Taking the opportunity to attend a family history show when overseas is always a worthwhile activity. Not only do you get to view the latest and greatest in genealogy (you hope) but for me, it provides an opportunity to see what most people are interested in given the demographics of the attendees.
This particular show is organised by the Discover Your Ancestors magazine and was held on the 21 September at Sandown Park racecourse at Esher, about 30km from London. The organisers also hold the Yorkshire Family History Show and the South West Family History Show.
All up there were around 56 exhibitors on the day with the headline sponsor being The Genealogist and the DNA sponsor being MyHeritage DNA. The entry costs were quite reasonable – about $15 on the day or $10 if pre-purchased. The organisers also provided a free shuttle bus from the railway station to the venue and this proved to be heavily utilised and greatly appreciated.
I arrived a few minutes before 10am, the opening time, and there was already a long queue outside, most of whom fitted the GSQ demographic. Once inside, I have to say that I was quite disappointed with the stands for the two main sponsors. MyHeritage’s table had some flyers and a DNA kit – no computers to show you what your results look like, how to search trees etc. The Genealogist was much the same – it seemed to be all about subscriptions (yes, I know they have to get their money back) but I feel that more people would have joined if they had been able to play around with their site for a little.
Other than MyHeritage, there were no other exhibitors with a focus on DNA. This may have been deliberate so that there wasn’t any competition for MyHeritage but I would have thought there would have been some focus by others, for example, a stand selling books on the topic perhaps or one of the Ask the Experts could have been a DNA expert who would help with interpreting results.
However, the show’s exhibitors would have put most attendees into genie heaven. If you had an ancestor from a major English county, then this was definitely the place for you. Exhibitors, amongst many others, included the East Surrey FHS, Manchester and Lancashire FHS, Society of Genealogists, West Middlesex FHS, Devon FHS and Wiltshire FHS.
There were also a number of second hand book sellers (a veritable treasure trove if you lived locally and were not worried about bag weight on the flight home), the National Archives (another disappointing stand – no publications for sale at all), the Ministry of Defence’s Medal Service and two stands with authors selling their novels. One stand that was doing a roaring trade was S&N Genealogy Supplies with its archival sleeves and photo storage. However, there were no specific software companies selling technology solutions etc for genealogy which I found disappointing.
I spent some time at the FFHS stand (Federation of Family History Societies) chatting about family history societies and their decline/growth. There was a general feeling that Societies are going through highs and lows (in membership figures) in much the same way as GSQ. While actual membership waxes and wanes, the interest in genealogy continues to increase with the main growth area being commissioned research, that is, people prefer to pay for someone to research on their behalf rather than take out membership of a society and do it for themselves.
In addition to the keynote presentation, there were free talks throughout the day, many of which were repeated. The presenters included Graham Walter who discussed apps for mobile genealogy, a DNA 101 guide from MyHeritage, another on dating family photographs (Jayne Shrimpton), one on breaking down brick walls (Mark Bayley), Chris Baker spoke about tracing your military ancestors and Keith Gregson spoke about tips and tricks for online research. As well as the presentations, three of the speakers also conducted free Ask the Expert sessions: Jayne Shrimpton on dating photographs, Chris Baker on military matters and Keith Gregson on sport and social history research. I made some time to speak to Chris Baker to see if he had tips as to where I could look for my elusive ggg grandfather who served in the Commissariat between about 1812 and 1815. Sadly, records that far back were not his area of interest so I will have to look further afield.
By lunchtime, the venue was busy but not crowded. The first free lecture was on at 10.30 followed at 11.30am by the keynote talk on the Future of Genealogy, This was presented by Dick Eastman, who writes an online newsletter, sponsored by MyHeritage. There did not appear to be anyone in the theatre chairing each session to keep to the schedule so the first speaker ended up going over time by about 10 minutes. There was a further delay before the keynote so that video cameras could be set up.
The keynote was a disappointing presentation for me as I felt that the keynote topic was not really addressed. It started with an overlong clip from a Star Trek episode from Series 1 which shows a woman who had been frozen for 300 years wanting to know what had happened to her children. The video clip was very difficult to see even for those at the front of the room and went on for too long just to make a point that technology will change how we do family history research. I would think that most of us know that by now.
The rest of the presentation promoted MyHeritage and The Genealogist (the sponsors) and some of their tools.It also covered the use of the Internet for records, cloud storage, looking beyond dates etc but in a very superficial, almost basic way. I felt that it did not demonstrate the insight into the future I would have expected from someone who writes a genealogical newsletter, which is subscribed to by thousands of people, and is asked to speak at numerous family history events.
[You can watch Dick Eastman’s presentation at: https://www.facebook.com/thefamilyhistoryshow/ and decide for yourself on its merits or otherwise. Scroll down to the video. You will see the back of my head on the right hand side in the first few minutes of the clip. You can also view the slides from his presentation at www.eogn.com/handouts/future.]
Overall, I was pleased that I took the time to head out from London to the Family History Show but wouldn’t go again. Would I recommend it to others? Yes and no. If you are like me and know you have an English ancestor but have no idea where he/she was born, then it may not be as beneficial as it would be for someone who knows what county/counties their ancestors lived in. The secondhand book stalls were great and made it a worthwhile visit for me. I just wish there had been more room in the suitcases.