Organizing the annual RootsTech Conference is no small order—and RootsTech Connect has been a challenge in its own right. It takes someone of phenomenal skill to organize something so grand—and that’s where Jen Allen comes in. Think of Jen Allen as the conductor of a grand orchestra, making sure every string is tuned and every performer is ready to bring the symphony of RootsTech to life each year for the entertainment and edification of thousands of family history buffs.
Who Is Jen Allen?
Allen is a hometown girl who grew up in West Jordan, Utah, a small suburb about 25 minutes southeast of Salt Lake City. When she graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English, she says she “expected to teach high school English for the rest of [her] career.”
It didn’t work out that way—but for Jen, that was probably a good thing. She has always had a passion for organization and management. In fact, if there had been an “events planning” major when she was in college, she would have been first in line to sign up.
Before she became involved with FamilySearch, she was sidetracked from teaching English into scrapbooking—a hugely popular hobby at that time—where she managed events in the craft industry for nearly 9 years. She says, “Jumping from scrapbooking to family history really is not all that different—both are preserving family stories, just with less glitter and stickers.”
Now, Allen is head of the 9-member RootsTech team—and has been for 9 of the 11 years of RootsTech’s existence. After being involved with RootsTech for so long, Allen has learned to value her ancestry more deeply and knows a great deal about her own ancestors. In fact, her family now looks to her as the “go-to” person when genealogical questions arise.
Jen Allen’s Work with RootsTech
RootsTech is a massive genealogical conference hosted by FamilySearch. Typically, it takes place in the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah—though 2019 saw RootsTech spread to London as well.
This year’s global gathering, however, is a decided departure from the past. The coronavirus pandemic has caused us all to look at things differently—this year, there will be no streams of enthusiasts headed for the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Instead, the streaming will occur via computer, phones, or other portable devices with internet access as a virtual program that reaches beyond Salt Lake City into the far corners of the world.
“COVID changed everything,” Allen said.
What has been lost in the traditional “warm fuzzy,” in-person atmosphere that has meant lots of shoulder-rubbing with like-minded enthusiasts in the confines of the Salt Palace has been gained in greater numbers of participants, she noted.
RootsTech 2021 is expected to draw more than 250,000 people to the online event, compared with some 30,000 who were in the Salt Palace Convention Center for last year’s event. And nearly 90 percent of them have never attended RootsTech before. Over 1,000 sessions will be broadcast by hundreds of presenters in multiple languages.
Global pandemic or not, the show is going on.
Leading the RootsTech Connect Charge
A bigger event means more to manage—but Jen has lots of support. Scores of FamilySearch employees have responded to the call for help under tight deadlines and will be unsung heroes as many happy viewers tune in to learn, be entertained and inspired, and make new personal and family discoveries when the curtains of RootsTech 2021 open to a global audience.
Allen estimates that through the duration of the 2021 RootsTech event, slated for 25–27 February, more than 900 people behind the scenes—a combination of volunteers, temporary hired hands, and many FamilySearch personnel—will have contributed an unbelievable effort toward a one-of-a kind, very successful conference.
The contributors to this year’s virtual event range from FamilySearch directors, managers, and employees to third-party vendors, hundreds of notable speakers, and the FamilySearch technology experts who will have an enhanced role this year trying to create the event’s signature in-person magic and vibrancy in an entirely online environment.
Those are a lot of strings to tune and orchestrate. Knowing which one needs tweaking at which time is something Jen has learned over the years with RootsTech, which has easily grown into the largest gathering of family and genealogy enthusiasts in the world.
Not bad for a woman who had never signed in to a family research site until she “got the job”!
New Ideas Pioneer RootsTech Connect
Planning RootsTech Connect 2021 has been based on a new concept—a free, full schedule of virtual gatherings that will allow registered participants to stay at home and take in their personal choice of selections. The focus, as always in all things RootsTech, is on helping people learn more about their own ancestry and on cementing generations as families.
“We have experiences planned in 11 languages, but even more than that are coming in,” Allen said. “It makes it more complicated, but it brings in more people who can participate from all over. You might even discover you have a cousin in Ireland.”
Planning for each annual RootsTech event occupies all the one-year interval between events. There is no rest for the weary. As soon as the current year’s event is over, part of the “sweeping up and clearing away” will include an in-depth analysis.
“We’ll spend a couple of weeks learning what we can from this year’s event and then begin planning for next year’s program,” said Allen. How much the unique circumstances that guided planning for the global 2021 session will spill over into future events remains to be seen. Even if the pandemic eases and a large gathering is approved, elements of the virtual format are certain to be incorporated in future RootsTech events.
“Virtual will never go away,” said Allen. She acknowledged that vendors who love a face-to-face opportunity to tout their genealogy-related wares are hoping for a live event. And many enthusiasts are longing for the shoulder-rubbing opportunity again.
Jen Allen’s Life outside of RootsTech
With a commitment to RootsTech that seems likely to stretch a long way into the future, Allen hopes for some travel time. She and her family spent some time last year in Amsterdam, and found it a real “Dutch treat,” she said.
But when travel is not on the agenda, Jen and her family enjoy watching movies, particularly action films and comedies. And there is always the search for those who went before.
Although genealogy has traditionally been perceived as an activity for elderly persons, Allen notes that more and more children and teenagers are finding it to be an interesting and rewarding pastime. Her own boys, ages 13, 12, and 9, “are growing up with it.”
“They think their mom has an important job,” she said. Her husband too is a RootsTech fan. “He goes to classes and loves the events. It all helps create an experience for our family.”
With Jen and everyone else who has contributed to this year’s event, RootsTech Connect is shaping up to be a conference you won’t want to miss. Make sure you have registered—it’s free! And be ready to sign in from 25 to 27 February to take part in all the excitement.
Source: New on FamilySearch