A ‘Stranger Things’ actor, a music video and a boxing champion: RootsTech organizers give behind-the-scenes look at RootsTech 2022

As the world closed down in March 2020 during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers of RootsTech, the three-day global family history celebration, knew they would have to think differently about the 2021 event.

“It was a huge learning curve for us,” Jonathan H. Wing, RootsTech manager, said. “But what we didn’t anticipate was the global response that we would receive. … We planned for it, we hoped for it, but we never anticipated that over a million folks from over 240 countries around the world would be tuning in.”

RootsTech will be completely virtual again in 2022. March 3-5, participants will hear from international keynote speakers and have access to on-demand, livestream and interactive sessions where they can connect with one another, ask questions and learn from experts.

During the planning of RootsTech 2022, Jen Allen, director of events at FamilySearch, set out to overcome the challenge of creating energy for the participants. 

“When everyone’s just sitting at home in their living room with their slippers on, you can’t see them, we’re not in the same room cheering for each other. So, one of our biggest goals coming out of 2021 was to increase the energy, and a lot of that was done through the production value,” Allen said in this week’s Church News podcast.

This year, the keynote speakers will be presented in a “documentary-style piece.”

“We’re there in their home, in their space, getting to know them and hearing their message about family and connection,” Wing said. ”When they’re surrounded by all the stories, and the memories that influence them, it just creates a different environment for them.”

Matthew Modine, a RootsTech 2022 keynote speaker and actor from the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” was filmed in a small studio in New York. As he shared his story of growing up in Utah and California and pursuing an acting career in New York, “what he didn’t know is that his ties to New York go way back, and in an incredible way. … He got emotional as he discovered these stories from his own family history,” Wing said.

Jen Allen, middle, director of events at FamilySearch, and Jonathan H. Wing, left, RootsTech manager, are pictured at RootsTech Connect in February 2021.
Jen Allen, middle, director of events at FamilySearch, and Jonathan H. Wing, left, RootsTech manager, are pictured at RootsTech Connect in February 2021. Credit: Provided by Jen Allen

After the first virtual RootsTech conference in 2021, the First Presidency told the RootsTech organizers that the event brings light and joy to the world that “can’t be felt in other ways,” and gave a challenge to help the rising generation.

“So with those two things, specifically … we came up with (the theme) ‘Choose Connection,’ which is a really positive message full of light,” Allen said. “One of our biggest goals with that is to take that message to where they are.”

The RootsTech team wrote and produced a song centered on the theme to take the message in a way that resonates with the younger generation, and filmed an accompanying music video.

“It’s really just a way to creatively introduce this theme of choosing connection, and then allowing that to just permeate all of the messaging that people will hear throughout the conference,” Wing explained.

Church News podcast: RootsTech 2022 organizers on what it means to ‘Choose Connection’ in a divided world

Another new aspect of RootsTech 2022 is the small studio audience present during the advance filming of the keynote speakers in locations such as Paris, France; Accra, Ghana; and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

To participate in the studio audience in Ghana where the keynote speaker Azumah Nelson, former World Boxing Council featherweight and super-featherweight champion was filmed, individuals had to stay up late to watch him box and represent the country.

“To see the respect and admiration that the people in that small audience had for him and his story was so touching,” Wing recalled. “His story was fantastic, and having that energy of that room, even though it was a small audience.”

RootsTech 2022 will be held online March 3–5, 2022.
RootsTech 2022 will be held online March 3–5, 2022. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares, who are the keynote speakers of RootsTech Family Discovery Day, filmed part of their message in their homeland, Brazil. As they visited significant locations and shared their stories, “sparks flew,” according to Allen.

“It’s where they fell in love. It’s so cute to see their stories come to life,” she said.

Elder Soares also visited the school he attended as a young boy.

“As tears are free-flowing, as he’s remembering his childhood and the impact that all of those memories and experiences had on him to help him be who he is today — just an incredible example of that moment of connecting with your past and helping you see that sense of belonging throughout the course of your life,” Allen said.

The theme of “Choose Connection” also extends beyond connection to one’s past and to connection with other people “who are seemingly different, and learning more about their culture and heritage helps us, universally, feel more connected as well, and so we’ve got some great entertainment on the main stage that I’m excited to share,” Wing said.

The evolution of RootsTech is further evidence of the acceleration of Lord’s work.

“I know even more now than I did before that, first and foremost, the Lord is in charge,” Wing said.