Alison Ensign | Feb 26, 2020

RootsTech 2020 Keynote: The Story of You

Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch, opened RootsTech 2020 by commemorating the first RootsTech just ten years ago. RootsTech started as an experiment in 2010. It came about with the collaboration of the National Genealogical Society, BYU, and FamilySearch. It is now the largest genealogy conference in the world, with thousands of attendees from across the globe. 

Rockwood then welcomed Jay Verkler, the CEO of FamilySearch when RootsTech started, onto the stage. Jay warmly reminded the conference that “we are here to celebrate you!” 

In the last ten years, genealogy has grown and flourished with the advancement of technology and the dedication of family historians. Some attendees have loyally attended RootsTech all ten years; others are gladly welcomed as newcomers to the experience.

Experience the Fruit of Your Tree

Rockwood affectionately referred to genealogists as tree farmers who “plant, nurture and meticulously care for family trees.” RootsTech started as a conference for tree ‘farmers’, but it has evolved into a ‘farmer’s market’ of sorts that includes “beginners, enthusiasts, home growers and Do it Yourselfers” who come to learn how to grow their own trees.

The true beauty is that everyone can experience the fruit of their tree—stories, photos, records, and relationships— and feel the peace, connection, and belonging that fruit brings.

Live Your Story

As Rockwood put it, “Family history is not just a journey into the past.” Rather, it’s a continuing story encompassing memories of the past, moments of today, and experiences of tomorrow. Rockwood continued, “We don’t just study family history, we live family history.”

Rockwood explained that this is why the theme for RootsTech this year is “The Story of You.” To help you build your family’s stories, he said, FamilySearch is digitizing and publishing historical records.

In your own home and the homes of your relatives, you have the tools to build. You have photos, stories, journals, trees, videos, DNA files, and even social media posts that represent your story.

Our lives are full of fleeting moments, such as Rockwood’s examples of the laugh of his grandson on video or his mother’s storytelling. Natural conversation and family connections are key ingredients to the future of genealogy.

Capture Your Story Naturally

As Rockwood reflected on how his sons turned to Instagram to share their 88-year-old grandmother’s stories, he noted that his sons effectively removed the technological barrier his mother faced. He said, “They do what is natural to them and they let grandma do what is natural to her.”

In his family, Instagram allowed the whole family to get involved. Even though his mom isn’t on Instagram, they open the app to show her the family’s comments. 

For his part in sharing his mom’s story, Rockwood has taken to FamilySearch Memories. He said that while platforms come and go, what really matters is that each person experience their family’s story every day and to “capture those moments in ways that are normal and natural to you.” 

Remember Stories at Risk

Rockwood expressed that FamilySearch is very aware of the fight against time to capture stories at risk, and they work every year to record the oral histories of indigenous tribes around the world. He went on to express the importance of capturing stories that are at risk all around us, including in our own homes.

Google’s 2020 Super Bowl ad illustrated the power of enabling someone to remember. Rockwood ended by inviting you to think about how you can help capture stories. He said, “Let’s together find more ways to capture the story of you and the story of those around you!”

Alison Ensign

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