“Before you say something, ask yourself: is it true and is it kind?”
“If someone is mean to you, kill them with kindness. It’s amazing to see how their attitude turns around.”
“Do a random act of kindness every day.”
These three ideas, wisdom imparted over the years by my mom, dad, and grandma, very much shaped my childhood. Kindness was the number one quality valued in our family, and there’s therefore nothing my brothers and I love more than a heartwarming story of people going out of their way to do something nice. Someone buying a coffee for the person in line behind them at Starbucks? Right up our alley. The lady at Trader Joes giving me free flowers for my mom on Valentine’s Day? Made our day.
This love for kindness (and honestly, who doesn’t like it when people are nice?) has found a wonderful home in the genealogy community. This past week at the RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, I was overwhelmingly reminded of the kindness of the genealogy world. Whenever my mom or my husband texted me to ask how the conference was going, I would repeatedly reply with some variation of, “Everyone is so nice!” or “I feel so loved!”. And because I think we could all use a little more happiness in our lives – and because perhaps you like kindness stories as much as my family and I do – I wanted to share with you my experiences last week at RootsTech in honor of the wonderful community we are all a part of. Thank you to all the people mentioned in this article for making my week so special.
1. The Kindness of Fellow Speakers
The Monday before I left for Salt Lake was a bit stressful. I had taken the day off to get ready for the conference – get my hair cut, get my fliers made for my booth, mail a book at the post office, etc. – but somehow it still ended up being 9:00 before I started packing. And I had to leave for the airport at 5:15 the next morning.
Needless to say, when I get to Salt Lake, I realized I had forgotten a few things in the stress of last-minute packing – one of them being a bowl for all the candy I had bought for my booth. Now, I had forgotten a bowl my very first year of exhibiting, so I knew how hard it was to find one – even with a mall next door. I was not looking forward to having to do it again.
And this is where the first act of kindness comes in.
I suddenly remembered that in our RootsTech Speaker Facebook group, a nice local speaker had posted – to hundreds of us, mind you – that if we needed anything during the conference, we could text her and perhaps she could help us out as she was local. I decided to contact her with my forgotten bowl story, hoping I wasn’t taking advantage – like I said, she had posted this to hundreds of people – but sure enough, she responded right away and was able to bring me two perfect bowls from her own home. This kind offer to help people she didn’t even know really set the tone for my entire week…
Of course, that was not the only thing I forgot. As I use payments with Square on my phone, I usually bring a stylus for people to sign with. And in my packing stress, I didn’t even think to bring this small item. Normally I wouldn’t mind people signing my phone with their finger, but with all the sickness going around, I thought it best to avoid any additional germs – but where could I find a stylus this late in the game?
I put out an SOS to fellow speakers and exhibitors, knowing everyone was busy and might not reply. But Amy Johnson Crow went out of her way to not only give me an extra stylus she had, but also to bring it personally to my booth so I wouldn’t have to abandon my post during the busy conference day. The generosity – of both time and goods – of my fellow speakers really made me feel like I was part of a wonderful, caring community.
2. The Kindness of Strangers
But it wasn’t just fellow speakers who were so nice that week. Perfect strangers made my week so special as well.
For those of you who have been to RootsTech, you know how absolutely huge the Expo Hall is – getting from one side to the other is like the Oregon Trail of warehouses. So I was extra touched when one woman made her way all the way over to my booth – at the very far side of the Expo Hall – not to get anything for herself, but just to come tell me how much my presentation at RootsTech last year had helped her to advance her genealogy research in 2019. Her taking the time to tell me how my lecture on German church records broke down brick walls for her and her family truly made my morning. A kind word can really change someone’s day.
In addition to kind words, little acts of kindness can also be so meaningful. For those of you who see me at conferences, you’ll know that I am usually working my booth by myself – which makes it really hard to get away to get lunch, as that is the time when classes are out and people expect you to be there. Needless to say, I sometimes get a bit hungry waiting for the break to roll around. One nice man – who I had never even met before – was visiting my booth when he realized it was almost 2:00 and I must not have had lunch yet. He then dug around in his backpack and gave me his only box of raisins from his own bag to hold me over until I could get a break. And I didn’t even know his name!
3. The Clients Who Have Become Friends
As a genealogy translator who works from home, ninety-nine percent of my contact with clients is over e-mail. As a people-person and extravert, this part of the job does not exactly match my personality. However, through conferences such as RootsTech, I have been lucky enough to get to know several of my clients and German handwriting course students in person throughout the years – and they are the nicest people ever. This year at RootsTech, these clients were kind enough to 1) stop by and say hello (remember how big that Expo Hall is?!), 2) tell me congratulations on how my business has grown since they have known me (the fact that they noticed really meant a lot to me) , and 3) make a point to tell potential new clients browsing at my booth that that they would recommend me (gotta love clients who do your marketing work for you!). While these may have been small actions for them, it meant the world to me and allowed me to feel a sense of connection with them as well. Plus, amidst 24,000 attendees, it’s always nice to see a familiar face!
4. The Kind Surprises
One of my favorite things about conferences is getting to know the “genealogy regulars” – the people who attend genealogy conferences on a more consistent basis. This year, one of these regulars – a woman whom I had gotten to know and develop a friendship with last year – came to my booth and told me that she had brought me a present from her hometown of New Orleans. She then gave me a strand of rare black Mardi gras beads with the fleur-de-lis, the symbol of St. Louis (my hometown) on it, and a cute little purple dog made out of beads as well. The fact that this woman thought of me before the conference and went out of her way to bring me such a personalized present really made my day.
5. The Words of Motivation
As any speaker/vendor will tell you (and as I alluded to in the first section), as much as we love RootsTech, the weeks leading up to the conference can be a bit stressful. For most of February, I was working 24/7 to finish my new book, The Magic of German Church Records, and, of course, was working on preparing my presentation for RootsTech as well. The night before the presentation, I didn’t sleep as well as I had wanted, and woke up frustrated that I didn’t get a good night’s rest before a very important day.
I then logged in to check my e-mail, and saw a message from a client – who I had never met in person – telling me that he was going to attend my presentation that day and that he was very excited about it. He then wrote the exact phrase I needed to hear in my worried-about-my-lack-of-sleep state:
These two sentences were the exact bit of motivation I needed at that very moment of tiredness, and the fact that this person I hadn’t yet met took time out of his day to write me a motivating e-mail meant the world to me – and gave me the extra energy I needed.
After the presentation, countless people also took time out of their days to come to my booth and tell me how much they enjoyed it, which meant a great deal to me as well. After putting hours and hours of work into a lecture, it really means a lot to us speakers to know that it made a difference to you and will help you in your research. So thank you to all of you who made a point to stop by!
In conclusion, it was a wonderful week, and I left Salt Lake City with a smile on my face. Thank you to everyone who went out of their way to spread their kindness in my direction – as you see, it meant so much to me and I love the genealogy community even more now than I did before.
What about you? Did you experience any acts of kindness at RootsTech? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear your stories.