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Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Who Do You Think You Are? Live - impressions of a first timer

I think I was one of the first through the doors...

Last Saturday, I hauled myself out of bed to catch an early train to Birmingham NEC for WDYTYA? Live.  Was it worth it?  Definitely.

Although I hadn’t been to the event before (or any family history show for that matter), I thought I had a reasonable idea of what to expect.  What I hadn’t anticipated was the great atmosphere.  What a friendly bunch of people genealogists are!  It’s quite refreshing to have conversations about your research that don’t provoke confused or blank stares…

Here's a quick review of the three workshops I attended:

High Definition Ancestry DNA Testing in the UK
The guys from Living DNA gave a good overview of their methods and how they can offer a more detailed picture of your UK ancestry.  Refreshingly, it wasn’t a hard sell, and in any case I’d already done a test with them (just awaiting results).  I have to admit that the science bit stretched my ‘O’ Level Biology to its limits, and I was on more comfortable ground with the parts that touched on archaeology, anthropology and genetic history – the impact of major events on genetic distribution within the population was particularly interesting.  Living DNA don't offer a matching capability at present so it was good to hear that plans are moving forward for enabling downloads of data that can be transferred to other companies that do provide this.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read – or Hear!
Mary Evans gave a great reminder of the need to look critically at all the information we are presented with and to apply our natural scepticism about handed down family stories to official documents as well.  “It says so on the birth certificate” isn’t always sufficient proof!  People make mistakes, guess and, yes, tell outright lies when engaging with officialdom.  Mary used numerous examples from her own research to illustrate how we can use a sceptical approach to overcome brickwalls and I came away with a determination to look again at a couple of mine.

Why Pay? The Top Free Genealogy Website Alternatives
John Hanson acknowledged upfront that time constraints limited the amount of information he could share – but that luckily the handout would be available from the SoG website.  Overall, John gave some good suggestions for alternative websites to the commercial providers – there probably weren’t many that I wasn’t already aware of but I’ll be interested in looking at the handout in more detail.  It was good that he also acknowledged the additional benefits that paying for commercial providers can bring (and the costs involved with bringing major record sets online, whether financial or the time of volunteers).

Away from the workshops, I hadn’t been organised enough to print out details of research problems that I wanted help with.  Nevertheless, I had some very productive conversations with local family history societies, including Devon FHS who were able to identify the church where some of my McCollough ancestors are buried, (St Saviour's, Tormoham, now the Greek Orthodox Church of St Andrew), and the North of Ireland FHS who explained the importance of Townlands to tracing your Irish relatives.  I signed up for membership of Berkshire FHS and Manchester and Lancashire FHS, as well as the Family and Community Historical Research Society, an organisation I hadn’t heard of previously but one that I’m looking forward to closer involvement with as they focus on locally based collaborative micro-studies bringing together family and local history.

Having signed up for the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies newly launched ‘Awaken Your Ancestors’ course, it was great to meet the school’s Director of Education, Les Mitchinson, who talked me through their qualifications pathway and really motivated me to get going.

Throw in a great book offer from Pen & Sword and a reduced subscription to The Genealogist website and it all made for a very productive, if tiring, day.

I've seen a few issues raised online about the event, some perhaps more valid than others.  A few people have mentioned the number of non-family history exhibitors, which didn't seem particularly high to me, although as I've never been before I obviously had no benchmark to compare against.  I certainly didn't feel they detracted from the value of the event.  In common with others, I am surprised that The National Archives weren't represented, as they have been in previous years.  It would be a concern to me if the number of local family history societies exhibiting is indeed declining, as some people have suggested, as I found talking to these groups particularly beneficial.  Would the show benefit from a return to London?  I'm not sure - any increase in numbers attending from the south would surely be offset by a decline in numbers from elsewhere, which probably makes Birmingham a sensible compromise.  I'm also not sure that a move to London, with associated higher costs, would encourage more local societies to exhibit.

Overall, it's an event I'd recommend to anyone involved in family history, whatever your level of experience.  I'm looking forward to next year...


  1. Peter,

    I want to let you know that your blog is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

    1. Thank you Jana - that's very nice of you. Hope you have a good weekend too.