If you could travel back in time and ask one question to one ancestor, whom would you choose and what would you ask?
I answered this question during RoostTech, on video for a colleague's web series. I have lots of questions for lots of ancestors, but I chose a particular person for a particular research problem I've had for years.
My great-great grandmother, Marie Magdalena "Molly" Schmitz (or Schmidt depending on the record), born September 2, 1865, was a bit of a mystery. I was able to track her from her 1947 death back to her first marriage in the 1880's, but then I was stuck. I didn't know who her parents were. The documents I had for her listed four separate birth places: London, Belgium, Prussia, and Alsace-Lorraine. Plus, she was a Schmitz in the Chicago/Milwaukee area in the 1880s, along with a gazillion others with the same name.
Molly was widowed in 1896 after a few years of marriage. With a small child in tow (my great-grandmother), Molly left Milwaukee for Las Vegas, New Mexico. Now, I've been to Las Vegas, New Mexico and I can tell you it's nothing like the Las Vegas everyone else knows. This Las Vegas is small and dry. In 1896, it would have been the same.
Why did she go to New Mexico? She had to have known someone there. A lady doesn't just pick up and move to the middle of nowhere. I studied the other folks in Las Vegas and tried to find a connection, a common surname, ANYTHING, but nothing stuck out. I gave up and moved on to something else, then something else, until the issue faded.
Fast forward to this week, where I was asked to answer by brick-wall question on camera. I told the same story you're reading here, with the challenges of working with Schmitz/Schmidt and no solid birthplace evidence.
Just discussing the issue again piqued my curiosity. I decided to visit my Schmitz/Schmidt problem briefly with a fresh set of eyes. Molly's death certificate said her father was Joseph Schmitz/Schmidt and her mother was "Reichsdorfe." These were the only possible clues I had regarding the identity of her parents.
I started digging for people named Joseph Schmitz/Schmidt in the Illinois/Wisconsin area in the 1880's since that was where my Molly trail ended. I found one record that seemed promising for Joseph and Elizabeth Schmitz and family in Dublin, Indiana.
1880; Census Place: Dublin, Wayne, Indiana; Roll: 322; Family History Film: 1254322; Page: 136C; Enumeration District: 062; Image: 0035
I zeroed in on Amelia. Molly had a record or two where that name was referenced. This Amelia was the correct age. Was this my great-great grandmother and her family?
I was supposed to be covering events at a genealogy conference, yet here I was in the corner of the media section, sneaking in a little personal research. This problem has plagued me for years and now the genealogy spirits were teasing me.
I poked around the records and online information for this Joseph and Elizabeth. Someone online had uploaded an old newspaper clipping about their 50th wedding anniversary in the early 1900's. The article listed their adult children including a daughter named "Mary Hayworth" in New Mexico. Sure sounded a lot like my Marie Hayward (her second marriage) who was there at the same time.
More poking around led me to discover a death record for Elizabeth Schmitz. Her maiden name was Reisdorf. Sure sounded a lot like the maternal "Reichsdorfe" reference on Molly's death certificate.
The similarities were strong, but I didn't have the one holy grail of a record that would tell me for sure if these were Molly's parents, my great-great-great grandparents.
I kept stealthily searching online, trying to make it look like I was conference-focused even when I wasn't. This 1880 census above listed Amelia and Victoria's birthplace as "Aachen."
I decided to search the FamilySearch database Deutschland Geburten und Taufen, 1558-1898 (Germany Births and Baptisms) for people born in Aachen with the surname Schmitz. This was the first result:
"Deutschland Geburten und Taufen, 1558-1898," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NNTY-KW5 : 28 November 2014), Amalia Schmitz, 23 Jun 1803; citing ; FHL microfilm 176,245.
It was my Molly, born on September 2, 1865 to my new-to-me great-great-great grandparents.
My Molly mystery was solved less than 24 hours after I said she was who I'd travel back in time to see. Coincidence? I think not. Our ancestors want to be found. Go out and discover them.
I had the opportunity to tour the RootsTech exhibit hall a few hours before the official opening. I like doing this each year so I can get good photos before the crowds descend. Below are some of those photos. You'll notice the convention center crew was still setting up, so don't mind the mess.
This photo was taken at 7:15 a.m. It is the line of people waiting to get in to the General Session that started at 8:30 a.m. I've never seen such a crowd so early. I'm guessing the Property Brothers as keynote speakers had something to do with it.
This is the main entrance. There's a RootsTech logo in the carpet under that white square.
This portion of the exhibit hall is referred to as Innovators Alley.
MyHeritage is really plugging their new DNA testing service. They also have a dedicated seating area for presentations. Several larger exhibitors has similar meeting areas.
Another example of a vendor seating area.
This is the Demo Theater. Vendors give 20-minute presentations on their products. It's RootsTech Lite. I enjoy this format because I can learn about several new items in a short amount of time.
Yep. Those are phone booths and you really can call your relatives. There's a real push to record family stories, so this is one easy way to do it.
New at RootsTech this year is "Heirloom Show and Tell." Experts are on hand to assist you in determining an heirloom's value and other information.
That's it for my report from the exhibit hall. After the tour, it was on to the general session to kick off RootsTech 2017.
I had the pleasure of attending the RootsTech Media Dinner. This is an annual event held before RootsTech for Ambassadors and media types to get briefed on what to expect at this week's events.
Here's a brief lowdown: Innovator Summit maxed out at 1,400 attendees. The RootsTech registrations are at about 12,000. When you factor in Family Day on Saturday, there will be 30,000 attendees!
FamilySearch is still promoting their mission of capturing family stories. Now they're encouraging us to explore our family stories through our recipes. See more at FamilySearch.org/recipes.
One thing you'll notice about RootsTech is more signage around town. Magenta banners decorate the lightposts and there's even a lovely lady greeting those arriving at the Salt Palace.
A view of about one quarter of the room during the media dinner.
My favorite swag of the evening: family tree cookie cutters!
They had a caricature artist at the dinner. Mine is great: giant head on a toothpick neck.
FamilySearch also made available the contestants for the Innovator Showdown. It was a great opportunity to see the products and their developers up close.
RootsTech is off to a great start. Stay tuned for more...
Disclaimer: My admission to RootsTech was provided by RootsTech. The opinions posted here, however, are my own...as are my credit card charges for the flight and hotel.
The Discovery Center is free and open to the public. It is a fun way to share family history with the whole family. Today I had the opportunity to tour the Family History Library's Discovery Experience, which is set to open to the public February 8, 2017.
The Discovery Center is the first thing you'll notice when entering the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The interactive exploration space is over 10,000 square feet, complete computers and touch screens that invite family history exploration.
Visitors are given personal tablets to facilitate the Discovery Center experience. Users log on to their FamilySearch accounts to start the adventure. If you don't have a FamilySearch account, there are volunteers to help you create one and climb your family's tree. It's free.
There are seven interactive stations where you dock your tablet to access the data in your own family tree. The stations are:
What About Me? What is special about my birth year?
Where I Come From: How in the world did you get here?
My Time Machine: What was life like for my family a century ago?
Record My Story: What are my most prized memories?
Picture My Story: How would you look dressed like your ancestor?
Picture Our Heritage: Why is our world culture so important?
My Famous Relatives: Am I related to someone who made history?
Interactive exploration is at the heart of the Discovery Center. Children are encouraged to utilize the touchscreens. They can input their birth years and see special events that happened at that time. During my visit, I saw a French-speaking family accessing family history information in their native language.
Personal tablet that Discovery Center visitors borrow for the duration.
Interactive station where you learn what life was like for your ancestors. Notice the pink squares below the monitors. Those are the users' docked tablets, each telling the story of one's ancestors.
Station where you're photographed in another time and place. The white docking station on the right is how the experience is tailored to your own ancestral heritage.
The Discovery Center is free and open to the public. It is a fun way to share family history with the whole family.
What's your favorite BIG genealogy conference? I get that a lot. The answer is always RootsTech. Don't get me wrong, FGS and NGS put on great shows. The SCGS Jamboree is always stellar. However, when it comes to meeting my professional and personal family history needs, RootsTech wins out every time.
Why? Because of the TECH. Now, I'm not a tech geek by any definition. But RootsTech was the first family history conference to court other fields, other industries, and other markets. This has led to a lot of exciting options for meeting my clients' needs.
The projects handled by Raincross Information Services are rarely one-dimensional. They are complex, needing different solutions for the various stages of the task. I want you to research my family's history AND digitize and organize these 5,000 items. That requires database software and some archive-management tools. I want you to compile a book about the desdendants of John and Jane Smith for our family reunion. That requires online options for locating and managing information on living folks, as well as knowledge of publishing sources.
Just like no two family trees are the same, no two projects handled here are the same. Each is unique with their own demands. This requires me to keep up with all the latest tools in order to deliver good products to my clients. RootsTech makes it easy to stay current and interact with people whose solutions make my job easier. For this "outside the box" thinker, RootsTech always delivers.
So this is a conference for professionals? No, NO. Heck no! RootsTech offers classes and features for all levels of experience. One of the reasons I love this conference so much is that it is so welcoming to beginners. I guarantee if you'll find something for you in the schedule.
Next month I will be at RootsTech 2017, making beelines for the vendor hall, the demo area, and sessions that help me learn what can help me make my clients' family history experiences better.
Will I see you there? Let me know. I would love to meet you and maybe even share a beverage or a meal.
Disclaimer: I am a RootsTech Ambassador. This means that FamilySearch comped my admission to the event. However, these words are my own opinion and are no way infuenced by others.
Registration is now open for RootsTech, the world’s largest genealogy and technology conference in the world. Happening February 8–11, 2017, at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, RootsTech 2017 will empower you to celebrate your family across generations using the newest technologies available.
For a limited time, the full RootsTech conference pass is available at a discounted price of $159. Regularly priced at $269, that’s over $100 in savings!
A full RootsTech conference pass includes access to:
The global innovation competition is now accepting entries.
RootsTech, the world’s largest family history and technology conference, is now accepting entries for the 2017 Innovator Showdown—a “Global Innovation Competition” for developers and entrepreneurs seeking an opportunity to impact the growing multi-billion dollar family history industry while competing for $100,000 in cash and prizes. The Innovator Showdown seeks to support, foster, and inspire innovation within the family history marketplace. The deadline for submitting to the 2017 Innovator Showdown is December 1, 2016. The winners will present on stage and be selected by judges and live audience voting at RootsTech 2017 on Friday, February 10, 2017. Go to RootsTech.devpost.com `for more information.
Last year, 50 contestants, including six international applicants, competed in the Innovator Showdown. In 2017, the total cash and in-kind Innovator Showdown prizes will again be $100,000—making it one of the most attractive innovator contests in the nation.
The exciting Showdown Finals are held during RootsTech before a panel of industry judges, including genealogy, technology and business gurus, and a live audience of 3,000 family history consumers, making the Innovator Showdown arguably one of the largest live audience tech competitions in North America. Finals will also be streamed live through RootsTech.org to tens of thousands of online viewers. This year, five finalists will pitch their innovations, field questions from judges, and await the announcement of the winners, while real time audience voting is taking place via texting to determine the winner of the People’s Choice prize.
Cash Prize Breakdown for Finalists:
2016 Showdown winners represented a wide variety of family history related products that included:
RootsTech, the largest family history and technology conference of it's kind, has put out their Call for Presentations for their 2017 conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Topics for consideration include but are not limited to finding, organizing, research and methodology, preservation, family traditions, sharing, stories, and photos.
RootsTech also explores the relationship between technology and genealogy, so how-to and problem-solving presentations are encouraged.
There is also an Innovator Summit for developers and entrepreneurs.
Details on submissions and be found at the RootsTech 2017 Call for Presentations page. Hope to see you there!
Amy Lenertz, MLIS is the founder of Raincross Information Services.