Find My Ancestor Blog
22Apr/100

FamilySearch Encourages More Technology

The following is an article in the Deseret News about FamilySearch and the upcoming NGS conference here in Salt Lake City taking place next week.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Back in the early 1990s, a group of genealogy and technology enthusiasts began talking about how e-mail, digital cameras and scanners would change the way they work. 

David Rencher feels the conversation is worth updating -- and reviving.

These days, such discussions involve DNA, GPS and social networks. Thanks to FamilySearch, these and other technologies will get plenty of stage time when the National Genealogical Society's annual conference takes up residence here for four days next week.

FamilySearch, a division of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will sponsor a free exhibit hall at the conference that provides a platform for new and developing technologies being used in family history work. The exhibit is called "GenTech," the same name used by the organization that first put the spotlight on genealogy technologies. 

"My hope is that it will carve out a space illustrating the need for genealogists to keep current with technology," Rencher said.

He compares GenTech to a car show for genealogy technologies.


"Those technologies really begin to drive where family history is going," he said.
Rencher, FamilySearch's chief genealogical officer, estimates there are 2,300 genealogical societies in the United States. Almost all are dedicated to a particular ethnicity or geographic area. GenTech, however, was created to bring genealogists and technology together.

It began as a small organization in Texas two decades ago. GenTech flourished by holding national conferences where participants could introduce technologies and forecast trends that would change family history work.

It was, essentially, a trade show for genealogy technologies. But the conferences ceased when, according to Rencher, there was discord among GenTech board members and "no one wanted to become president."

"It had kind of a tragic and abrupt end," Rencher said.

In 2002, GenTech was incorporated as a division of NGS. But without GenTech conferences, the emphasis on technology diminished, Rencher said.

With the NGS conference coming to Salt Lake City this year for the first time since 1985, Rencher saw an opportunity to revive the GenTech discussion. He "pushed really hard" to give technology ample room at the 2010 event.

"I feel the need for that space," he said. "I feel the need for genealogists to pay more attention to the technologies, because I believe that technology is going to continue to outpace genealogists.

"There needs to be a genealogy-technology show, and right now there just isn't one. This is as close to a genealogy-technology show that we've ever had at this level."

The GenTech exhibit will feature about 100 vendor booths and two stages for demonstrations of products and technologies. The public can attend for free without having to register for the NGS conference.

It's meant to be a "discovery area," says Gordon Clarke, software developer services manager for FamilySearch.

"They'll get to see all the players working together and all the technology that's going to create a brighter future," Clarke said.

Attendees can learn more about iPhone applications for family history, or using GPS and computer software to locate gravesites. The beta version of the latest FamilySearch website will be available, and several developers will debut their products at GenTech.

FamilySearch will also provide a behind-the-scenes look at how it advances family history work, demonstrating how microfilm is digitized or how documents are photographed in the field.

"All of these ... technology solutions that have been applied to family history, we'll pull back the covers and we'll show you how they work," Rencher said.

GenTech will also forecast how technologies will be used in the future. For example, Rencher sees the day when DNA strains will be used to validate pedigree lines, or when social network site users tag distant relatives like they currently do friends. Both these areas have a presence in the exhibit.

"You'll see not only a glimpse of the future of what is happening," he said, "but you'll see a glimpse of the future of what may happen."
 I am really excited for the NGS conference next week to be able to learn more about genealogy, learn new ways and technology I can use to find my ancestors, and be able to network and meet with so many great genealogists.

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