Roots: Rubbing Shoulders at RootsTech

Genealogy conference showcases DNA analysis and AI-driven software.
Written by Paul Jones Posted May 6, 2024

Unlike most travellers at the end of February, I abandoned the lush snowbird comforts of a Floridian spring. Half a continent away, thousands of genealogists — my tribe — were gathering in a pious city on a frozen desert. These are not party people, and many of them haven’t seen the inside of a gym in decades. But they are my people, and I’m always pleased to see them. I zipped up the parka I’d last worn in Canada on New Year’s Day, adjusted my glasses, and set out from my Salt Lake City hotel for RootsTech, often described as Disney World for genealogists, at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

The annual event features scores of lectures, acres of displays from organizations large and small, and massive networking opportunities. Big-time genealogical organizations host influencers (including this Roots columnist!) at advance screenings, special briefings, and meet-andgreets with their senior brass.

RootsTech is run by FamilySearch, the genealogical arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And it shows — not by way of proselytizing (there is none) but in the legendary Mormon niceness of the ticket takers, ushers, and session monitors. The pervading spirit — “How can I help?” — is printed on the T-shirts they wear.

Apart from being denied service at a pub because my Ontario driver’s licence is not acceptable proof of age under Utah state law (I’m seventy-four), I came away with some happy memories.

For instance, I had a great time at a murder- mystery dinner. There were no actors running madly about — just evidentiary reports and DNA results that we participants had to analyze in the same way as the teams that identify real-life perpetrators. This fun event was a co-production of DNA maven Diahan Southard and British genealogical-mystery writer Nathan Dylan Goodwin.

You could win a free book!

Sign up for any of our newsletters and be eligible to win one of many book prizes available.

Genealogical tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI) were a running theme in the Expo Hall. There were some great ideas, although deep-fake videos and sound bites from long-dead relatives struck me as a tad creepy, especially the one I encountered that offers motivational phone calls from grandpa. On the positive side, I used a newly released, AI-powered newspaper database to crack a mystery that traditional newspaper databases could not resolve — and I did this in a few moments on my iPhone while eating a sandwich.

The Utah-based genealogy company Ancestry described its promising use of AI facial recognition to identify relatives in users’ photo collections. This will be a great tool for collaborative work between different branches of a family.

And a relatively new company, Storied, has developed AI-driven software that can reliably extract and index genealogical data from lengthy published documents — such as the six hundred thousand family histories on the shelves of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Game changer!

DNA analysis has also taken an interesting turn. The CEO of MyHeritage, Gilad Japhet, described success in extracting DNA from a stamp licked by his grandfather. This led to the discovery of a long-lost line of cousins from the previously unknown first marriage of his great-great-grandfather. Even better, Japhet announced his urgent resolve to bring similar analysis of artifact DNA to everyday genealogists.

This was my second RootsTech — the first was during a spell of dreary, blustery weather in late October 2019 in London, England. The point is, I’m now a repeat RootsTech visitor. And, notwithstanding the fact that I returned from Utah to discover that I had COVID, there will be a third. Just once, though, I’d like to go somewhere warm.

Subscribe to Canada's History

Save as much as 52% off the cover price! 6 issues per year as low as $29.95. Available in print and digital.

Help keep Canada’s stories strong (and free)

We hope you will help us continue to share fascinating stories about Canada’s past.


We highlight our nation’s diverse past by telling stories that illuminate the people, places, and events that unite us as Canadians, and by making those stories accessible to everyone through our free online content.


Canada’s History is a registered charity that depends on contributions from readers like you to share inspiring and informative stories with students and citizens of all ages — award-winning stories written by Canada’s top historians, authors, journalists, and history enthusiasts.


Any amount helps, or better yet, start a monthly donation today. Your support makes all the difference. Thank you! 

Paul Jones is a retired publisher, a writer, a consultant, and an avid genealogist.

This article originally appeared in the June-July 2024 issue of Canada’s History.

Related to Genealogy