Laura Hedgecock

Feb 092016
Rootstech 2016 bag and badge

The badge and bag are in the suitcase, but is the RootsTech 2016 experience really over?

Inevitably—or at least nearly so—bloggers post summaries of their RootsTech experiences. Speaking and serving as a RootsTech 2016 Ambassador has been a whirlwind. I learned a lot and met a ton of wonderful people. It’d be nice to tie it up with a nice bow as I leave Salt Lake City.

On the other hand, it seems inappropriate.

Summaries feel like something has ended. And, although the conference is over—and I have the weariness to prove it—in many ways it hasn’t ended. Continue reading »

Feb 062016
Family stories are fire on a stick

How are family stories like “fire on a stick?”

“Family stories are fire on a stick.” That s a quote from Michael Leavitt.

Michael O. Leavitt, three-time governor of Utah and former US cabinet member under President George Bush, was a keynote speaker at RootsTech 2016. He.entertained the RootsTech audience with stories. Not stories of his ancestors, as you might expect, but rather shared his own memories.

For instance, he told of calling home–in this case the governor’s mansion–and speaking to his young son.  His son whispered to his dad that mom couldn’t come to the phone. Neither could his older sister. “What are the busy doing?” asked the governor.

“Looking for me!”

He also shared stories of public life. Not surprisingly, some of the ex-governor’s fondest memories from his years in office revolve around the Salt Lake City Olympics Games.

Family Stories and the Olympic Flame

He “got” the significance of the Olympic flame. Flammable materials are lit–combusted–by the sun. As a result, the flame represents “the perpetual light of the sun.” However, It took him longer to grasp the power of the torch. At first he was surprised at the interest of carrying what he thought of as “fire on a stick.”

But he came to understand that more than fire was passed from one torch bearer to another. Each passed their values, their beliefs about what matters in life, to the next torch-bearer with the flame.

Each new runner or carrier didn’t simply take up the flame. They carried a responsibly. The assumed the aspirations of the torch’s forebearers. They picked up the pride and the hope.

“Family stories are fire on a stick.”

Well said, Mr. Leavitt.

Your Turn:

What family stories could you share? Where’s you fire on a stick?

Feb 042016

Stories of the heart - heart specialists We all knew that I think that stories of the heart are the future of family history, but I have some good company. Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International emphasized that in his opening keynote for Rootstech.

Serious genealogists made up the majority of the 12,000 in-person audience. (Estimates including online audience range up to 125,000.) “To get and keep non-genealogists’ attention,” Rockwell explained, “you have to focus on the person, not records.” He also emphasized that stories need to be short and meaningful–stories of the heart. Continue reading »

Feb 042016

Rootstech Innovator Showdown logo



Update: Innovator Showdown Winners:

TapGenes Innovator Showdown winner

1st place of $20K in cash and $25K worth of in-kind prizes went to Heather Holmes of Tap Genes. One of the hard questions Heather fielded from the sharks was how she planned to deal with HIPPA requirements. She answered that TapGenes was developed by a team of health care professionals and is fully HIPPA compliant.

Studio Innovator Showdown.

The 2nd place prize of $14K in cash and $15K of in-kind prizes went to Michael Chang of  Studio (by Legacy Republic).  Chang referred to Studio/Legacy Republic’s business model as the “Avon of memory preservation.”


Twile Innovator Showdown winnerBoth the third place prize of $6K in cash and $10K worth of in-kind prizes, as well as the people’s choice prize of $10K went to Paul Brooks of  Twile. Paul scored points with the crowd–and probably also the judges, with his integration with FamilySearch and the fact that Twile already has 1 million stories.

Shark Tank for Family History Innovation: Innovator Showdown at Rootstech

Part of the mission of Rootstech is to attract third party innovation to the pastime of genealogy. Today’s innovator summit served the dual purposes of helping innovators develop new products as well as to introduce recent innovations to the family history market. A big part of that introduction was the Innovator Showdown Semifinals.

Over 50 developers entered the competition for over $100,000 in prizes. The 12 semi-finalists presented their technology to a live audience.  On Friday, the final six compete for the grand prize.

How do the Innovator Showdown judges choose?

I asked FamilySearch’s Paul Nauta what parameters the judges would use. The benefit to genealogy as a hobby? The marketability of the product? Or is it their simple personal preference?

Paula answered that with a ‘yes.’ RootsTech assures all those aspects are considered by the backgrounds of their judges. There are judges from organizations like Family Search who could be expected to look at the value of the innovation to the pastime. Others are venture capitalists who look at things like marketability. They come from different backgrounds and demographics.

When RootsTech attendees get to vote at the showdown, another aspect is taken into account. The value of the app to the attendees personally. Even if you’re not at RootsTech, you can participate online and vote for the product you’d most like to see in the marketplace.

The innovator showdown will be lived streamed at and online visitors can vote via text messages. (Friday, February 5 at 10:30 AM Mountain time.)

The Innovator Showdown Finalists

Ancestor Cloud developed by Wesly Eames is a “marketplace of family discovery.” See Ancestor Cloud’s submission.

JRNL, developed by Nick Jones, is a journaling app, built to “record life’s memorable moments as they happen.” See JRNL’s submission.

Studio (by Legacy Republic), developed by Michael Chang, is a portable album scanner that seeks to solve “America’s billion photo album problem” Read Studio’s submission.

Tap Genes, developed by Heather Holmes, offers “the convenience of keeping all your family health history in one safe and secure place.” Read Tap Genes’ submission.

The History Project, developed by Shanarae Goodwin, believes that “capturing our life stories shouldn’t be as fragmented and overwhelming as it is. Read The History Project’s submission.

Twile, developed by Paul Brooks, not only generates family timelines, but is “a secure place to record and share your family memories.” Read Twile’s submission.

Your Turn

As FamilySearch puts it, you can shape the future of Family History with your vote.” Tune into and vote for your favorite innovation.


Feb 012016

Writing Your Family Story in your MemoirI was excited and honored to join Linda Joy Myers of the National Association of Memoir Writers to discuss how to writing your family story in your memoir on January 22, 2016. The initial airing was membership only, but Linda Joy has offered me an audio transcript for my readers. Continue reading »

Jan 282016
Innovator Showdown Semifinalists and showdown

2015’s Innovator Showdown, image courtesy of RootsTech

This time next week I’ll be in Salt Lake City, walking around with a giddy feeling in my stomach. Having looked forward to and prepared for RootsTech for it for months, I’ll be trying to absorb all the family history, storytelling, and technical insight I can.

A highlight of the RootsTech conference will be the Innovator Showdown. Family history innovators from all over the globe compete for $100,000 in cash and prizes. For attendees, it’s like watching a Shark Tank for family history technology. In other words, way cool and fun.

Currently, there are twelve Innovator Showdown Semifinalists. By Thursday, February 4, that field will be narrowed to six. At that point, conference attendees get a big say in who wins the grand prize and bragging rights. Continue reading »

Jan 252016
Plot of your family story in library

Looking for the plot of your family story?

Christopher Booker postulates that all stories encompass only seven plots. It’s interesting reading and makes me wonder if the same is true of family stories. If you had to choose, how would you describe the plot of your family story? (Hint: You don’t have to choose just one, plotlines are like roots—they love getting tangled up.)

As the number of ancestors grows exponentially, so do the plots. One line of the family might embody a completely different narrative than the other. And, rather than intertwining, those plots might have collided in an epic crash.

Why do I ask? Should you try to shoehorn your family’s past into a common boot?

Of course not. But… As you chase down individual stories in your family tree, often a larger story of the family comes to light. An identity. For those just getting to know it, explaining the overarching plot of your family story can frame your family’s history eloquently. Continue reading »

Jan 182016
how individual is your story Venn chart

Most of us are like human Venn charts. Our individuality is unassailable, yet our every action, our very circumstances, have a sphere of influence on those around us.

How individual is your story? Sounds like one of those “Eh?” questions. Your story is absolutely individual. Unique. No one else has felt it like you have. No one else can tell it like you can. It’s yours. But perhaps not only yours.

Most of us are like human Venn charts. Our individuality is unassailable, yet our every action, our very circumstances, have a sphere of influence on those around us.

It’s nothing new. John Donne’s “No Man Is an Island” expressed this eloquently back in the 17th century. The individuality of our personal story is at best a contradiction—perhaps even an illusion.

For argument’s sake, let’s take death, the ultimate individual event. We all face it alone. Yet, its aftermath is anything but. Think how many lives are affected by a loved one. And, when the death was untimely, violent, or it happened to a child, the waves of life-changing grief and horror grow exponentially.

The uttermost individual rite of passage can bring entire communities to their knees.

It works two ways. We impact others’ lives and they impact ours. We bump up against others as they journey, and that contact influences our own story. Sometimes in almost imperceptible ways. Other times the collision of bodies causes a life-changing alteration in our orbit.

How Individual is Your Story? What Freud Would Say

How individual is your story? No man is an island.Cue the Austrian accent, as Freud rubs his chin and repeats the question. “How individual is your story? Just look at what your mother did to you! “

In fact, that’s been the theme of more than a few memoirs. Despite that, many of us hesitate to include others in our stories. We gloss over the roles others played if those roles were anything but idyllic.

I’m not trying to start any family feuds. I recognize that writing about others is a personal and sensitive decision.

On the other hand, think hard before you ignore these corollary stories. Think of the power they might have for your readers. For instance, a sibling of the exact same circumstances that turned out quite differently than you can illuminate your choices. Resentment of a great aunt might actually be a story of protecting or advocating for someone else.

These are precious opportunities to connect with others. To share not just benchmarks and love stories, but stories of heartbreak and resilience. Stories that connect and resonate.

When you don’t tell your story—or leave out important parts, you do a disservice to that Venn chart that the rest of the world sees. You leave it without labels. You’ve given it no explanation. Others are left to make all sorts of assumptions about the person you are, not to mention the road you had to travel to get there.

A chart isn’t humanizing. A story is. Especially a story that isn’t pretty and perfect.

Your Turn:

How individual is your story? How individual do you want it to be?

Jan 112016
Attend RootsTech 2016 for free logo

Rootstech 2016 combines family history and storytelling.

It’s not hyperbole. Family history and storytelling will come together at RootsTech this February. RootsTech, the world’s largest genealogy conference, attracts thousands of professional and hobby family historians annually.

Family History and Storytelling

Continue reading »

Jan 082016
Happy New Year: Year End Letter

My wish for each of you …

Holidays make a great time to share stories. There’s no question about it. When we’re thinking of loved ones—or better yet spending time with them—stories connect us and express our bonds.

But it’s not just stories that we tell. There’s something about that calendar page turning over, the new digit on the end of the year, that makes us want to provide some sort of a recap. A snapshot in time. In fact, the chapter in my book about compiling a holiday or year end letter is titled “Easy Snapshots in Time.”

So, I should be able to pull together a “Happy New Year” letter, originally meant to be a Christmas letter. This year, I’m struggling with the concept. As people draw together, celebrate together, and look forward to the New Year, I want to be included in their thoughts. But I’m torn about whether or not their plunge into the New Year should include reading a litany of my family’s year. Perhaps I’d be better off just telling them a story that reflects us in a moment of time. Continue reading »