How did you see the 2023 theme Uniting at RootsTech 2023? Your answer probably depends on the way you experienced the conference—in-person or virtually.
Uniting through Reunion
For those of us who go to Salt Lake City from all over the globe to attend RootsTech annually—at least before COVID-19 struck—uniting meant something unique this year.
Though not all the “regulars” (vendors, society reps, presenters, and influencers) were back, RootsTech 2023 was definitely a reunion of friends and colleagues. Last time we were all together, we went home and watched the world shut down.
Genealogy is a small world, which made the people who weren’t there very conspicuous by their absence. A couple of deaths hit the community hard. Not everyone was able to travel.
That gave a little edge to time spent together. Fewer mundane “What’s new?” questions and a lot more “How are things with you? Your family?” People cherished the moments. Affirmed their relationships.
You can see it in the photos. RootsTech has never been a “stuffy” genealogy conference, but you can see there was an exuberance to this year’s conference.
A group of “GeneaBloggers” (bloggers, podcasters, vloggers, and tik-tokers) at the expo halls Central Park, Photo credit: Carly Lane Morgen.
How FamilySearch, RootsTech’s Sponsor, Envisions Uniting at RootsTech 2023
In his message to the influencers Wednesday night, CEO Steve Rockwood stressed how family history is the antithetical (in a good way) of all the divisiveness we see in the world today. By connecting with others, we’re uniting people. By addressing universal needs to connect, family history has the power to connect.
It’s a purpose he hopes to empower us with.
In his keynote on Thursday, Rockwood asked people who play different roles in the Genealogy industry to stand up with their phone lights on. When everyone in the hall (a few thousand people, I’m guessing) stood, lights shining, he said,
“Everyone matters and everyone can contribute. Each contribution comes together to create one light and we can light the whole world and unite families past, present, future.”
The keynote speakers touched on the themes of uniting and family in different ways. Interestingly, they also addressed some issues that have been a long time in coming out from under the rug.
Jordin Sparks, who performed four songs, also spoke of how her family grounded her. How their support helped her make good decisions in the face of sudden international fame. (View her interview and performance.)
Photographer and inspirational speaker Me Ra Koh shared a moving story of hitting absolute rock bottom in life—a point of feeling zero self-worth and where family meant anything but love and safety. Her well-worth-watching message was about using the shadows to accentuate the light in your life.
In Saturday’s keynote, Sean Astin also invoked the metaphor of shadows in life. In Samwise Gamgee’s voice, he quoted a line from the end of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
“It’s like in the great tales, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really matter, full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you don’t want to know the end because how can the end be happy? How can the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass and a new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those are the stories that meant something.”
He reported texting his daughter to find out why she thought family history is so important to future generations. Her answer was striking.
I think we all repeat certain generational patterns and learning from my ancestors is the biggest cheat sheet to solving life’s greatest problems.
That’s uniting. We’re all in this together.
Uniting In Song
The incomparable Jordin Sparks wasn’t the only one who got everyone out of their seats.
FamilySearch invited Adassa, the voice of Dolores in Disney’s Encanto, to the Saturday Mainstage Event. She, Chad Truman, and One Voice Children’s Choir sang the RootsTech 2023 theme song.
You can find the original version of the theme song (sung by Scott Wiley and Chad Truman) on streaming services.
Of course, no one could resist the ultimate family history song from Encanto. In addition to Chad Truman and the children’s choir, the audience joined her in an enthusiastic rendition of “We don’t talk about Bruno.”
What unites us more than those stories no one will tell?
I can only judge this by my 2021 and 2022 experience, so I would love to hear readers’ viewpoints. I remember enjoying seeing familiar names in the chats, so reunion vibes weren’t totally out of the picture.
However, the primary way I felt connection was the acquisition of new tools, i.e. the education. It’s hard to feel the energy of a keynote through a computer screen. But when you can apply something you learned immediately to your research, it connects you to the endeavor as well as your family. (See also RootsTech Connect 2021 Afterthoughts.)
Your Turn: How did You Experience Uniting at RootsTech 2023?
I’d love to hear your impressions! Be sure to specify if you were at #RootsTech or #NotAtRootsTech in 2023.