Category Archives: Family History Societies

The Demise of “Who Do You Think You Are? Live”

Well I didn’t see that one coming. I’d even completed the online feedback survey, so no hint of trouble. On the contrary it seemed feedback was being sought to keep the show fresh and relevant. But then the bombshell: 2017’s “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” was the final one.

The news broke this afternoon with the announcement from the Society of Genealogists that Immediate Media had called it a day.

Packing Away After The Final “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” – Photo by Jane Roberts

In my review of the show I did make reference to some notable absentees this year, and the increase in non-genealogy related stands. I also heard that the cost of stands was not cheap, which may explain some of the absentees and the fact other archives and Family History Societies pooled resources to ensure a presence.

There had been talk about lower footfall, and a number of last minute ticket offers maybe indicated pre-sales were lower than anticipated. But there was no sudden curtailment of days, as happened with the 2014 move to Glasgow. The show seemed busy to me. And although there were questions raised about the move from London, the shift to a nationally central location, Birmingham, made it far more accessible and cost-effective for many other folk. Although on the downside maybe this affected the ability to attract celebrities featured in the TV series. The workshops appeared full – in fact most of the ones I pre-booked were sell-outs, so no lack of interest there. 

However the bottom line was, in spite of its popularity, the show did not make money, as outlined in the online announcement in “Who Do You Think You Are?” Magazine. In it Marie Davies, director of WDYTYA? LIVE said “We have done our best over the years to bring it into profit. Unfortunately, the show has continued to make a loss for Immediate Media and we have had to bring it to a close.”

I will miss the event for many reasons.

It was great to have such a wide variety of family history related information, societies and commercial providers under one roof, both in terms of geographical spread and genealogical interests represented. This cannot be replicated at local or regional events. To get this breadth of family history topics covered would mean visiting several local and regional shows, and probably those shows would not attract some of the bigger, or niche, players. So I saw it as an extremely cost-effective and time-saving benefit.

The show also provided an ideal opportunity to find out more first-hand about the various organisations, rather than relying on Internet searches. I personally prefer to talk face-to-face to someone.

Having so many experts on hand, and informative talks, was a unique opportunity. Again this was made possible because of the national scale. Yes, to pre-book workshops cost £2 in advance or £3 on the day. But they were extremely popular. And where else could you get such a packed programme?

The amount of show bargains and discounts, from books and magazines to courses, subscriptions and DNA testing, all under one roof was unrivalled. This alone made the show tremendous value for money, in what is can be an expensive pursuit.

I also found a three-day show provided more of an opportunity to attend rather than a one-day event. There was a chance of making at least one day. This year I was fortunate to attend all three days. It gave a chance to step back from outside distractions, immerse myself in the atmosphere and focus on my family history interests.

It served all levels too. From those in the early stages of their family history quest, to the more experienced. It disseminated knowledge, kindled enthusiasm and made you realise there is far more to the wonderful world of genealogy than censuses, online parish registers and GRO indexes. 

But above all the event was a social occasion, with a real sense of community. Family history can be a very lonely pursuit. “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” counteracted that. It was fabulous to chat with so many people who share the same passion. It was wonderful to put faces to “virtual world” names and Twitter handles. And as the saying goes, it’s good to talk, whatever stage of the genealogical journey you’re on.

Maybe this will give a boost to local and regional family history societies and events. I now aim to go to the Yorkshire Family History Fair on 24 June. So maybe this should be viewed as an opportunity. But I do hope this does not mark the demise of a national event.

“Who Do You Think You Are? Live” 2017 – A Very Different Show Experience

2017 proved a very different “WDYTYA? Live” show experience for me on a number of counts. The major shift this year, instead of cramming everything into one day including the travelling, I did the full three days and stayed within walking distance of the NEC. It made for a far more relaxed, sensibly paced visit, with plenty time to chat, plan, rehydrate, refuel and rest. No running round like an episode of “Challenge Anneka” #ShowingMyAge.

It meant I could visit all the exhibitors I planned to see and more besides. I’m not saying I didn’t forget things – on the journey home I realised I’d not made use of a £5 voucher I’d picked up with one of my purchases. But there were very few “kick myself” moments on that homeward journey.

As ever a wide range of exhibitors and experts were present, representing a breadth of family history aspects. From the big dataset providers, genealogy and software suppliers to Family History Societies and the archives sector. From companies providing family history courses to professional organisations and publishers. Niche interests were represented too such as theatrical ancestors, the ShipIndex for researching vessels associated with ancestors and the Canal and River Trust: The Waterways Archive, described as “a treasure chest for anyone with waterways’ ancestors”. There’s the international aspect too. Not just England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales but Belgium, Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, the Caribbean and Canada.

A Little Bit of Yorkshire in Birmingham

An aside, not sure if this was just my perception, but did there seem to be far more non-family history related stands this year? I really wouldn’t like this to get out of hand in future and detract from what is the country’s largest family history show.

Digging for Victory

The military sector was there in force, fittingly including ancestral tourism such as Mons Memorial Tourism, in this period of centenary commemorations. In addition were the excellent displays by Dig for Victory and The Battlefields Partnership. At the latter I achieved a long-held ambition to hold a Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) from the Great War. My arm and shoulder ached afterwards – it was quite heavy and I was fairly slow on the uptake as to what to do.

Fun with Guns – Not Killing Off My Ancestors (as was suggested)

The MoD stand proved of particular interest to me. TNT Archive Services, which holds those as yet unreleased MoD service records (essentially 1920 onwards depending on rank) had a database where you could ask them to search for a record of interest. I had a few to check, and confirmed they held them all, including records for those who did National Service. I definitely intend applying for two of them but I’m holding off for now. During the show Chris Baker, military historian, researcher and author, tweeted: “MOD saying today that an exciting announcement concerning post-1921 army service records is soon to be made”. So is this a transfer to The National Archives, or a digitisation project enabling speedier access? I’m waiting to see.

Queue at the MoD Service Records Database Stand

As ever you could always seek expert help in interpreting finds, breaking down brick walls, finding pointers for further research and identifying and dating family treasures and photos. Besides the Military Checkpoint manned by a range of military museum specialists, the popular Ask the Expert area returned for wider queries as did show stalwart Eric Knowles with his Heirloom Detectives section.

Expert Advice at the Military Checkpoint

There were however some notable absentees amongst the major players, who I really expected to have a presence at this prestigious annual national event. These included The National Archives, The Imperial War Museum, Forces War Records and Fold3. Yes, money is tight, the public and charity sector have taken massive Government funding cuts, and having a presence at these events does not come cheap. And yes, others may be off-shoots of bigger companies. But I really was disappointed not to see them at the show, and I think many others will share that sense of disappointment.

It wasn’t as if all Government departments were absent. The MoD turned up, as did the General Register Office. I’m still thinking about ordering a couple of certificates in Phase 3 of their trial, those certificates not held in a digital format (births 1935-2006, deaths 1958-2006 and marriages 1837-2010). They were apparently overwhelmed by Phase 1, the £6 PDFs of those certificates digitised under the now suspended DoVE (Digitisation of Vital Events) project. Take up of Phase 2, the £45 three-hour turn round option, aimed mainly at probate companies, was far lower than anticipated. Once Phase 3 is finished they will all be evaluated and a decision taken of which (if any) to roll forward.

A Busy Exhibition Hall – My Favourite Stand Title of the Show

DNA was promoted heavily in the 2017 show. Some unbelievable offers featured, with a constant stream of customers buying multiple kits. For example Ancestry sold at £49 (with no P&P addition); Living DNA £99; and Family Tree DNA Family Finder was £40, Y-DNA 25 £70, Y-DNA 37 £80, MtDNA Plus £50 and MtDNA Full Sequence £100. I desperately tried to engage my family, but in the end the only “persuadee” was my husband. So no direct DNA breakthrough with that one. Although with the number of kits flying off the shelves this will hopefully result in an expansion of the U.K. DNA pool, more matches and more of these matches with trees attached (please). So maybe I’ll get lucky that way.

In fact fantastic offers abounded throughout the hall. In addition to DNA, I succumbed to a number. These included a show discount on Family Historian 6 and accompanying guide book; a subscription to Family Tree Magazine with three issues for £4.99, a goody bundle, £10 cash back, a £5 voucher to spend at the show (which I forgot about) and a discounted quarterly subscription rate which kicks in later this summer; I picked up a discount from Ancestry which I will use when my annual subscription comes up for renewal; I signed up to a Pharos Tutors course, “In sickness and in death” with a 10% discount, cheery soul that I am; and as for books…..a 30% discount at the History Press stand lured me into my first show purchase. As for Pen and Sword I was one of the hoards flocking round flashing cash, which saw their books flying off their stand with their offer of three for £25 or five for £45. I’m not sure I saw the logic of that price strategy and I think the sign was amended later to six for £45. I was so pleased I bought my Pen and Sword titles on the first two days, because a number of books did sell out.

Afternoon of Day 3 and Stocks Running Low at Pen and Sword

In and amongst this shopping frenzy I also found time to renew my Shropshire FHS subscription, as I do at some stage intend researching my husband’s family history. Family History Societies are a wonderful, and in this digital age possibly overlooked, source of information.

My Book Purchases

As for talks, again the three day visit meant I could do a selection without brain overload. One thing I found a tad frustrating was how the schedule came through in dribs and drabs leading up to the show. Based on previous experience of talks selling out before the show date I pre-booked mine, only to find nearer the date others were announced which I would have opted for. Too late as they clashed with ones I’d already coughed up cash for.

Kirsty Gray talks to a full house – illustrating the value of pre-booking talks

I attended 10 talks over the three days. These combined a mixture of specialties, general research techniques, and my specific Irish and World War 1 interests. I felt I got the balance right and I’ll be checking the Society of Genealogists website for the slide uploads. One or two were particularly challenging and perhaps less suited to those with a casual interest or beginners, which was reflected in the numbers leaving during these talks. I’m not sure if there is any way in advance of indicating the level of the talk as it must be off putting for the speaker, as well as distracting for the audience, to see a steady trickle of leavers.

My Pre-Booked Talks

It’s difficult to pick out a favourite talk. All were insightful in different ways. And I’m full of admiration for the speakers as its not an easy task to talk in front of such a big audience and pitch it at the right level. I’ve already put into practice a tip I learned from Jackie Depelle’s “Bridging the Gap – Tracing Forward from 1911” talk, and added to some German family research I undertook a few years ago by looking at the German baptisms on Ancestry. But in terms of general enjoyment, I loved Neil McGurk’s “The British Soldier of 1917” looking at the uniform, equipment and its evolution. A great presentation packed with interesting and often amusing information!

Jackie Depelle and Neil McGurk’s Talks

DNA featured as prominently in the talks as it did amongst the exhibitors. This year I only attended one talk loosely related to this topic, and that came from a more general interest rather than a tips and explanation angle. “Identifying the Missing of World War 1″ by Maurice Gleeson examined the practical application of DNA technology married with solid genealogical research to put names to the remains of those service personnel periodically unearthed from the soil of the Western Front.

The Fromelles project, which aimed to put names to the 250 men in the mass graves discovered in 2009 near Pheasant Wood illustrated how vital DNA proved in all cases of the 150 men so far identified. Work continues to try to put names to the remainder if at all possible. Hats off too to the genealogists involved in tracing “informative” Y and MtDNA line ancestors. I’d love to be involved in this kind of worthwhile work, a wonderful way to give something back and enable these service personnel the dignity of a named final resting place and their descendants a sense of closure.

Identifying the Missing of World War 1 – Maurice Gleeson

A video of this talk, given at another event, is online. I would definitely recommend viewing it.

Another shift for me this year was doing a stint on a stand. Only for 90 minutes, but it gave a whole new perspective on the show. I helped on the Pharos Tutors stand, to give the student view of the courses and structure. I really enjoyed chatting to people and it gave an indication of how much effort and how tiring, but rewarding, it can be to have a stand at the show. It was also interesting to observe the ebb and flow of visitors and general show footfall.

Taking my turn on the Pharos Teaching & Tutoring stand

And the final big difference at a personal level this year was the social aspect. Over the past year or so through courses and social media, including #AncestryHour at 7pm-8pm on Tuesday’s, I’ve “met” so many folk with a passion for genealogy. “WDYTYA? Live” was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with some I had met previously, and meet even more for the first time. That for me was the real highlight of this year’s show.

Meeting up with Carolyn, another Pharos Student

Last word on the 2017 show is a massive thank you to all those involved in organising the event, and to the speakers and exhibitors. Another fabulous event and I’ve returned with fresh ideas and renewed vigour for my research.

Packing Away at the End of “WDYTYA? Live” 2017

Other reviews of the event can be found here:

January Sale: Huddersfield & District Family History Society Publications

A proper January sale for me. Not clothes or household goods. But Parish Register index booklets.

Many of my ancestors are from the area of West Yorkshire covered by the Huddersfield & District Family History Society (FHS). So naturally this is one of the societies I’m a member of. This month they are reducing the price of their Register Transcription booklets to £1.00 and CDs to £5.00. Here is their Publication Page link.

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A Selection of my HDFHS Index Booklets

Although the Ancestry West Riding Parish Register collection is wonderful, and nothing can beat a visit to the local Archives, I must admit to a strong attachment to these index booklets and the hard work of all the FHS transcribers they represent. So in part this post is a shout out for all the fantastic work they do.

Yes, I do check my ancestral finds against the Registers for the rare, but inevitable, transcription error. And I do enjoy  looking through the Registers. But I still love the physical comfort and solidity of a book(let), not to mention the eye-relief especially when browsing generally.

And despite the big push by genealogy companies and the impression they sometimes give, not everything is available on the Internet…including some of the Parishes covered by these indexes.

I’m fortunate to live in the same area of many of my ancestors, so I can easily visit West Yorkshire Archives, local studies libraries and the excellent local libraries, including the one in my hometown of Batley. Others do not have this luxury. These indexes are excellent finding aids and another gateway to the Registers, providing a complementary, alternative source of information.

So whilst my husband was out at work on New Year’s Day, I spent part of it perusing the several hundred booklets produced by the FHS, checking against my list of previous purchases, and placing my (large) order.

Family History 2016: My Genealogy New Year’s Resolutions

That time of the year again. Time to look at my genealogy New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not into setting myself up for failure with overly-ambitious goals. So nothing too grand. More a case of “back to basics”. Some targets are more challenging than others, but all are attainable; and I hope that re-establishing good habits will ultimately bear fruit with my family history research.

I’ve culled my Resolutions to six. Weird number I know. But when setting work-linked objectives, which is essentially what these Resolutions are, sticking to a small manageable number works best for me. It encourages focus.

So this is my 2016 line-up (or walk of shame):

Regular Data Back-Ups
I’ve so much information stored on my ageing laptop. From my Family Historian tree to genealogy coursework; from research notes to information downloads such as burial registers and directories; not to mention scanned family and location photos and the final versions of my St Mary’s War Memorial and Hill Family History book. So, on the first of each month, I’m going to commit to a regular data back-up. A boring task which is all too easy to skip, as I know only too well; and before you know it weeks can easily become months between back-ups, and the consequences of a laptop failure after such a time-lapse doesn’t bear thinking about. This objective fits neatly into the SMART acronym.

  • Specific;
  • Measurable;
  • Achievable;
  • Realistic; and
  • Time-bound

Record Keeping
I love researching. It’s the thrill of putting all the pieces of a family puzzle together. What I’m not too hot with is the day-to-day routine. Meticulously recording my searches (failures as well as finds), updating my Family Historian programme, recording sources, filing documents etc. All this is such a chore in comparison to finding that elusive relative. I do it when researching for others because it is crucial work; but over the past couple of years I seem to have I have developed a blind spot with my own family history research. I’ve a stack of documents to record and notes to sort – but I always manage to find an excuse to put it off. No more! I will get them up to date in the first quarter of the year, and from then on record and file as I go along.….something I always used to do.

Get a Grip of Subscriptions
Over the years I’ve accumulated various subscriptions including magazines, Family and Local History Societies and websites. I’m now loosing track of what I’ve got, the costs and the renewal dates. It also means I’m not making the best use of my subscriptions. So this month I’m going to make a list of them all, along with the renewal dates. Then over the course of the year I’ll monitor my usage, evaluate them and decide which ones to continue with. Hopefully by doing this I’ll also keep up to date with what is out there, make fuller use of my subscriptions and become more involved.

A Selection of my Family History Subscriptions

A Selection of my Family History Subscriptions

Keep Informed about Latest Family History Developments
I’m going to ensure I set aside some time each week to keep up to date with family history developments in an organised way. As a start I do have several “free” hours each week travelling too and from work, so I can make far better use of this “dead” time to catch up with the latest news. This will comprise a mixture of platforms including:

  • making sure I do read those family history magazine and online genealogy newsletters I subscribe to;
  • keeping up with information from genealogy websites and companies;
  • continuing to broaden my knowledge by reading genealogy/family history books (at least one a month);
  • regularly reviewing what courses, talks and webinars are out there. After participating in The National Archives 1939 webinar, I’m going to sign up for other similar learning events from a mixture of sources (a minimum of six in the year); and
  • attending at least two family history fairs during the year

Get Back to my own Family History Research
This could be the real tricky one. Particularly over the last year or so I’ve found I have spent less and less time on my own personal research and more and more time researching for others. There have also been family illness issues which have intervened. Don’t get me wrong, I love researching for others. But I really do want to make some time to return to my own roots. I never did get to do my mum’s Family History book; neither did I make any progress with my husband’s Staffordshire and Shropshire tree. There are also lots of other loose ends I want to pursue. So I will need to commit time to my own research. That means my next big project will be the Callaghan/Rhodes Family History book. I will plan the outline by autumn, and make a start on writing it towards the end of 2016. I also want to move on with my husbands tree – I’ve lots of certificates lined up to buy, but I may still delay here in the hope that the cost does come down in 2016!

DNA
In 2015 I embarked on my genetic genealogy journey. In 2016 I aim to upload my data to GEDmatch, dig deeper into the findings and respond to contacts from others within two weeks. The end goal is to generally get more from the results than I have to date. A challenge to a self-confessed technophobe!

So New Year, clean slate. It will be interesting to see if I’ve managed to stick to these when 2016 draws to a close. Hopefully putting them into the public domain is another incentive for me to succeed with them!

Right, I’m off to do my data back-up.