Saturday, April 25, 2020

Genealogy Connections: RootsTech & DNA Day

Well, 2020 has certainly proven it'll be one for the books, hasn't it, y'all!?

As COVID-19 continues, social distancing has ironically become the thing that unites the world. For introverts, it's perhaps a welcome respite. For extroverts - like myself - it can be isolating, bleak, a forced exile from friends, family, and hugs. Yes, hugs - remember those?

But for genealogists, our time of forced separation is reminding us all what family history is really about - the people. Our ancestors were people: some saintly, others we might like to forget. As we connect to our ancestors, as we connect to their stories and find strength in their perseverance, we connect to the best in the human spirit.

Right before COVID-19 really hit the United States, I was fortunate to connect with some of my best genealogy friends and colleagues. And since today is also National DNA Day, what better day to hunker down and share with you my experience this year at RootsTech 2020!? So sit back, relax, and join me on a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah!

RootsTech Connections

This year - RootsTech 2020 - was my third time attending RootsTech. If my first conference in 2018 was a whirlwind, and my second year in 2019 was like a reunion, then my third year was certainly like a homecoming.

Over 32,000 people were in attendance, from 55 countries, and 49 states. That's a lot of people! Oh! And over 20,000 youth from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived for an event Wednesday night. How's that for connections?!

A lot of fun things happened this year. For starters, it was the 10th anniversary for RootsTech! And as part of our celebrations - with the theme "The Story of You" - I was interviewed for promotional materials. The first video from the interview was shown on the big screen at the end of the week! How cool is that!? [Check out the photo at the top of the page - and view the video here!]

There was a great lineup for speakers this year. Of our keynote speakers, I interviewed Leigh Anne Tuohy, David Hume Kennerly, and FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood. I also got to sit down with FamilySearch's Thom Reed to discuss new initiatives for the African American community.

I loved hearing the stories that each of our keynote speakers gave. I was particularly struck with just how much of history David Kennerly has experienced first hand as a photographer. From war to the Oval Office, he's seen it all.

But it wasn't all about celebrities and interviews. Behind the scenes are great folks like these fellow RootsTech Ambassadors who like me reported on classes, keynote addresses, and all the fun things RootsTech brought us each day.

I even got to see friends from RootsTech 2018 that I hadn't seen in two years! How fun is that?!

And then there's the many many family members spread out all over! It's always a pleasure hanging out with my cousin Margaret with Halifax County, Virginia connections from my Grandma Nora's side. 

I swear I wore different shirts, y'all! I guess I had a busy day of connections this one particular day...but here's a photo of me and a newfound Amonette cousin. Our shared ancestor was a French Huguenot descendant from Powhatan County, Virginia.

Somehow on top of attending a full schedule of classes, keynote addresses, and finding time to eat lunch each day...I even fit in time for two meetings! Here's a shot of us after planning an upcoming Greek genealogy conference! (Stay tuned for news on that!)

I even got to spend *some* time in the Expo Hall, which was filled with excellent vendors. Check out Daniel Earl's top picks from this year! For some great recaps on each day, you can read about Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at the RootsTech blog. And learn about the wonderful kindness that abounds at RootsTech as told by my friend Katherine Schober at SK Translations.


So what - you may be asking - is DNA Day? Celebrated every year on April 25th, National DNA Day commemorates two important days in the history of genetics: the discovery of the double helix (1953) and the completion of the Human Genome Project (2003).

For genealogists, the world of Genetic Genealogy is still a relatively new one. As science is discovering more about DNA, and the tech world is learning how to make DNA results affordable and accessible, the genealogy world is working to make discoveries relevant to family history research.

DNA testing (through autosomal DNA tests like those from AncestryDNA, 23andme, and MyHeritage) has made genealogy a more household word. More people than ever have been DNA tested, and are making discoveries with long-lost cousins and even reconnecting with closer family. Daily, I'm making new connections through DNA matches that help in working to break down brick walls in my research. None of this would be possible without the discoveries we celebrate today with DNA Day!

Tips to stay connected

Now that RootsTech 2020 has passed, and we're still confined to our homes, what can you do to stay connected?

Here are some ideas:

  • Watch videos from RootsTech. Some are free, others are part of the RoosTech Virtual Pass.
  • Connect with the genealogy community through Facebook or Twitter, and see if your local genealogy society has virtual meetings. See who's offering webinars during this time. Start listening to a genealogy podcast. I have several I listen to regularly!
  • Join the Virtual Genealogical Association - it's virtual - that means you get all the benefits at home!
  • Share stories with one another in your family. Here's a great video by Diahan Southard about the benefits of sharing your stories with the next generation. 
  • Check the message box through your genealogy service - whether it be Ancestry, 23andme, MyHeritage - and respond to those messages! Connect and share what you know!


Family history is all about connections. Though we might not be able to connect in all the same ways as we could before COVID-19, that doesn't mean we have to let that virus take all our joy! We can put to use some of what we've learned at conferences, from blogs, from podcasts. We can connect to our families within our homes and we can bridge the distance with others through phone calls, Zoom meetings, and FaceTime. 

But remember, y'all: If you’re struggling to find the energy to research, to study, to write...That. Is. Okay! You aren’t obligated to be on overdrive just because you’re home. Being in a pandemic isn’t exactly a cakewalk, y’all. Give yourself time to find joy in family history.

Have you made a new genealogy connection? If you're having a hard time getting any genealogy work done, how are you staying connected during this time?

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

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