SALT LAKE CITY — Patricia Heaton is one of the celebrity keynote speakers coming to Utah for RootsTech 2019, but the actress has a more personal reason for showing up at the largest genealogy conference in the world.
Heaton wants to know more about her family history. She recently submitted a DNA test — her second — to Ancestory.com because the first results left her a little confused.
"For years I've been telling everyone I'm Irish Catholic, grew up in Cleveland. But when I took the test, I was like 99 percent British," Heaton told the Deseret News in a telephone interview. "So I'm curious to see what else they find out about me and my family."
Heaton, an Emmy Award-winning actress most recognized for her motherly roles in family television shows "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "The Middle," is part of a lineup of keynote speakers and entertainers headlining the conference, scheduled for the week of Feb. 27-March 2 in the Salt Palace Convention Center.
People can still register for the conference by going to rootstech.org. The theme for the conference is "Connect.Belong."
The keynote lineup includes Saroo Brierley, author of his international best-selling autobiography, "A Long Way Home," and the subject of the 2016 film, "Lion"; Jake Shimabukuro, a ukulele musician and composer; and Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International.
Derek Hough, of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," and members of the BYU Ballroom Dance Team will also be featured in an event called "Connecting Through Music and Dance."
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, will speak to a Latter-day Saint audience on Saturday morning as part of Family Discovery Day.
As in past years, attendees can also wander through an expansive expo hall of vendors or attend more than 300 classes, breakout sessions and activities for individuals and families designed for different ages and levels of interest in family history. Some classes and events will be broadcast live through RootsTech.org.
RootsTech organizers also hope to increase customer service by providing more information desks and having "ask me" volunteers available to answer questions.
In addition to finding out more about her roots, Heaton is a big advocate of "belonging" to a big family. Her mother was one of 15 children and she often runs into people claiming to be a cousin. She won't be surprised if that happens at RootsTech, she said.
"I always love having that connection to family and this sense of pride. I think it’s important to feel like you belong to a family, to a tribe. It gives you a sense of place; it gives you a sense of history," Heaton said. "To know where your family comes from and what they’ve gone through for you (to be) here today somehow feeds your soul."
The conference will be a new experience for Shimabukuro, who admitted he's never been to anything like RootsTech. He's honored to be a keynote speaker and looks forward to connecting with people through his music, he said.
The ukulele virtuoso described family parties, or "family jam sessions," where there's no shortage of musical instruments and there's always a stage with a sound system. Shimabukuro hopes to reciprocate the fun feeling of bonding through music with those at RootsTech.
"I'm looking forward to the conference,"Shimabukuro said. "… Nothing brings people together like music: the bonding, the communication, the connection, the emotional stimulation. Enjoying music together — spending time together — is extremely powerful. There's something magical about it."
Because of the movie and his book, Brierley's story of becoming lost at age 5 in India, getting adopted and being raised in another country before finding his way back decades later is well-known. He hopes his story will resonate messages of hope, determination, identity and love of family, he said.
"I never thought anyone would take an interest in my story. I lived it, I've been though it, it just happened. I'm humbled and touched that people are taking a liking to the story and find it sort of enchanting," Brierley said. "I'm out here trying to help others with the knowledge I have and share it with the world. My book, my story in the movie, it's my gift to the world."
For more information on RootsTech, visit rootstech.org.