Having attended all 7 Rootstech, I can say with some authority, that this year’s Rootstech was the best. Since the world’s largest family history conference is jammed pack with so much to talk about, I’m going to break my review into a series of posts. Today’s topic is the Rootstech keynote speakers.

Rootstech Innovator Summit was keynoted by Liz Wiseman, a leadership expert and strategist, best selling author and Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch. [Click on photos for links to view their presentations.]

Liz Wiseman Rootstech 2017 Keynote

My takeaway from Liz’s presentation was the value of being a Rookie. In professional genealogy, being a rookie is not something most aspired to, as it takes years and years of experience, study and hard work to gain a strong understanding and background to tackle tough research problems. I have noticed over the years that it can be easy to slip into a groove of complacency, thinking you know a subject and you stop digging deeper because you think you hit the depth of knowledge on a particular subject. Dangerous right!

Ms. Wiseman pointed out the value of thinking like a Rookie, and being like a toodler that questions everything, asking “why,” “how come?” and looking outside the box. I appreciated the challenge to not become a jaded reseracher and look with the new eyes of a beginner.

I really like Steve Rockwood, he gets the value of both technology and the heart of family history research. In his keynote he shared plenty of heart as he talked about rootbeer at this grandparents and his mother continuing the legacy of the Rockwood Rocky Road Fudge at Christmas.

FamilySearch is brilliant in bringing in the importance of food to family history. We all have a culture around food and family heritage around meals. Check out the new recipe campaign at FamilySearch and share your family recipes. What a great way to preserve and share your favorite recipes and family stories for generations to come!

I had to interview Steve in a “sofa chat” that I will be sharing later. A lot of the success for this year’s Rootstech can be attributed to Steve’s leadership and direction. Kudos to him and the fine team from FamilySearch who worked so hard to make it happen.

Thursday’s keynote presenters were Drew and Jonathan Scott, HGTV’s Property Brothers. Drew and Jonathan were entertaining, clearly love their family and their heritage and are easy on the eyes.

While I enjoyed their repartee, their stories and was very happy about how much they loved their family history, they were surprisingly not my favorite keynote presenters, because I am a fan of their TV shows.

Friday, Rootstech had  wonderful tributes to those with African ancestry; keynotes were genealogist Kenyatta Berry, Genealogy Roadshow co-host and LeVar Burton, of Roots, Reading Rainbow and Star Trek Next Generation Fame.

I was moved at LeVar’s portrayal of Kunta Kinte in Roots, and my children grew up watching Reading Rainbow,  as a family we watched Star Trek – so , you could say I was definitely a fan of his work.

LeVar Burton Rootstech 2017 Keynote

My respect for LeVar Burton, as a person though went through the roof after his keynote address. Mr. Burton shared his love of his family and what the women in his life had taught him.

When FamilySearch gave him his researched family history, LeVar was so moved, we all were and there was not a dry eye in the house. It was a moment that I personally will never forget.                                                                                                    The Rootstech’s whole tribute to African Ancestry Day, was really well done. Loved every minute.

Valerie Elkins sharing baking secrets with Buddy Valastro, Cake Boss, Rootstech 2017

The real surprise to me was how much I loved Chef Buddy Valastro, TLC’s the Cake Boss. I’ve watched his show a few times and was impressed with his baking skills. I was more impressed with him as a person. Seldom have I found celebrities who did not disappoint in real life – Rootstech’s keynoters proved to be exceptional. Buddy was warm, personable and surprisingly humble. When I asked him what he was most proud of outside of his baking, he said his family. You could tell how much Buddy loved his family and his heritage. He said their kitchen table sits 20 people and the seats are always filled while they talk about their day and share a meal – made me want to get a bigger table.

Rootstech even had a cake competition and Buddy was the judge. Those cakes were impressive and competition was tight!


CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist spoke eloquently in her keynote about the role of genetics and DNA memory. I was fascinated by it and is worth viewing if you missed it. (Click on her photo).

Rootstech had a number of classes on genetic genealogy this year. The busiest booth was Ancestry.com, were they offered their DNA tests at half off!

Living DNA is a new contender in the DNA testing market and was in the exhibit hall at Rootstech. FamilyTree DNA was there and 23 and Me was back.

Entertainment by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, with special guest soloist Dallyn Vail Bayles and memories by Rogers and Hammerstein, with narration by Oscar “Andy” Hammerstein III were a hit.

The closing performances by BYU’s a cappella men’s chorus, Vocal Point; and the women’s a cappella chorus, Noteworthy were also well received.

Rootstech new co-master-of-ceremonies, comedic entertainer Jason Hewlett, and award-winning broadcaster Nkoyo Imaba were a new addition to Rootstech and added much to the event.

Saturday was also Family Discovery Day at Rootstech, for those of the LDS faith it was an opportunity to be inspired by church leaders like, President Russell M. Nelson, and wife, Wendy Watson Nelson.

Powerful promises were given to those who engage in family history. President Nelson and his wife shared how they follow this council themselves by working to preserve their own family history.

The Nelson family publish a monthly family newsletter, where they share family news. Sister Nelson has published a book about an ancestor for the children in the family and has recorded audio histories.

President Nelson challenged members, “You and I can be inspired all day long about temple and family history experiences others have had, but until you and I do something to actually experience the joy for ourselves, our attendance at RootsTech 2017 will have been something like a nice, warm bath, feels so good at the time and then its over. I would like to extend a challenge to each one of us so that the wonderful feeling can continue and even increase. I invite you prayerfully to consider what kinds of sacrifice, preferably a sacrifice of time you can make to do more family history and temple work this year. Brothers and sisters, together we are engaged in the work of Almighty God. He lives. Jesus is the Christ. This is His church. We are His covenant children. He can count on us.”

The highlight for me personally was meeting Sister Sheri Dew, some one I have looked up to and admired for many years. I can’t count the number of times I have been inspired by her words. She is a woman of strength, faith and conviction and is able to express her thoughts in a profound and meaningful way.

This photo will be printed of us will be kept on my desk. Whenever I see it, I will think of her example and try a little harder to be the type of woman I want to be.

Sheri Dew and Sportscaster Vai Sikahema and BYU Football Assistant Reno Mahe were a delight to interview. They shared heart warming stories of family, and angels on the other side. Reno Mahe, lost his 3 year old daughter last year, and his faith was inspiring.

Vai Sikahema, Sheri Dew, Reno Mahe at Rootstech 2017

Both Vai and Reno admitted they hadn’t done much family history before Rootstech.

Both stated that they wanted to take the 21 Day Challenge by Wendy Watson Nelson to do family history every day for 30 minutes.

Well known youth speaker Hank Smith was also a speaker, but unfortunately I was unable to attend his presentation.

Even if I had attended just the keynote presentations at Rootstech this year, I would have left the event elated, motivated and uplifted.

My next post I will share my review on the vendors at Rootstech and new technology on the horizon.