Spreading His Roots: CS Professor Leads Family History Workshop

Family history is spreading its roots in the future of technology.

Acting as the general chair of the Family History Technology Workshop (FHTW), BYU professor William Barrett is expanding family history work through new technology, and he is teaching others how to further their own family history by using that new technology.

“We’re interested in creating a workshop that can kind of be an incubator for new, cool technologies,” Barrett said. “We think that we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.”

The workshop, which began as an effort to share emerging research in family history and genealogical technology, continues to gather support.

Barrett began the Family History Technology Workshop in 2001, and it was held at BYU for many years. In 2011, he decided to move the FHTW to Salt Lake City and hold it in conjunction with the much larger Rootstech Family History and Technology Conference.

Barrett decided to join with the Rootstech Conference in order to increase visibility of the FHTW. The two conferences address different needs: Rootstech is geared towards practitioners, whereas FHTW is focused on technology researchers and developers.

“The real purpose, then, of this workshop is to create an environment where people can come — and not just members of the Church, but people from all over the world — to present and discuss enabling technologies for family history research,” Barrett said. “This year, we think we really broke ground on that, where we really did have an international audience at the workshop.”

The workshop accepted 23 of 32 submitted research papers dealing with areas such as image recognition and extraction, enhanced search tools, handwriting and text detection and name matching techniques. Presentations were made on topics such as improving search techniques through examining geographical migration patterns and learning to overcome challenges related to indexing and text recognition.

“We’ve got a ways to go, but we think we’re on the right track,” Barrett said. “We’d like to use this as a focal point for anybody that’s interested in family history or related technologies that can be brought to bear on family history.”

By Chris Scheitinger Posted on