Genealogy companies at RootsTech conference quickly branching out, making money

Mar 22 2013 - 6:27am

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Attendees use FamilySearch’s Family History mini lab during the RootsTech 2012 family history conference in Salt Lake City. This weekend’s 2013 conference focuses on websites, software and other technology that can help people find, organize, preserve and share their family history. (Associated Press file photo)
Attendees use FamilySearch’s Family History mini lab during the RootsTech 2012 family history conference in Salt Lake City. This weekend’s 2013 conference focuses on websites, software and other technology that can help people find, organize, preserve and share their family history. (Associated Press file photo)

SALT LAKE CITY -- Companies specializing in genealogy say they are just at the beginning of an unprecedented industry expansion that will only get better.

Those who attend the RootsTech conference this weekend at the Salt Palace Convention Center, 100 S. West Temple, in Salt Lake City, can rub shoulders with industry leaders during the largest genealogical conference in the world, now in its third year.

"People think genealogy is an old person's game, but as an industry, it's still quite young," said Chris van der Kuyl, of brightsolid, a British company.

People are spending billions of dollars in the industry every year, he said.

"Consumers are spending more money. Businesses are getting bigger."

The five-year-old brightsolid is investing more than $100 million each year in building the business, he said. Among the online innovations for brightsolid is findmypast.com.

D. Joshua Taylor is a 27-year-old business development manager for North America for findmypast.com.

He said the conference has generated even more enthusiasm this year as the industry continues to grow.

Much of that growth for his company and others came from a shared interest in the quick digitizing last spring of the 1940 census.

"If it was a commercial venture, it would have been a smashing success," Taylor said. "Since it was a community venture, it was even more."

Taylor said having volunteers do the work freed up millions of dollars for genealogical companies to reinvest in other aspects of their business.

Making its world debut at the conference this year is a company called Photo FaceMatch.

"We're on the ground floor of something that has a long way to go and a lot of opportunity," said founder Brock D. Bierman.

"I'm excited about it. It's not perfect, but we've got to start somewhere. We have a long way to go."

Bierman said his technology, originally developed for police work, measures the distances between features and other aspects of a person's face.

He said such distances and measurements don't change in a person after puberty.

Bierman said executives from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Family Search contacted him just after the event started Thursday.

He believes one day he will be able to network his offering with what that venture offers so that if someone uploads even a group photo somewhere else in the world, a person would be notified that a photo of their relative had become available.

Bierman said his booth was generating a lot of interest in those who want to find out who is featured in the unmarked photos in their collections.

Currently, as it works to make its mark in the industry, Bierman's company is offering its services for free.

Those who use the service, by visiting photofacematch.com, may upload several pictures of a person and then ask the program if the unknown picture they have is the same person.

Also offering a free service until April was StoryPress Spoken History.

The online service offers users the opportunity to record audiobooks. Up to five books now may be put together for free with a one-year subscription that normally is $49.

To register for the free service, visit storypress.com, order the $49 package and enter the promo code storytime.

Also next month, the company will be offering discounts on a future expanded version of its products on kickstarter.com.

"We have a list of questions we ask you to tell about your history," said Mike Davis, the founder of StoryPress. "As you answer the questions, they all become chapters in your book."

Numerous products on display at the conference can make people's lives easier, even if they aren't into genealogy.

For instance, a $150 portable scanner, called flip-pal, is small and could fit in a purse.

While it's small, the scanner can convert any size photo into a file because it has the technology to weave a photograph back together that is scanned in sections.

And then there is a $19.95 program that will allow people to create all the photo books they want.

That program, My Digital Studio, is being offered free for a three-month trial for those who visit the company booth at the conference.

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