RootsTech Innovator Showdown

I recently had the opportunity to attend the RootsTech Genealogy conference held in Salt Lake City, Utah. One of the sessions I attended was the Innovator Showdown. It was the final six of numerous of entries to “show off” how technology can improve family history — the world’s largest org chart.

Most people think of family history as old books in dusty libraries, cemeteries, huge stacks of papers, and the county clerk’s office. However, the finalists included medical history tracking, hardware-software combination using iPhone technology, data visualization, and digital record-keeping. Each finalist shared the technology they used for their platform and some common threads emerged.


TapGenes uses software to map likelihood of certain genetic traits that could affect other family members such as cancers, chromosomal diseases and heart/stroke risks. This information can then be used by families to create a specific roadmap for testing when they go in for general physicals and diseases could be caught much sooner.

Software technologies used: facebook api, gmail api, family search api.

AncestorCloud created a portal to allow genealogy-related services on-demand. Want someone to take a picture of a headstone in a far-away cemetery? Need a tour guide when you visit the small little town where great-grandma was born? These and so much more are available when using their service, and users could sign up to be a provider as well to earn some money.

Software technologies used: react.js, node.js, redux, mongodb, javascript, amazon-web-services

JRNL is an online journal-keeping application. Using social and personal media, you can keep a running journal of your daily life. You become your own curator of the museum of your life, marking facebook postings as noteable, removing others completely. They also provided the ability to print to a book, so you have a hard copy for yourself or children/grandchildren.

Software technologies used: reactjs, django, node.js, mariadb, elasticsearch, redis, xamarin, redux

Studio by Legacy Republic was a scanner built specifically for photo albums where often the size or deterioration of physical medium represents a risk to the quality of reproduction available. Using a system not much bigger than a suitcase, a user can quickly photograph in high resolution, hundreds of photos in an album to pass along to future generations in a non-degrading quality.

Software technologies used: xcode, ios, swift, bluetooth, wifi, linux, raspberry-pi

The History Project came from the founder’s desire to share experiences with others using historical context. His father had died of cancer when the founder was just 13 and he wanted to “walk in his shoes.” It started by him wanting to pass his experience visiting where his father grew up and spent his time to his children and siblings. Using a mixture of photographs, news articles, videos and other media, he was able to create a rich experience for those who were unable to take the trip with him. He founded The History Project to create the opportunity for others to create these same personal experiences for their loved ones.

Software technologies used: laravel/php, facebook and instagram api, google api, vimeo, amazon web services

Twile was based on data visualization rather than facts/figures. Specifically a user could upload a file of their family history data (GEDCOM), and create a timeline of family member events. Birth, death, christening, etc. and then add to it your own photos and eventually audio and video. This made viewing this same information much more enjoyable and sometimes-hidden events much more obvious.

Software technologies used: javascript, backbone.js, asp.net, sql-server, node.js

Bubbling to the top of the most used technologies were javascript and javascript frameworks such as node, backbone, and react. Also popular were both sql and nosql databases.

The judges chose TapGenes as the winner, but Twile and Studio also received innovation awards.

What was surprising is the number of companies with less than 10 employees that were making enterprise-level applications. This proved to me that less can be more, and throwing more money at a problem doesn’t necessarily solve it, but more technology and people often can. Many problems that used to be insurmountable are now attainable by people from all walks of life.