02 February 2011

Meet Thomas MacEntee - Speaker at RootsTech Conference

As you may have noticed on my blog I'm an official blogger for the RootsTech Conference being held in Salt Lake City, Utah at the Salt Palace next week, February 10-12, 2011.

What a great opportunity I had to interview Thomas MacEntee who is one of the presenters/ speakers/ facilitators at RootsTech! Just in case you have always wondered, he pronounces his surname with the emphasis on the EN. (mac-EN-tee). It's kind of like spa-GE-tee!  I hope he likes the association!

Thomas, you are the mind behind GeneaBloggers, an internet blog that helps other bloggers throughout the genealogical community. Can you tell us about yourself, your blog purpose, and why you have an interest in presenting at RootsTech?

·         I started blogging in late 2006 to capture family stories as my mother’s early on-set Alzheimer’s Disease progressed. At that time I became aware of other bloggers also memorializing their family members and ancestors with a focus on genealogy.

·         Up until late 2008, I worked in the information technology field so I was quite adept at the Internet and various computer programs.  But working for global law firms never allowed me to use some of the newer 21st century technologies including blogs and other forms of social media.

·         In mid-2008, when more and more genealogy and genealogy blogging folks got on Facebook, I realized there was enough of a momentum to start GeneaBloggers. I did so in January 2009 and it has flourished ever since. While we had 400 genealogy and family history blogs at that time, we now list over 1,600 from around the world.

·        When I was laid off in 2008, I decided to “repurpose” myself by converting my hobby – genealogy – from passion to a business. With my certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University which I earned in 2010, I decided to start my own business High-Definition Genealogy.

·        One aspect of my business draws from my many years’ experience as a technical trainer – I now travel all over the United States and Canada teaching genealogists and genealogical societies how they can leverage technology to improve the genealogy experience.  I also teach online webinars from the comfort of my home in Chicago using virtual presentation technology.

·       I’m presenting three panel discussions at RootsTech so attendees can learn more about the issues involved with certain technologies currently being used by the genealogy community. 

  As you mentioned you are presenting three different sessions or panel discussions at RootsTech, one each day. Your Thursday session is "Self-Publishing for Genealogists and Genealogical Societies". Who might benefit from this session and why? Are you focusing on publishing your own genealogy or on writing skills?

The focus for the self-publishing panel is not on how to write or how to acquire those skills but more on how to take a finished work and produce a published book. The publishing landscape has really changed in the past five years and now authors can self-publish, offer print-on-demand services to their customers, and even create “e-books” for platforms such as the Kindle or the Nook. Genealogical society leaders will want to attend so they can learn how to convert their current publications over to a more efficient publishing model.

In your Friday session on “Genealogy Blogs” you will be facilitating a panel discussion  with other bloggers. Is this session strictly for current genealogy bloggers? If not, why should others attend? Are you teaching attendees how to blog, why to blog, or how to utilize blogs?

The actual title is “Genealogy Blogs: Impact and Influence in the Genealogy Community” and there will be a panel of several leading genealogy bloggers including DearMYRTLE. Given that most RootsTech attendees are of the “techie” type and have a knowledge of blogs, the discussion will focus on why a genealogist or genealogical society should have a blog among other topics. The main focus will be discussing how the presence of genealogy blogs have influenced the genealogy industry over the past three years and what the future holds for the partnership of blogging and genealogy.

Your Saturday session is "Virtual Presentations Roundtable." Can you explain what a roundtable is and why attendees might be interested in this format?

I am very excited about this session not only because it will feature genealogists currently using virtual presentation technology, but the entire session will be broadcast as a live webinar by Legacy Family Tree Webinars. If you’ve ever wondered how you could deliver genealogy educational content to people all over the world, this is the session where we explain the technology and also use it at the same time – talking the talk and walking the walk!

With all your expertise in the genealogical community, I'd like your opinion about attending RootsTech. There are people out there who cannot attend RootsTech this year but want to, while others may be questioning whether they might benefit from attending. Why should a genealogy beginner attend RootsTech? Why should experts still plan to attend?

A genealogy beginner should attend RootsTech to understand that this is not your grandmother’s genealogy – meaning we won’t be donning presentation gowns, opera gloves and discussing pedigrees. The new genealogist knows how to use all the latest technology not only to improve the “hunt” but also to make the entire search for ancestors a 3-dimensional experience.

Genealogy experts need to attend to be able to keep their ear to the rail and learn what others are using as they work with clients or with societies and organizations.  It is so easy these days – especially with telecommuting – to exist in a vacuum which can lead to a technology knowledge lag. For me, the networking opportunities and the ability to share ideas is the most promising aspect of RootsTech.

What do you want attendees of your sessions and RootsTech in general to take with them from their experience at RootsTech?

I want attendees – as well as those following RootsTech from afar via live blogging and other social media – to understand that we are at a critical juncture in the genealogy industry. We have to be ahead of the curve on current and developing technologies instead of traditionally being behind that big tidal wave. The next few years are critical. Genealogists and genealogical societies can no longer afford to ignore the technology that can help extend their reach and improve their research methods.

Thanks Thomas and we look forward to hearing from you at RootsTech!
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Now back to my original comment about the pronunciation of Thomas' surname... Thomas told me that there is a genealogy story behind the pronunciation: the original surname was McEntee (which is why he pronounces it that way). The story goes that his great-grandfather Elmer McEntee changed it to MacEntee around 1900 so he could get work. At that time there was quite a bit of anti-Irish sentiment in New York so he decided to make the surname look like a Scots surname.

This is a prime example of why I tell people to never rely on the spelling of a name to determine who your ancestors might be! 

If you haven't already done so, give some serious consideration to attending RootsTech next week. You won't be sorry!

Disclosure: I have been designated as a RootsTech Official Blogger which entitles me to free registration and other perks.  Follow this blog and Twitter for updates live from the conference.