RootsTech – Oh, The Things I Learned

Last year, I came away from RootsTech with my eyes alight about all things DNA, especially clustering. This year, the DNA offerings seemed mostly to be tweaks on the stuff we learned about last year, but I learned a lot from different methodology classes.

A great visual display of genetics using jellybeans.  Brilliant and yummy.
JellyGenes on the Expo Floor, with a tangible demonstration of how genetic inheritance works using jelly beans. Photo by Nicole Sparks, 2020.

Lisa Lisson offered up a lot of great sources to scour for photos of your ancestors. My big takeaway was that you should ask repeatedly because people’s recollections of whether they have pictures and documents are inclined to be flawed. Thomas McEntee (a fellow BU-grad and collector of ribbons) gave tips to quickly get up to speed in an area of genealogy you’ve never explored. His sessions are always fun; if you have not heard him speak, I know he has several recordings over at Family Tree Webinars.

The Imperfect Genealogist, I am delighted to report, uses a research log process very much like mine, in Evernote. Dan Earl shared a lot of great ways to leverage networks (both on- and off-line) to help with your genealogy, including the fact that there are still RootsWeb mailing lists if you know where to look (!!!). Unfortunately, in the time between February 29th and now, they have been taken down, and a new message has appeared. Ugh!

Beginning March 2nd, 2020 the Mailing Lists functionality on RootsWeb will be discontinued. Users will no longer be able to send outgoing emails or accept incoming emails.  Additionally, administration tools will no longer be available to list administrators and mailing lists will be put into an archival state.  Administrators may save the emails in their list prior to March 2nd. After that, mailing list archives will remain available and searchable on RootsWeb, archived 10 March 2020

After hearing her speak about third party DNA tools on Wednesday, I stood in line to meet Roberta Estes of DNA Explained, whose blog I’ve read regularly for a while now. She alternates commentary on the newest tools for DNA testers with moving explorations of the lives of her ancestors. I continued to run into over the course of the week, and she always had on incredible rainbow-coloured outfits.

Roberta also set up a meeting with DNA Toolmakers in a corner of the (very loud) Expo Hall. It was fascinating to hear Jonny Perl and Rob Warthen talk informally about DNA Painter and DNAGedcom. I wish the questions had been less specific and more about what direction they hope to take the tools in, whether they are likely to sell them to one of the big companies (like Genetic Affairs did), and how the general public can help out. I did ask and Jonny does DNA Painter full time (so jealous!) and Rob does DNAGedcom full time, but has a part time job as well to allow him to hire another programmer.

Worst selfie ever (l-r) Jennifer Utley, Nicole Sparks
horrible selfie by Nicole Sparks, 2020

One of my favourite sessions this year was with Jenn Utley (whose work I’m familiar with from Who Do You Think You Are and Long Lost Family), talking about behind the scenes of genealogical TV shows. She showed us a lot of clips I can’t really tell you about, but one thing she said really stuck with me: that we all have stories in our trees.

I’d always wondered if they only selected celebrities who had interesting tales in their families, but Jenn swears they’ve never had any trouble finding a good story to tell in their genealogy. Oh, and the guests on both shows find out the information as it’s revealed on camera, so their reactions are legit. I got a photo with Jenn to share with my daughter (we watch Long Lost Family together).