Sunday, March 2, 2014

Roots Tech Part 2: The diversity problem and why a 99% white conference is a problem in 2014

Roots Tech 2014

As most people know by now, I am very passionate about genealogy. I think it is important for all people to understand where they came from and how that has effected who they have become. In the last few years genealogy has changed from a  hobby of mine to a way of viewing and engaging the world.  I have begun using genealogy like a sociologist, to understand the modern world, and mainly why Americans treat each other they way they do.

With graduation day fast approaching, I have set my sights on a future career that combines genealogy with the teaching of “warts and all” American history.  My historical focus is on African American history and slavery so I have been working diligently to form myself into as much of an expert as possible on the tracing of enslaved ancestry and understanding the enslaved experience in America. With all that in mind I decided to attend the Roots Tech 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Roots Tech is considered the premier genealogy technology conference in the country. Every year for the last four years the Mormon Church’s family history research organization, Family Search, has organized the conference and hosted it at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah. According to the website, this year it included over 100 exhibitors and vendors, more than 100 classes and labs over four days and 13,000 registered attendees from around the country and around the world. It was also sponsored by several of the biggest genealogy companies in the English speaking world -, Find My Past, My Heritage and of course Family Search.  In other words I thought this would be the perfect conference to attend. There would be plenty of interesting useful classes, incredible networking opportunities and the chance to use the Mormon Church’s extensive records collection.

For better and for worse Roots Tech did not quite live up to my expectations. That was mostly due to the disturbing lack of racial diversity among presenters, vendors and attendees. I also did not find some of the presentations to be as interesting or engaging as I had hoped. There was however an almost overwhelming number of choices... I'll get back to that later.

The almost complete racial homogeneity was the first thing that caught me off guard about this conference (see photos above and below and from the Family Search blog). I knew it would be mostly white but I had no idea how white the crowd would be until the conference began. Two of the other black attendees and I estimated that there were no more than 15 black people out of close to 9,000 at the Salt Palace (I only counted for the days that I actually attended- Wednesday to Friday). That 15 includes two African men and one African American man who worked for Family Search, two black Mormon lifestyle bloggers who had been invited by Family Search to help with social media outreach, a black man I believe may have been working for one of the vendors, African woman wondering alone in a gorgeous green dutch cloth dress, a very tall man in his early 40's who was also alone, three members of an AAHGS (African American Historical and Genealogical Society) Tennessee chapter, and the most adorable elderly coat check man. 

I remember the coat check man, whose name escapes me, looked up over the pile of coats, his eyes lit up and he exclaimed “Welcome! Welcome! What’s your name?” He had a warm gentle faced, a beautifully full head of gray-white hair and long elegant fingers. He was so excited to see another brown face. “There aren’t too many of us here,” he said, referring to the attendees. I suppose he had been counting too. 

Actually most of us were counting. After being introduced to, or after I introduced myself to, nearly every black person at the conference, one of the first topics of discussion was how few of us there were and how little there was to address our specific needs as researchers of color. Yes obviously we can enjoy the digital scrapbook making presentation or the Google Hangouts for Family History lab. But other than the session on sub-Saharan oral histories or the two presentations in Spanish, there was not a single session, or company that addressed the specific challenges faced by researchers interested in non-European genealogy. And thats a shame. Not just for genealogists of color but also for the major genealogy companies that have chosen to ignore or put minimal effort into a relatively fast growing market.

According to my calculations, persons of visible African descent only accounted for 15 out of the approximately 9,000 people who attended the conference the three days I was in town. In other words black people represented .0016% of the population of the conference. That is .0009% if you only count the registered attendees and not staff. 

  • In 2010, black Americans accounted for 12.6% of the population. 
  • In the year 2000 the US Census polled to find the 15 largest ancestral populations in America. Americans of African descent were the third largest ancestral group in the country behind German's (#1) and Irish (#2).

So where was every body?

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. 
Or again, you often doubt if you really exist. You wonder whether you aren't simply a phantom in other people's minds. Say, a figure in a nightmare which the sleeper tries with all his strength to destroy. It's when you feel like this that, out of resentment, you begin to bump people back. And, let me confess, you feel that way most of the time. You ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world, that you're a part of all the sound and anguish, and you strike out with your fists, you curse and you swear to make them recognize you. And, alas, it's seldom successful. (Ralph Ellison - The Invisible Man: Prologue.2)

Black's in Utah who may have had the easiest time venturing to Salt Lake, account for a measly 1.8% of the population. Utah's AAHGS chapter is mostly elderly, and from what I've been told, almost completely disinterested in technology. But, honestly, being that there was not anything targeted to their research needs, why would they bother driving the 5 minutes or 3 hours to get to the Salt Palace. What really would have made them that much more likely to attend than a black family historian in Maryland, Florida or Ohio?

Side Note:  I also attempted to count the number of Asians. Not including vendors, I counted 10 women of visible Asian descent and two children. I spotted them all walking in two groups. I ended up in meetings during both of the spanish language sessions so I am not able to get a reliable tally for that group.

Family Search does appear to have made some relatively last minute attempts in the last two years to diversify the bloggers they invited to the conference. Unfortunately, despite the variety of African Americans who actively blog through personal and professional sites (see this amazing list thanks to AAGSAR), along with hundreds of active Twitter users, the only black bloggers in 2014 were two Mormon lifestyle bloggers who had not begun their own genealogical research before their initial invitation to the conference last year. They also do not appear to have had much of a following among genealogists or family history hobbyists before they started blogging from Roots Tech. Now to their credit, the women have since begun researching their own family histories, but they are still very new to it. Meanwhile there are dozens of black bloggers with decades of research experience who could have stepped into this obvious gap. It could have been so amazing to have blog posts and interviews coming from beginners and expert researchers. I did have an amazing time with the two lifestyle bloggers, known as Sistas in Zion. They are intelligent, interesting, quick and very funny. They are also the first to admit how little they know about genealogy. They were clearly invited to take part in Roots Tech's social media team rather naively for the sake of diversity.  Yet, once they got in they managed to surprise everyone and score some of the biggest interviews at the conference.

As I briefly mentioned earlier there was a single session that was targeted to those interested in African heritage. It turned out to be my favorite session of the entire conference. Dr. Osei-Aguemang Bonsu hosted a session on the importance of oral histories, and methods used in three countries in West Africa. Family Search has been funding Dr. Bonsu's project over the last five years. His stories were incredibly interesting and moving. He spoke so quickly, and for the first time at the conference I found myself tapping furiously at my Kindle trying to write down every word. Unfortunately, for the many African American social media users tweeting from afar about #RootsTech, the one session made for them was neither recorded or streamed. If I had thought about it ahead of time I would have sat in the front row and made an audio recording on my phone or streamed using my own laptop. There was simply too much important information in this session for it not to be shared with others.
Side note: the reason for this last minute addition to the schedule may have been due in large part to at least one very angry black blogger. She had noted the lack of diversity in the presentation schedule and went straight to Family Search for answers.

Quote of the day - 

I know that part of my problem with the sessions that I did attend was due to the fact that I have been a rather constant user of technology and social media since I was a small child. I am a Millennial after all, unlike at least 98% of the rest of the attendees. As you can guess I stood out at this conference for a lot of reasons (brown skin, Afro, youth...).  Anyway, the tech and social media sessions were mostly targeted toward a much older and less tech savvy audience. One presenter hosted a session on Facebook and attempted to "talk like a cool young person" and massively failed. I was just waiting for him to say something about "hip hoppers" or not sharing photos of your friends if their pants are sagging on the down-low. Anyway despite, the lack of tech in Dr. Bonsu's presentation he was able to keep the audience engaged by bringing them new analog ideas and a fresh perspective. The way I see it, if you are going to present on youth oriented technology, why not have an experienced young person do the presentation. They did later have a college student host a very promising presentation on cross generational social media usage. 

Why is a lack of diversity a problem for Roots Tech and the big genealogy companies that sponsored it?

I think the answers are pretty obvious, but I am assuming that if they were that blatant to Roots Tech's sponsors then they would created a more inclusive event from the very beginning and this entire piece would have been unneeeded. So lets first take a moment to scroll back up to the photos of the Roots Tech audience. Not only is it more than 99% white, it is also mostly of the blue haired variety. Ok that was a bit ageist. But, kind of true. I would venture to estimate that more than half of the approximately 9,000 registered attendees were over 50. I bet at least 1/3 were over 60. That does appear to be relatively representative of the majority of family history enthusiasts. But like all things in America these days, you must diversify or die. In the case of genealogy the death is quite literal since many historical societies are significantly more likely to lose members to death than general waning interest.

In order to not only keep up but increase membership numbers, and cash flow, genealogy companies, non-profits and societies must reach out to younger people and fast growing minority groups. Roots Tech is a technology conference sponsored by companies that make the majority of their money off of technology users. According to a 2010 Pew Research poll, minorities, especially African Americans "outpace whites in their use of social technologies."
Among internet users, seven in ten blacks and English-speaking Latinos use social networking sites—significantly higher than the six in ten whites who do so. Indeed, nearly half of black internet users go to a social networking site on a typical day. Just one third of white internet users do so on a daily basis.

African Americans and American born Latinos are also significantly more likely to use smartphones and tablets to access the internet. This is primarily due a lack of access and/or relatively high cost for computers and internet service. If minority Americans are more likely to use technology than white Americans then why were there so few people of color at such a massive tech conference? It is not just because Roots Tech is a genealogy conference because tech conferences with a variety of focuses, across the country, have also had difficulty attracting minorities. I believe the problem with Roots Tech is that :

  • the companies do not make an honest and true effort of reaching out to people of color and inviting them to come as speakers, vendors or attendees
    • I personally know several black genealogists who speak at other conferences, teach courses on family research or run social media sites dedicated to genealogy. (Liv Taylor- Harris, Bernice Bennet, Michael Henderson, Robin Foster, Luckie Daniels, Wilhelmena Kelly and those are just the names I remembered off the top of my head!) It is a lazy argument to say that Family Search simply could not find anyone to present.
    • there also should have been a push to contact and involve the heads of black genealogy organizations like AAHGS and ... oh wait here is a long list of African American genealogical societies Black Gen Societies
    • why wasn't African Ancestry a vendor at Roots Tech? Were they invited? With only 15 people showing up I suppose it would not have been financially worth the cost of the trip and vendor fees. But if they had participated they likely would have used their own marketing resources to let their network of members and potential members know about the conference.
      • Question: Are there any other genealogy companies run by non whites? At least there are plenty of women running these companies.
  • They think that a token or two is satisfactory
    • I asked a Family Search staff member why there was only one panel for non European ancestored attendees. He said that FS was afraid that if they had too many sessions for African descendants, then Latinos and Asians would want sessions too. Oh no!!! Now wouldn't that have been just awful! (Sarcasm obviously) SHAMEFUL! Just think of how many attendees they lost because people of color felt like this was a conference by and for white people.
    • The one session on oral history in West Africa was not advertised as part of the extensive list of sessions during online registration. Trust me I actually did a word search of the list  for "African" and "Black". Out of the hundred or so sessions there was nothing. I was so surprised to see the one workshop on the calendar once I arrived that I skipped a lab presentation that I had paid extra money for.
  • They do not hire any, or enough people of color - In this case the need for a "Jamaal", as one of my favorite podcasters Elon James White might say, has left the company without a much needed diversity of perspectives. According to White, a "Jamaal" is the person of color who sits at the decision making table and ensures that the company does not maliciously or naively create a product that is offensive or unattractive to POC's (people of color). I like to believe that the vast majority of people these days consciously try not to be offensive to anyone. But sometimes mistakes or misunderstandings happen, especially in a homogeneous environment. For instance, you wouldn't hire an all male marketing team to create a new commercial for tampons right?...or was that on the last episode of Mad Men. Or would you? Either way, its not 1958. There are people of color out their with a great variety of skills, interests and education levels who would be happy to work at these genealogy companies, if only they knew that the positions were available. Lets not even talk about how most hiring is about networking and not your resume (see How Social Networks Drive Black Unemployment). In places like Utah where several of these companies are based, there is only a 2.5 % African American population. So of course there is only one Jamaal (or in Family Search's case Thom and Osei). To increase their staff diversity they have to advertise to audiences of color and they may have to import them to Utah or look for diverse candidates for their satellite offices in other states. 
"They did fail. And it’s the same issue that many media sites have–a staff lacking diversity and sensitivity, so when anything goes down, there’s no one to point out the ignorance. We’ve said it time and time again–every staff needs a Jamal." ~ Elon James White

  • Prohibitive costs - This was an extremely expensive event for me to attend. If it was not for the fact that I used nearly my entire grad student travel budget, provided by Brown University, to pay my way, I would certainly not have been able to attend. The trip including flights, registration, labs, hotel, transportation and food totaled over $850! For 3 days!! And that is with the student discounts! So if it was not for the fact that Brown gives its grad students $1000 stipend to travel to conferences there would have been only 14 black people at the conference. Timing of the conference during Valentines day weekend instead of a federal holiday when the average American has time off from work, was also an issue. Oh and come on, how are you going to host a conference during Black History Month and have almost no Black content? That was a complaint from almost every black person I met.
    • to solve this problem Roots Tech may benefit from traveling instead of hosting the conference in one of the whitest states in the country. We really only made use of the Mormon Church's library for about 4 hours anyway (I think next year if they stay in the same location, they should hold a lock-in. There are so many dedicated genealogists out there who would have loved to bring a sleeping bag to the library and pass out at 4 am among the stacks. It's only once a year right?)
    • Research awards or contests that encourage minority participation and award free/discounted registration and or flights would also bring in more underrepresented minorities and young people. Come on I can think of several ways to bring in more people of color without it making a big dent in the Family Search wallet...actually in the long run these ideas would bring in more money and more than cover the cost of a few prizes. This isn't rocket science.

Roots Tech needs to fix it's diversity problem, and it is a problem. It is a problem because there are thousands of genealogy fans and tech enthusiasts in this country who are of mostly non-European descent who use Family Search,, My Heritage and others to do their online genealogical research. They pour their hard earned dollars into these companies pockets and they deserve to be catered to. In other words these companies need to continue to diversify their advertisements, staff and records. A few record uploads and nice sentiments during Black History Month is not enough! The shockingly un-diverse attendees in an increasingly diverse nation cannot be and should not be tolerated. If you are going to bring on companies that only have records for Europeans (Find My Past) then why are there no vendors that cater strictly to recent immigrant groups (another growing market), and people of color? Roots Tech and its sponsoring companies can and should do better. They are missing out on an excellent opportunity to increase their memberships (money), build themselves into companies that welcome Americans of all colors, and dispel the myth that genealogy is only for the elderly and white people who can trace their roots to a King of England.

Recommended Reading for anyone interested in increasing the number of minorities in the tech world or at technology conferences:

How I Got 50% Women Speakers at My Tech Conference


  1. Amen, Amen Amen .... great post and it's all truth. Maybe we should devise some special way to let them know how our missing dollars could impact their businesses.

    1. Thank you for commenting Mary Jewell! You know I have a cousin in New Jersey with your name. Hmmm. Uniting our voices is one of the best ways to make change.
      1) Let your networks know what happened at Roots Tech and get the conversation going to include other people's experiences at genealogy conferences. What conferences are getting diversity right? Which ones are screwing it up.
      2) Lets talk about what WE want to see not only in genealogy conferences but what we need from these big companies.
      3) Action: Spread the word, lend your support, write blog posts, emails, letters, make phone calls! There is a part to play for everyone. One of OUR issues is that our oldest genealogy enthusiasts are not on social media. If you are part of a local gen or historical society, bring up the diversity problems at the next meeting and get them involved.

  2. I love this post, and I hope many many people read it.

  3. that is a great post. I wasn't even aware that the RootsTech was so focused on Europeans (although I am one, even born, raised and living across the pond ;))
    Maybe I sound a bit naive, but couldn't it also be an issue of offer and demand? If the demand wasn't there so far (just a few attendees of colour) why leaving the money-bringing crowd of european descendants? Pure market mechanism. If the demand grows, including posts and discussions like this, the offer has to grow with it or the money-bringing crowd of coloured people spends their hard earned $ someplace else. So, keep up the demand. Just a thought from an economist.

    1. Hi Barbara! Informed opinions are always welcome. One look at the link to the lists of black genealogy societies across the country is a hint at the number of people of African descent interested in family history. There are also the Facebook pages, blogs and Linked In groups referenced in the post. From what I've heard and seen at genealogy events, presentations on African American genealogy are consistently well attended. The one session on African oral histories at Roots tech attracted about 30 people and that is to a session that was not previously advertised, and was up against at least 8 other presentations in the same time slot. Actually I think it was up against the Genetic Genealogist's session and thats pretty tough competition (I've seen her speak before and had planned on attending her session until I saw the one for Africa).
      The fact is that these conferences are very expensive for attendees. If they cannot see personal benefits for attending, they will not attend. If the conference does not host sessions that feel inclusive, welcoming and include truly universal content and or content that speaks to minority experiences, then very few of us will attend.
      I am now seeing several discussions popping up suggesting that minorities should host their own genealogy conferences. That has certainly been going on for decades but that is no excuse to not include us in the big genealogy events which are supposed to be for everyone. Our histories, like our bodies have been segregated, in varying degrees, since the beginning of this country. Yet we have always needed each other. The British along with the Dutch, Spanish and French believed that they needed African and Native American slaves and Asian low-wage laborers to successfully build this country. The descendants of those formerly commodified bodies have historically had to use the laws and legal system of their colonizers in order to gain their freedom and create their own version of the American dream. Our histories, and the artifacts of those histories are inextricably intertwined, and our conferences should be too!
      We can put our money where our mouth is all day but we also need the active support of allies of every color. "An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere". Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you will share the ideas you have read here and will help us keep this conversation going.

  4. That old saying! "What she Said"! All the monies and traveling I do for my Family History and why it needs to be TAUGHT and SHARED. For the Good of the Whole Community. Great Blog! You said what a lot of us POC think! out LOUD!

    1. Thank you True! And thank you for keeping the conversation going on Google +, Twitter and Facebook. Your voice is mach appreciated

  5. Great post Elon! You are absolutely right. There are many African American Genealogist that could and would present if giving the opportunity. When you host a conference that is supposed to be diverse, one would expect to see that when they get there. Shame on Roots Tech and the other vendors! You can be selective to a degree (how many presenters, topics) but not dismissive (no diversity) unacceptable! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  6. African American interest in genealogy became apparent after the mini-series and book, "Roots" -- and it's continued to grow. There's no reason why major genealogy-bases conferences can't be more inclusive in this day & age -- and I don't mean just adding African American interests, although that is my focus. I look for conferences that will broaden my knowledge & research abilities in general and also have something that will specifically attract African Americans -- for the networking aspect. I don't want to spend my time & money at conferences where I am "The Invisible Man". (One of my favorite books, btw.) Thank you, Elon, for shining the light and holding Roots Tech accountable!

    1. Thanks for your comment Sandra! Yes I think there is a lot that Roots Tech can do to be more inclusive and just be a better investment of everyone's time and money. Adding the AfAm perspective was not the only thing that was missing but it was the most glaring issue for me. I a currently working on a post about new solutions for better conferences. Thanks again for your support!

  7. Elon sis, THANK YOU for this real "411" about Roots Tech 2014!

    I was actually planning to attend this event in 2015 because I liked the idea of attending 2 major genealogy related conferences (Roots Tech + FGS) under one roof. But after reading this excellent account of what you experience (or should I say didn't experience), I'm not so sure Roots Tech is where I want to spend my dollars in 2015. And I really hate the thought of that because I love all things technology just as much as I love all things genealogy (thank you for the mention in this review too).

    More and more, it is becoming very clear that those behind Roots Tech ( really don't want us there which explains why there is no diversity to begin with! According to their website --"RootsTech is a global family history event where people of all ages learn to discover and share their family stories and connections through technology" -- yet they don't plan for the "globe" that they advertise about.

    I'm tired of African American Genealogists & Family Historians having to put organizations like Roots Tech, on "blast" about their lack of diversity to only have them come to us "after" the fact and ask, "how can we help them prepare for next year's conference?" Do they really not know? Or is this "lip-service" intended to maybe pacify us for the moment?" Yeah right . . . sheesh!

    Excellent post indeed!

  8. Wow! What an eye opener I had bemoaned the fact that this event wasn't in my budget, now I'm happy that I wasn't able to go. I belong to a group who realized that POC were under represented in the wider circle of our shared interest. Three ladies created a yearly conference that while it did not exclude those who were not POC, it was designed around our particular style/needs and focused on what we were interested in learning/sharing. It is by US for US.
    Fantastic post!!

  9. Hi,
    Great post.
    I just wanted to mention that, although I cannot claim to be a representative of the African American community, in my "Real Life Stories from the Desk of a Genetic Genealogy Professional" presentation I specifically included a detailed case demonstrating how to confirm genetic descent from a slave owner using DNA testing, as well as discussing other subjects I thought would be of interest to African Americans. Unfortunately, when I looked out on my audience during that portion of my talk, I saw a sea of white faces and was a bit disappointed that those who might be most interested in what I was saying were not there. I was a little surprised because through my work with Professor Gates, I am in contact with a very active and enthusiastic African American genealogy community. I couldn't help but wonder, where was everyone? Did they decide not to attend because of the poor representation or is it that this conference was in SLC? I hope next year diversity is better represented in both the presentations and the attendees.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Elon, you & I talked about the lack of diversity at RootsTECH from the minute you arrived in Utah. I'm proud of the transparency & honesty you reflected in this post. It takes courage to address tough issues like this. You did a marvelous job!:)

    Barbara & CeCe - know that the lack of diversity was an issue taken directly to RootsTECH coordinators by me as early as Oct 2013. At best the communications have been challenged but what appears to be a lack of understanding for how to engage diverse audiences. By their own admission, there is MUCH room & need for improvement. There isn't an absence of dialogue or market demand. I would venture to say at least 90% of online people of color researchers leverage Family Search tools. This is matter of audience engagement and inclusion.

    As you can read from the referenced post, as a community there have been efforts made to enjoy the RootsTECH offerings across the community.

    RootsTECH, Online Genealogy and the Question of DIVERSITY?

    I do hope these discussions continue and that champions for diversity of audience and presentations continue to be heard.

    Well done Elon!:)


  12. My comment may not be welcome, but that has never stopped me before :)

    As a white woman with black heritage, I can relate to your desire to explore this aspect of my heritage. I, like you, want to see this exploration become a greater part of the dialogue in the genealogical community. However, I'm even less likely to see it than you are because I'm not descended from African Americans--not directly anyway. My ancestors are black Canadians that migrated from the Caribbean from 1875-early 1900s. The day I see something that covers this oddly specific facet of black history in a major genealogy conference, I'll celebrate it together with you for sure ;)

    That being said, just because the attendees you could see at the conference LOOKED white doesn't mean they actually are. I know I'm not the only person like me out there--I'm just less removed from my black heritage than most people would be, and I'm not ashamed to own mine. As white people begin to discover and accept the black heritage they do have--through literal parentage or through their connections to slavery, you'll begin to see the change you seek.

    Waiting with you,

  13. I read your article with interest as a African American member of the Association of Professional Genealogist..I have had a website for a couple years which has had good exposure. My question is every time I hear about others not including us I ask why not organize our own. Such a conference in a large city like Atlanta would I think be well attended.Our research and interest would be central. If I can be of any assistance please let me know

  14. Elon, what an excellent post and THANK YOU!!! Our voices will be heard and when our children, and generations of grandchildren look back on this time in history, they will be able to say "we were a part of effective change" which I'm hoping we do become in the near future. Thank you again for the courage to be honest and candid about your conference experience!

  15. Hi Elon, Thank you for the mention! Being an LDS member, it was a hard decision not to attend RootsTech again this year.

    I am always asked by the LDS Church locally (Spartanburg) to help with an African American Workshop held during Black History Month every year on the Saturday of RootsTech. This year, I was presenting two presentations to African Americans who did not know about the free services offered by FamilySearch. I taught about the importance of gathering and preserving oral history as well. I was excited to witness the eyes of the beginners light up. It felt good knowing that I was doing something to honor my heritage on that day. If I had not made myself available, they may not have found someone to take my place. I have always felt that my time is well spent sharing the knowledge I have gained with the people who are still searching for the resources that we find commonplace..

    They keep me very busy all across South Carolina. I listened to the presentations streamed by RootsTech. I know that they probably where very useful for those who are at beginner and intermediate levels. Because I have access to so much information day in and day out by way of technology and genealogy, at least the streamed sessions did not really benefit me a great deal.

    I have been debating going next year, but I think your post has helped me to make my decision. I will continue to share my knowledge with those who reach out to me locally both in and outside the church and to people of all races. I really feel that I am helping to bridge the information gap both online and offline, and I cannot express to you how rewarding that is too me.

  16. Yes there is a lack of people of color at the major genealogy conferences-I would imagine for several reasons. That is why there is Midwest African American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI, pronounced Maggie), it is offered in July in St. Louis, Mo. It is the only genealogy institute in the US specifically focused on African American genealogy research. I challenge you all to meet me in St. Louis, worth the money, hosted by a HBCU, etc. There is a scholarship opportunity as well. Here is the website- you can contact me if you have any questions-I will be there with bells on! @familytreegirl

  17. Elon, Excellent post! Thank you for sharing your experience and bringing light to this issue.

  18. Elon,

    First, I give you thanks and praises for your insights, strength, courage and wisdom.
    We elders and youth have a 'voice', in you, that is to be listened to and respected.

    Second, your reportage echos my sentiments and concerns on this very important matter. I've written numerous articles about how Black folks continue to be marginalized in the genealogy community specifically and society generally.

    All RootsTech,, FamilySearch and the rest need to do is declare that POCs are part of the equation and are to be factored in their conferences, forums and products. OR, they need to declare that POCs are NOT part of the equation and tell them to go elsewhere!

    Let's draw a line in the sand. Include us or not include us. One or the other.

    For our part, let us spend our family history research money wisely.
    Let's develop our own products. Let's create and support our existing conferences and forums.

    Both sides have the power to effect change.

    Peace & Blessings,
    "Guided by the Ancestors"

  19. Excellent post Elon! And thanks to George Geder for linking your post on Google+ (I came late to reading it but George always directs my attention to important posts).

    I agree with your concerns about the lack of diversity at what is billed as the largest genealogical conference in the world (I also have concerns about that billing). The look and feel of a conference is dictated by the people who plan for it and put it together - instead of or in addition to a call for papers - oftentimes not seen in time by many who are not "in the know" - the program coordinator needs to actively encourage speakers and topics from a variety of disciplines.

    I know that SLIG has tracks for its educational offerings - I have not checked but wonder if there is or has been an African-American, Native-American, Hispanic or Asian track at SLIG. If we are studying genealogy and family history, these diverse tracks should be important to all of us because at some point in any family's life, paths cross. While I might not have African or Native genes (and I don't know that without a dna test) I learn about the surrounding culture and history and am able to see where my people fit by learning more about others they may have interacted with and certainly lived among.

    Not learning about these "experiences" lessens all of our understanding of American history and World history. I wonder what the experience is like at "Who Do You Think You Are? Live" in London - how do the conference planners address the diversity that exists in England (specifically London)? Are there the same concerns/disappointments?

    Would every genealogist be well served by FamilySearch reaching out during its planning phase to address the need for more diversity and working to make sure that non-white interests are served? Why would someone come to RootsTech if there were no courses that addressed their interests or background AND they knew that they would be in such a minority attendance-wise. I know from my first experiences in attending genealogy conferences (my age, my newness to the field, and my not knowing anyone - this was a SLIG conference) I felt very out of place and excluded. I also know from traveling that it is very disconcerting to be the only or one of the few of anything - english-speaking, white, etc.

    Finally everyone should give some thought to classes and talks where they really learn something - the most fascinating on television for me have been Professor Gates' series, Vanessa Williams' and Lisa Kudrow's stories on WDYTYA (because the Civil War and post Civil War story in Vanessa's family - and how they found records - was eye-opening; and the holocaust experience and issues with records for Lisa's family was riveting). We learn more about ourselves by learning more about others. We can appreciate their histories and their experiences.

    FamilySearch as host and major underwriter AND all of the major underwriters should work hard to provide a complete tapestry of the genealogy experience - one that includes all of the threads from all over the world - if they want to be the world's biggest genealogy conference.