local content and a more familiar tone to the event originating from Utah.

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Why FamilySearch is incorporating localized ‘sideline reporters’ into RootsTech 2023

RootsTech.org will feature some localized, online-only keynote speakers.

“It was about getting it culturally correct and getting the content correct,” Elder Hamilton said. “Those are all kind of challenging things to do if you think about a global conference. But this is now our third go at it, and we are getting much better.”

The RootsTech.org website has also been adjusted to help navigation feel more localized.

FamilySearch is planning a free “After-Party” for young adults during RootsTech on Friday, March 3, 2023.
FamilySearch is planning a free “After-Party” for young adults during RootsTech on Friday, March 3, 2023. | Provided by FamilySearch

“Navigation is more like a streaming navigation that people are used to,” Rockwood said. “You will see some neat enhancements like that on the site itself for the virtual experience.”

Why the rising generation is unique

This year FamilySearch has organized a RootsTech “After-Party” for young adults at the Salt Palace on Friday, March 3, from 7 p.m. to midnight. Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Gong, will attend. The free event will feature live music, food and family discovery activities, with prizes ranging from DNA kits to a new laptop. Reserve a spot using eventbrite.com.

In 2011, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke in general conference about youth of the rising generation playing a key role in the work of salvation. Elder Bednar was among the first Church leaders to invite young people to engage in temple and family history work.

Elder David A. Bednar speaks in general conference.
Elder David A. Bednar speaks during the Sunday morning session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 181st Annual General Conference’ Sunday, April 3, 2011, in Salt Lake City. | Tom Smart, Deseret News

Outside of indexing and traditional family history, Elder Hamilton said, the Church had few resources to offer young people at that time. An app didn’t exist, and there were limited features on the FamilySearch website. Few youth were processing names to take the temple.

Since 2011, several Latter-day Saint prophets and apostles have spoken at RootsTech and promised many blessings to everyone who engages in temple and family history work, especially youth and young adults.

Last year the number of Latter-day Saint youth and young adults taking names to the temple was in the hundred of thousands, and Church leaders anticipate it will continue to grow, Elder Hamilton said.

“The youth, when they engage, feel the Spirit and a connection to families,” he said. “It also involves technology, and they are comfortable with that. ... So everything we do, RootsTech being part of that, is to try to bolster and enhance the engagement of our youth and young adults.”

Young men do family history work on a computer.
Young men do family history work on a computer. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

People are often concerned about the potential dangers and evils of today’s technology and social media. Elder Hamilton and Rockwood view it from another perspective.

“This is the first generation ever that has had their scriptures, the words of the prophets and their family history on their person, almost 24/7. If you think about that, that can’t be by accident or coincidence,” Elder Hamilton said. “The Lord is preparing and blessing them with the tools they need to succeed in the gathering and the work of salvation and exaltation. So it’s an interesting and complicated time, for sure. But it is also a very exciting time for the youth and the young adults, the rising generation. They are going to have a fabulous life. They are going to have great experiences.”

Rockwood connected the thought to a Book of Mormon scripture reference — 1 Nephi 5:21-22 — when Nephi and his brothers return from Jerusalem with the brass plates, which contained the scriptures, prophecies and their family history.

Elder Hamilton and his wife greet young people.
Elder Kevin S. Hamilton, General Authority Seventy, and his wife, Sister Claudia Hamilton, greet students following a BYU–Idaho devotional on March 12, 2019. Elder Hamilton is the executive director of the Church’s Family History Department. | Photograph by Cami Su

“And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children. Wherefore, it was wisdom in the Lord that we should carry them with us, as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise,” the scriptures read.

“This is the generation that can carry everything that was on the brass plates,” Rockwood said. “It’s a fabulous scripture manifesting what is happening with us today.”

Finding ‘Relatives at RootsTech’

As part of the in-person and virtual RootsTech 2023 event, anyone can download the free FamilySearch Tree app and use the “Relatives at RootsTech” feature to find and connect with living relatives worldwide.

Once the app is installed, the user opens it and clicks on the “Relatives at RootsTech” banner at the top of the screen. After opting in to the experience, a list of people related to the user will appear. Once identified, users can send a message to their relatives.

Larry Beardall and Laurie Beardall hold up “I am a Cousin” signs
Larry Beardall and Laurie Beardall hold up “I Am a Cousin” signs during A.J. Jacobs’ keynote speech at RootsTech in the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015. Anyone can download the FamilySearch Tree app and use the feature, “Relatives at RootsTech” to connect with relatives. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The fun global tool is only offered annually as part of RootsTech. It opened Feb. 17 and will be available until March 31. Learn more about Relatives at RootsTech at familysearch.org.

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Who is the official emcee of RootsTech 2023?

Kirby Heyborne, actor, songwriter, singer, comedian and narrator, has been announced as the official emcee for the in-person RootsTech 2023 event in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Heyborne will introduce keynote speakers, highlight classes and experiences throughout the three-day global family history gathering.

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Actor, comedian, narrator Kirby Heyborne announced as official emcee at RootsTech 2023

Who are the keynote speakers?

The following have been announced as keynote speakers for RootsTech 2023:

“Sam” (Sean Astin) and ‘Frodo” (Elijah Wood) begin their climb towards Mt. Doom.
“Sam” (Sean Astin) and ‘Frodo” (Elijah Wood) begin their climb towards Mt. Doom in New Line’s film, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” Astin will be a keynote speaker at RootsTech 2023. | Pierre Vinet, New Line Productions
  • Actor Sean Astin, known for his roles in “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Goonies,” “Rudy” and many other films, is scheduled to speak in a general session on Saturday, March 4.

Register for RootsTech at RootsTech.org.

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