Monday, January 23, 2012

The Wallflowers Guide to RootsTech

Genealogy conferences can be fun and scary depending on your perception of the unknown. Will I be alone? Will everyone be smarter that I am? Will I get lost? Will I get a spot in that popular speaker’s class?

The genealogy world, just like the regular world, is full of all types of personalities and characters. If you’re new to the conference circuit, this can be an overwhelming experience. Just like those junior-high dances, you’re most comfortable observing everyone from afar. Please reconsider that wallflower pose. Here are some steps to get you out on the RootsTech dance floor in no time:

Make a new blogger friend
Genealogy bloggers are some of the friendliest people on the planet. It’s a tight-knit group that everyone is welcome to join. Make a plan to meet and chat with at least one genealogy blogger during the RootsTech conference. How can you spot a genealogy blogger? It’s pretty easy as they usually wear one or more sets of colorful Mardi-Gras beads. They also congregate at the Media Hub in the exhibit hall. has a great list of bloggers attending RootsTech.

Chat with some vendors
Exhibit halls are designed for wandering. Big, long aisles make it easy to walk down the middle and observe vendor booths from afar. Resist the urge to breeze through the hall. Take the time to interact at a least two vendor booths. Talk to the representatives, ask questions, sample the wares. Do this because you never know when you might need these items down the line. Even if you never use a particular brand of software, chart making tool, or whatever is being sold, you will have the knowledge to give to someone else.

Meet your neighbors
Smart genealogists get to conference sessions early so they get a good seat and are ready to learn. Make the most of the pre-session time by chatting with those seated around you. Don’t feel awkward introducing yourself to strangers. Remember, we all have genealogy in common and love to talk about it. You never know who you might meet just by making small talk.

Attend a class outside your comfort zone
Rootstech offers a variety of course subjects at several experience levels. Pick at least one class on a topic about which you know very little. Do not be afraid to be clueless. How else will you learn? Besides, nobody else will know you’re lost and you just might learn something that will help you with your genealogy research.

Explore new territories in the Family History Library
The Family History Library: it’s big and intimidating as all get out until you learn your way around the place. Then it becomes the happiest place on Earth (sorry, Disneyland). If you’re not familiar with the FHL, join up with a tour and learn the ropes. If you’ve been there, done that, explore some “new to you” areas. Research in new geographic locations, learn to use new machines, attend a class or anything else that strikes your fancy. See Banai's great FHL post for more helpful advice.

Embrace spontaneity
You’ve spent weeks (or months) planning your RootsTech trip down to the wire. Planning is good, but not written in stone. Use your schedule as a guide, but don’t be afraid to stray from the plan. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be invited to lunch with one of your new friends. Or perhaps an unconference pops up in one of your favorite subjects. Don’t be afraid to take a detour and go where curiosity takes you. That’s what makes conferences fun.

So what do you think? Are we ready to ditch the wallflower ways? Come find me at RootsTech. I have a present for you.


  1. Wow Amy you nailed me! I tend toward wallfloer-ism in any new situation anyway. Thanks for the encouragement I can't wait to meet you present or not.

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  3. OK, wallflower here....are the Mardi Gras beads a type of newbie hazing? Just want to know what type of crowd may be watching me from behind the vendor booths.....Remember, I'm called the SHY genealogist for a reason...

  4. ShyGenealogist, the Mardi Gras beads are given out by Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers. All the bloggers get them so they're pretty easy to spot around the conference.

  5. Whew! I was worried this was a "spot the newbie!" type of thing and I might fall for it! Can't wait to see all the authors of the blogs I enjoy so much! Thanks for the guide Amy!