I’m Michael Cassara and I’m a professional genealogist based in New York City. I started DigiRoots in 2012 and use this site to update my speaking schedule, and occasionally share blog posts about my research and things I encounter along the way. I’m currently serving as the Co-President of the Italian Genealogical Group – if you’re pursuing Italian research I hope you’ll consider becoming a member.
RootsTech Connect took place from February 25th through 27th, 2021, and it was incredible! All told, they had over 1.1 million unique registrants, from all over the world. I was fortunate to be a speaker this year (my 5th time presenting at a RootsTech conference, though all the rest were “live” in Salt Lake City) and really enjoyed putting together a video presentation. You can watch it here:
But there are SO many great videos to watch – on every topic imaginable. Start by searching the site, or you can browse by keyword/topic. I hope you get a chance to check it out – all of the content will be online until next February.
Just a quick post to mention that I’ll be giving a talk at RootsTech this year. On Thursday morning, 2/28, at 9:30 AM, I’ll be presenting: Surname Studies: Follow That Surname!(RT5424), in Room 250A. Here’s the description:
Have you ever met someone with one of your family surnames, and wondered if you might be related to each other? A one-name (or surname) study is a project that catalogs all known occurrences of a given surname, and its variants. This class will dive into the practice of surname studies and examine how they can help lead a researcher to major breakthroughs. Offering valuable information for both beginning and advanced genealogists – attendees will be given an overview of related topics including DNA studies, surname mapping, and research methodology, while also looking at some case studies and existing surname projects.
I’ve been to every RootsTech except the first one, and this is my 4th time presenting there – it’s always a highlight of the year for me. Hope to see/meet many of you during the week!
When we left off, I had just finished attending the final RootsTech session of the day on Thursday. I had hoped to cram in some research time at the Family History Library that evening but an unfortunate power outage meant they had to close early. I decided to just grab some dinner and head back to the hotel. One of the nice things about RootsTech being at the Salt Palace Convention Center is that there are a great deal of non-genealogical destinations to explore within a very short walk. The shops at City Creek are terrific, and there are many good restaurants, all within walking distance of the numerous hotels that house conference attendees. In the 5 years I’ve attended RootsTech, I’ve never rented a car; Salt Lake City has fantastic public transit – and lots of good private car (taxi, Uber, Lyft) options as well.
I caught an early dinner and a bit of the Democratic Debate, and turned in early. I spent much of Friday exploring the Expo Hall. Although there are always worthwhile presentations and classes at RootsTech, I find tremendous value in walking around the (gigantic) hall and chatting with the various exhibitors, learning about their products. I visited friends from the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society, E-Z Photo Scan, WikiTree and many others. I met Fisher from the Extreme Genes genealogy radio program, chatted with the RootsMagic folks about their (incredibly exciting) just announced Ancestry.com integration, and I learned about a number of new and exciting projects.
After grabbing lunch, I spent a good portion of the afternoon back at the booth for the Guild of One-Name Studies. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I had never done the “exhibitor” thing before, and I really enjoyed the one-on-one conversations with so many attendees. We had a constant flow of interested attendees – it was quite fulfilling to participate in this capacity.
Friday night there was an after-party, sponsored by MyHeritage – the first time they’ve held such an event – and it was a very enjoyable way to spend the evening. Although I don’t think I’ll ever be one to say “boy, that karaoke sure was fun” – it was certainly unique to watch dozens of top genealogy personalities, belting their lungs out(!)
Saturday was the final day of the conference, and I kept most of the morning open since I was speaking that afternoon. I was honored to be asked to speak for a third straight year, and I was particularly excited to get to speak on the topic of “Cemetery Crowdsourcing”. Even better than that, my talk was chosen to be recorded by FamilySearch. The attendance was a little disappointing, but many people do understandably skip the sessions that are being recorded in favor of ones that will not be viewable later. Additionally, many folks tend to cut out by Saturday afternoon. So, while I didn’t have a huge audience (when I spoke on Italian Genealogy in 2015, they had to turn people away!) it was a very engaged and delightful audience, with wonderful questions and serious interest in the subject matter. Beyond that, the opportunity to be recorded is super exciting – and I’ve already heard from people who have watched it!
Overall, I felt very good about the talk – and I hope that you can give it a watch when you have a moment!
After the talk was over, I decided to do another lap around the expo hall, and then I helped close out the day at the Guild’s booth. I got a quick drink with some of my fellow NYC-based researchers (most of whom I only got to meet upon being in Utah! Funny how the world works, isn’t it…)
Dick Eastman almost always holds a closing-night dinner for those friends and readers of his newsletter who would like to attend, and this year was no exception. I’ve attended for a number of years and always find it to be a highlight of RootsTech – there’s just something wonderful about being in a room full of kindred spirits, sharing what we’ve learned at the conference and getting to know one another at a more leisurely pace. As the dinner came to a close, Dick and I split a cab to the airport as we were both on the same red-eye flight back to points east. Part of the fun of RootsTech is that genealogists are everywhere.
While waiting for my flight to depart, I spotted a RootsTech lanyard and struck up a brief conversation with another genealogist about to board a red-eye. It turned out to be True Lewis, I knew of her from her wonderful blog. When I first attended RootsTech in 2012 I didn’t know a single person in the genealogy community. I now look forward to running into friends and fellow researchers at every turn and, in this case, meeting someone I had yet to meet. The work of my colleagues inspires me to no end and it is a thrill to explore genealogy in their company and with their guidance.
I should mention, the dates have now been set for next year’s RootsTech: February 8th to 11th, 2017. I certainly hope to be there! If you’ve never attended, perhaps 2017 will be your year! It is, truly, my favorite week of the year – and this year was no exception.
For a third straight year I had the honor of speaking at RootsTech, the world’s largest family history conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. This year I spoke on the topic of “Cemetery Crowdsourcing” – how genealogists can use BillionGraves, FindAGrave and other new websites and technologies to help catalog the world’s cemetery records.
The video of my talk has just been posted on the RootsTech site – and now you can watch it from the comfort of your own home! I was scheduled in the last slot of the day on the final day of the conference, so attendance was a bit light, but it was a hearty bunch – and I’m very glad that the presentation is now watchable worldwide.
It’s Super Bowl Sunday and I’m finally back home in New York City. I had an incredible time at the RootsTech conference and figured it might be nice to recap the week a bit. This post will be part 1, covering everything up through Thursday night, and later this week I’ll post the second installment.
A photo posted by Michael Cassara (@michaelcassara) on
I spent Monday at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. One of the perks of RootsTech taking place in SLC is that it allows all of the visiting genealogists to spend some time doing research at the world-renowned FHL. After a full day of searching my paternal Cassarà line in Mistretta, Sicily, I boarded the Frontrunner train to Provo where I managed to grab dinner with Brooke Schreier Ganz and Tammy Hepps, two of the most remarkable genealogical minds I’ve encountered.
Tammy’s site/story-sharing platform, Treelines.com, was such a terrific addition to the community when it won the RootsTech Developer Challenge in 2013, but I was particularly intrigued to learn of the in-depth research (and reporting) she’s doing on her site, Homestead Hebrews, chronicling the Jewish community of Homestead, Pennsylvania. The site is a stellar example of how contemporary technology can bring records, pictures, stories and memories to life, in a vivid and remarkable manner.
In recent months, Brooke has turned the genealogical community on its head and, if you’re not already following the progress of her organization, Reclaim The Records, then you are missing out in a major way. Reclaim The Records is *successfully* filing Freedom of Information Act requests, liberating data from state agencies, and making it available on a large-scale. I can’t wait to see what they go after next and I know I speak for many when I express my immense gratitude for the outstanding work they are doing.
Wednesday night brought two group dinners at …The Olive Garden. The first was a small gathering for members of The Guild of One-Name Studies, organized by our chairman, Paul Howes. The 7 of us in attendance are overseeing surname studies on these unique surnames: Boddie (Drew Smith of the Genealogy Guys Podcast), Colt/Coult (FamilySearch’s Darris Williams), Cuono (studied by yours truly), Howes, Keough (studied by Tessa Keough, whose contributions to the Guild’s first-ever booth at RootsTech were beyond invaluable), Pikholz (studied by Jerusalem-based Israel Pickholtz, whose book is on my must-read list) and Stoops (studied by Yolanda Campbell Lifter, who focuses on research in my native Ohio). We discussed our studies and enjoyed each other’s company, along with, perhaps, a few too-many breadsticks.
As the GOONS (as those of us in the Guild are sometimes known) dinner concluded, I headed to another part of the restaurant for the tail-end of the NextGen Genealogy Network dinner. I was happy to see some familiar faces, and also to meet some new folks. NextGen was founded in 2013 to “create a community for other young genealogists”. I have to say, given how solitary an activity doing genealogical research can be, it’s always really wonderful to meet and connect with other like-minded researchers.
Following the good conversation and carb-loading, I turned in for the night – eagerly anticipating Thursday morning’s keynotes and kick-offs. Eastman’s Online Genealogy Blog has a terrific recap of Thursday’s RootsTech keynotes and other activities – and numerous videos, including the keynote addresses, have been uploaded to RootsTech.org, with more to follow soon. The Ancestry Insider also has a great post on Steve Rockwood’s keynote, along with some exciting statistics on this year’s RootsTech attendees.
On Thursday morning I attended my first session, “Free At Last: Irish Records, So Peculiar, So Cheap”, presented by John Grenham (who literally wrote the book on the subject) and he captivated the packed room as he discussed the foundations of Irish research, and the latest and greatest in available records.
As this was the first year that the Guild of One-Name Studies had a booth at RootsTech, attending members of the Guild were called upon to volunteer when available. Though I’ve attended every RootsTech since 2012, I’ve never gotten to wear the “exhibitor” hat and I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to speak with people one-on-one and tell them more about the Guild. It was an extremely successful outing and I believe that many dozens of one-name studies will be registered as a result of our presence and the pro-active nature of our members and participants. After my shift, I headed over to see the aforementioned Tammy Hepps speak on “The Ancestor Deep Dive”, and she wowed the audience with her approach to research methodology and case-study examples from her site. I finished the day listening to Geoff Rasmussen speak about the new Google Photos, and how he’s been using it for his own photo collections. Although definitive photo organization remains a constant struggle and challenge, I always enjoy hearing Geoff’s thoughts on the matter and, though it’s a few years old at this point, his book Digital Imaging Essentials is a must-read for anyone concerned with preserving and organizing their photo collection.
I’ll post a recap for Friday and Saturday later this week, but – suffice it to say – I think this was my favorite RootsTech so far – the conference just keeps getting better and better. As I head back into the real world, this week, I’m extremely grateful to have had the chance to see my genealogy friends, make some new ones, learn some new things, share a bit, and spend some precious time on my own research.
The blog has been on a bit of hiatus in recent months. In addition to “real world” obligations, I also recently completed the Certificate Program in Genealogical Research at Boston University. While I’ll be writing more about that in coming weeks, suffice it to say, I’m very glad I was able to undertake the advanced study with such a wonderful group of instructors and fellow students. As you may notice, the site has a brand new look – and I’ll be adding a lot of new content in coming weeks and months.
I’m writing this from Salt Lake City where, in a matter of minutes, #RootsTech2016 will be underway! I’ve attended every year since the 2nd conference in 2012, and I’m very pleased to be presenting for the third time as well. This Saturday, February 6th, I’ll be speaking on the topic of “Cemetery Crowdsourcing” in Ballroom J from 1:30 PM t 2:30 PM. Please come by, introduce yourselves, say hello – the presentation is open to genealogists and enthusiasts of all levels, and I’m including some stories and information that will hopefully appeal to all attendees.
Beyond that, I’ll be spending much of the conference at the stand of the Guild of One-Name Studies. I registered the surname Cuono with the Guild in 2013, and am actively trying to increase Italian surname participation, as the Guild seeks to shatter the notion that one-name studies are only for those from the British Isles. Wherever your surnames may have originated, come visit us at the booth and learn a bit more about this outstanding organization!
Social Security records have long been an invaluable resource for genealogists doing American research, but – until this week – our best resource had always been the (constantly updated) Social Security Death Index (SSDI). The SSDI does not list parents names or much beyond basic dates and places. While it is possible to order an SS-5 (the original Social Security application) and gain more information (parents names and more specific places/addresses), this can be a costly process (at $27 a pop) and, in recent years, parent information has been redacted if the subject is less than 120 years old.
This new index, however, is AMAZING. In the course of the last hour I have been astounded at the amount of information I have found – proving hypotheses and generating new leads. Additionally, the search capabilities allow one to search for the parents – so you might find a mother’s maiden name listed, offering a child you never existed. The possibilities are endless.
Our friend Lisa Louise Cooke has offered a great example of how this index will provide a LOT more information than its SSDI counterpart. Of course, remember that these are transcripts and there will be errors and misspellings but, so far, I’ve found this index to be both accurate and invaluable – and a great jumping-off point for continued research.
I’ve been trying to find the time to blog since #RootsTech and, unfortunately, work and life commitments have been plentiful of late. But it was a tremendous conference, my third (out of the four they’ve held) and the greatest one to date, by far!
On top of that, I was honored to have been chosen to speak – offering a seminar I entitled “Putting Things In Their Place: Paying it forward in the digital age.” Lisa Louise Cooke, of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, was kind enough to interview me, and the video has now been posted on her YouTube channel.
Starting to get SUPER excited for RootsTech 2013, which will be taking place from March 21st to 23rd in Salt Lake City. I attended for the first time last year and was absolutely overwhelmed to be in the presence of so many genealogical technologists. It sounds like this year will have even more attendees, exhibits and workshops.
Hoping to meet some of you there, my small-but-growing readership! And for those of you who can’t make it, I will definitely be blogging and “live-blogging” certain elements of the conference.