The BIG Family History Fair returned to St Ives, Cambridgeshire, this weekend, and I learnt a load about the significance of manorial records in genealogy, and let the moths out of my wallet at the Bedfordshire Family History stand.
It a one day (on Saturday) with free admission, that attracts family history fans from the area. There’s a series of talks and a wide range of trade stands from the likes of local history societies, the Guild of One-Name Studies, historic postcard companies, and some familiar faces in the genealogy supplies market like Maxbal Genealogy and My History.
After enjoying a cuppa in the gym café next door, I arrived about 20mins in, and paid the £2 for my first lecture ticket. After a quick initial wander around, and the pleasure of bumping into blogging and twitter comrade Jane Freeman, I made my way upstairs for my first lecture at 10:30am.
Philip Saunders, project officer of the Manorial Documents Register at the National Archives, began his talk ‘To The Manor Born: What Manorial Records Can Tell You About Your Ancestors‘.
Manorial records are, as yet, an un-tapped source for me. I know they’re out there for a wide number of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire manors, but I’ve been busy contending with the swathes of other records available to me. I’ll get to them eventually.
However, Philip’s talk was expertly delivered for a complete novice like me – he took time to explain how and why documents existed, and illustrated his talk throughout with examples – most of which were contextually relevant and being from Cambridgeshire or Huntingdonshire.
He showed us how what looks like a small folded piece of paper, can actually open out to give you dozens of names, dates, and other bits of information that is otherwise going un-detected in genealogy research.
His work has been to bring a register of the manorial records for Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire to The National Archive website, and he showed us how to find some of these already for neighbouring counties. Apparently Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire data will start to appear on the site soon via the ‘Record Creators’ tab of advanced search.
I was amused to see that one document even carried what was a 16th century drawing of a Huntingdonshire labourer struggling with his crutches!
Having finished his talk, I returned downstairs, this time for a proper browse of the stands.
It was hard to get anywhere near the postcard stands (I like finding advertorial postcards of one of my Ely relative’s bakery, and I’m looking out for some of the now defunct village pubs that my family have run over the generations).
The one stall that was definitely on my list was the Bedfordshire Family History Society stand, and I was pleased to find their team very helpful. Having checked my now quite large pile of Parish Register CD-roms the night before, I had two parishes on my list: Leighton Buzzard, and Wrestlingworth.
Thankfully they had both, and after walking back into St Ives to get some cash (sadly no card machines available, but at least there was free wifi this time!), I decided that actually I’d buy both CDs at a total of £35. After all, it’s a bank holiday weekend, and what else have I got to do? ;)
Of course, as soon as I’d got home, I started to explore, and so began my journey back into the 17th century to find my Truelove, Goodsole and Miller ancestors.
If you haven’t heard from me by Tuesday morning, give me a nudge!
Summary of my third and final day at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015 show at Birmingham NEC, including my favourite stand, and ticket dates for the 2016 show.
Well, that’s it! The 2015 Who Do You Think You Are? Live show is over.
If you went along, what did you think? Did you enjoy it? Was Birmingham NEC up to the job? Are you going next year? Did you think it was busy?
Once again, I really enjoyed the show – it was lovely to see familiar faces and brands, and also meet new ones too, and learn lots of new ‘old’ things. (Check out my Day One and Day Two posts!)
Having checked out of my hotel in Coventry, and stepped off the train at Birmingham, I noticed that there was a ‘Tweet up’ (essentially, a group of twitter users, who arrange a time/place to meet up via twitter, and so extending the invite to a wide audience) about to happen, so a quick diversion via the courtyard, gave us a wonderfully sunny set of Tweet Up photos.
After this, I made my way back into the show and noticed that the workshop ticket queue had reduced down nicely, so joined it behind a senior couple. Sadly, the woman in the couple was taking issue with the queuing system ‘this is the third day, and they haven’t managed to sort it out! The third day!’ she repeated to her silent male companion, and promptly decided to snap at the helpful ticket lady, who kept her cool perfectly.
I hope you’re reading this – you should have seen the queue earlier. The ticket team seemed to be doing a great job.
Turning around, I could see that the AncestryDNA stand was already doing booming business, again echoing just how much ‘DNA’ is this year’s buzz-word. I wonder just how many kits they sold over the three days? (and whether the testing period might become elongated?). I can only assume that the more kits that are sold in the UK, means that the data gets bigger, and the potential for more DNA matches increases.
Moving on a little, I stumbled across Linda Kerr (from The International Society of Genetic Genealogy – or ISOGG) giving a talk on DNA for Absolute Beginners – her talk seemed very clear and straightforward, and whilst the buzz about DNA was resonating through a lot of companies this year, it was great to see that the basics were being covered too. I loved how my photo captured ‘Does not replace traditional research’. A very good point!
I then headed over to the very well stocked stand at My History and picked up a load of archive safe photo pockets.
I have a large collection of small 1930-1950s photographs in my grandmother’s photo albums, but when you pick them up, the photos all fall out because the sticky pages have dried up.
Hopefully this should help sort, store, and put them safely back in order.
I think that out of all of the stands, my favourite design was The National Archives – i found it visually striking, wonderfully themed and lit. Of course, the 1939 Tea Rooms from FindMyPast, were wonderful too.. but it’s hard to compare them as their purpose was so different.
My 2015 Who Do You Think You Are? Live take-aways
Death Duty Records are a big, exciting, mess, and a trove of information (Day Two via Dave Annal)
‘The spoon’ isn’t quite as exciting as I’d hoped (Day Two via Eric Knowles)
It’s dribbling, not swabbing time, in the Martin households (Day One via AncestryDNA)
I walked 29,454 steps over these three days – the equivalent to 12.81 miles. Most of this would be inside the venue.
One thing I noticed this year, was that my enthusiasm for a third day was waining by midday. In London, if I dipped out early, I knew enough of London and had enough friends there, that I could pop out for a bit and do something else and head back, or head out early, but here at the NEC, it didn’t feel like that. Maybe next year, I might cut down to 2 days unless there’s some specific lure to keep me there/busy.
Don’t get me wrong, the show is really worthwhile, but as a family historian, whose ancestors have struggled to move more than 10 miles within Cambridgeshire over the last 420+ years, it’s really only the ‘generic’ talks and stands that give me the extra value. Learning about Irish roots, or researching Scottish records, or visiting a specific locale society stand, will be hard to apply to my somewhat almost ‘insular’ research territory.
Having said that, I’ve not done my DNA test yet… so that could all change. I’m still guessing Scandinavian is going to be in there.
I’m yet to hear of the official figures for this newly re-homed show, but I did hear that day two (Friday) was busier than the first day.
My brain struggled to imagine whether the show itself was bigger – as Olympia was always spread across a main hall and a mezzanine, with a few of the talks held off in rooms to the site, and the aisles between stands were about 1/3rd narrower than those in the NEC. It’s difficult to compare.
Day Two of the Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015 show at Birmingham NEC is over, and the final day is coming!
If you’re yet to tread the halls of this year’s show, then here’s what you missed in Day Two.
Right near the front of the entrance is the show’s main sponsor, in prime space – Ancestry. I’ve had my account with these guys (and FindMyPast) for some time, and this year the team are going all guns to promote their AncestryDNA product.
Essentially this consists of a kit, that you can buy and register on their site, and then use to take a swab sample of DNA. Post them off, and then your results are returned to you online about 6-8 weeks later, via your Ancestry account.
The results will then give you an ethnicity estimate (I’m hoping for Vikings and old Saxons), and then it will give you leads to other people who have taken the test on AncestryDNA, where they have found matching DNA.
I’ve picked up two kits, as I was curious, and my mother has been far more excitedly curious about her DNA for some years. I guess that with all the other kits around, and with the recent discovery, questioning and burial of Richard III, the DNA market is booming.
I’ll write more about the tests another time – so keep posted!
Day Two was definitely busier, and even though the aisles are wider between stands (most noticeably amongst the Society of Genealogists Family History stands) they were still thick with busy, eager, genealogists looking for the next clue.
As with yesterday, where I was able to catch Alec Tritton talk about the many wonders of The Parish Chest, and caught some of Jayne Shrimpton talking about the dating of 80s and 90s photographs (1880s/1890s, okay!), today I was able to catch some more.
The first was from Dave Annal who gave a fascinating talk on the FindMyPast stand, on Death Duty Registers. I could tell that it was something to do with death and taxes, but beyond that I had no idea what they would contain. As a source, they look like the fantastically messiest, chaotic and cryptic set of possible information ever (beyond Doctor’s notes!).
Later, I briefly caught the team at FamilySearch, who gave me a lovely warm reminder about the years of research I’ve put in working my way through microfilm. They themselves are in the midst of a big project to digitise microfilm, and are looking for volunteers to process batches of transcripts so that everything can become much easier to search. I don’t think that this was new news, but it was good to hear what they are up to.
Finally, I sat in on Copyright and Family History – a talk by Margaret Haig from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). She gave a fascinating talk on the law and the minefield of copyright when it comes to family history. There were loads of questions after, but I poppe along to their stand to ask them my one: Who owns the copyright of a Will? The answer I was given was that they are not under copyright because they are not a creative piece, they’re a commissioned piece of work that follows a formulaic formal process. This wasn’t really the answer I was expecting.
I managed to meet Eric Knowles, and he was able to shed light on my mystery spoon… But I’ll write more about that soon too!
Blog post from Day One of Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015.
Well, here we are, the end of Day One of the 2015, re-homed Who Do You Think You Are? Live show, at Birmingham NEC. Its been a long day, involving driving from Cambridgeshire to Coventry (where I’m staying), then onto the train for the token £2.10 return trip to Birmingham International station, which adjoins the venue. I spent the entire day on my feet, wandering around, sat in on some talks, and then went to the 1939 Register launch celebration by the team at FindMyPast. Then, train back, a gym work out, and now to my hotel room to write this.
The new venue
I’m new to the NEC and it seems perfectly adept at putting on shows. Briefly, due to the volume of posters as I walked towards the show, I thought I was about to arrive at a Transit Van show… but thankfully, no. The familiar tree logo was in sight and I arrived about 10:15am. Once in, I wandered in, and over to the FindMyPast stand where I sat in on a talk on Military Records and the extra features of the FindMyPast tree (audio!).
Having soon gotten my bearings, I found myself checking out the Society of Genealogists family history show section of the event – the bit where the Societies come together and have stands. I was pleased to see Carol from my home team (Cambridgeshire Family History Society) was busy at their stand, but noted the absence of neighbouring Societies from Huntingdonshire and Bedfordshire.
Right at the end of the hall were two great additions, one was a beautiful statue of a soldier, commemorating the First World War, and the statue was within a wind machine, that periodically would blow poppies upwards and you could then watch them drift down over the still, silent, soldier. Very poignant.
The other, was the 1939 Find My Past tea room, set up to promote/celebrate the forthcoming release of the 1939 Register – the nearest thing we’ll get to a census for 30 years, due to the destruction of the 1931 census and the cancellation of the 1941 census, both due to war.
It was also in this tea room, that an aftershow party was hosted, with various speakers, Society representatives and experts… and your humble bloggers, were treated to live wartime songs, and 1939 style food (I enjoyed the corned beef hash cakes more than I thought).
Anyway, that’s some bits from the first day… So how better than to end on a song…
Ever thought about turning your family history addiction into a money-making bill paying job? I ask two professional genealogists to shed light on the how and why they did it.
I’m not a professional genealogist.
My interest in researching was fuelled by my love of Victorian photography and a hand-drawn tree that both showed my father and I people we’d never heard of, and so my interest for family history was ignited.
But whilst there are many large online family history websites like Ancestry, FindMyPast etc, there are also thousands of individual professional genealogists who work with people to uncover their family stories.
So far, I’ve not wanted to be one of those. Mainly because I just enjoy researching my own tree, and I wanted to do it however and whenever it interested me, and without a deadline. I’ve turned what have been hobbies into jobs before, and eventually for me, it has taken the fun out of it.
So, I’m curious as to why and how other people became professionals genealogists.
Q1: How did you first get interested in genealogy?
Pam: I’ve always taken a curious interest in family matters. Who? Why? What? Where? and When? whether the living wanted to tell me or not!
Roger Stonebanks, a journalist and author came searching for the family of Albert (Ginger) Goodwin, Miner 1887-1918 who’s death/murder (which ever way you want to look at it) started Canada’s first general strike.
Mark: Procrastination and avoidance. It was 1993, I was 22 and only a few weeks away from my final Law exams. My addled brain needed distraction and it seemed the obvious moment to start investigating my roots!
Often when I visited my Yorkshire and Staffordshire grandparents and great aunties as a child, they would give me something related to the family’s history such as a set of medals, an army cap badge, some old documents or an entire Royal commemorative china set, normally with the aside “Eee, I’m not long for this life, you ought to have this” and a conspiratorial wink. I was made the adolescent custodian of these objects of fascination and working out who they belonged to, as a young adult, seemed the next sensible step.
Genealogy was largely still the preserve of the retired, researching notable ancestors, and the Internet as a research tool did not yet exist. Despite this, and the laborious process of manually searching thorough heavy registers of BMDs and unindexed censuses on microfilm in the dark basements of government buildings, I became hooked. My legal training suited the research process and I suddenly had a vehicle to explore periods in history, through the stories of real people.
The initial research into my roots proved unexceptional but after years of sticking with it, the past began to yield its secrets and its characters.
Q2: What made you decide to research other people’s families and turn it into a professional career?
Pam: I began a course of education, firstly with WEA and the IHGS which made the archives my second home. Speaking about genealogy to local groups became second nature and word of mouth spread fast.
Queries started coming in and I realised there was potential to make an income from what came naturally to me i.e. an inquisitive mind and a passion for historical documentary evidence.
There is fulfilment and reward in taking a client step by step through their family history. The joy of discovery experienced by them, makes it all worthwhile.
Mark: I started doing research for friends, in order to learn more, to make people aware of what could be discovered, to feed my genealogy addiction and to satisfy my ‘family tree envy’. I was still wading through my own coal miners and ag labs at that stage and so others’ roots seemed far more romantic or exotic. I particularly enjoyed researching stories of foreign roots, migration, diasporas, adventurers, people displaced by war and famine, anything with a cultural shift. Foreign languages felt like a challenge rather than a barrier and these stories with a foreign element remain one of my specialisms as a professional genealogist.
I continued like that for the next 20 years, as a sort of paying hobby, learning as I went along, fitting it around the day job as a lawyer. I then set up my own business as a legal translator and this gave me the flexibility to go professional with the genealogy.
Q3: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking of becoming a professional genealogist?
Pam: Initially, undertake at least three courses:
An academic course on the types of records available and how to use them.
How to become a Professional Genealogist.
Genealogical Report Writing.
Join a Professional Body, advertise and network with colleagues. Genealogy can be a solitary pursuit and it is essential to build relationships and leave your computer every now and then to maintain a sense of reality with the outside world.
Make Continued Professional Development (CPD) a life choice. Be an eternal student.
Mark: For those with an existing job, start gradually. Do research for friends as a freebie but treat them as you would third-party clients: at the outset, give them a written description of what you will be doing and what they can expect; for the research, produce a well-drafted, fully-evidenced report; and finish off the job with an invoice (albeit for £0). As you get more confident and your name is passed around, you can follow this same procedure but finish with invoices that begin to reflect your worth.
Whether you are considering genealogy as a first career or a gradual switch from an existing one, academic study is invaluable. There are an increasing number of providers of courses. The Society of Genealogists runs some excellent short courses and the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, Strathclyde University and Dundee University provide longer courses.
Q4: What has been the most memorable life story that you’ve helped to uncover for a client?
Pam: Settling an argument between two elderly and warring cousins over the accuracy of their claims and links to an ancestor who was a famous author.
Although the outcome was not palatable to one, my client was justified in his account of events backed up by the evidence I provided.
Mark: I have done lots of research for television companies in the UK and the States and it is always satisfying to see your name in lights, not least to add some respectability to the profession that is genealogy. That said, it is still the private client work that is the most satisfying, especially when it relates to a person’s very identity (adoption, separation, etc.).
One case earlier this year was particularly rewarding: a lady, Ruth, in her 90s had been searching for over 70 years to establish who she was. She had grown up in an East End orphanage and was never informed of the name she was given when she was born or the identity of her parents. Other than her children, she had no family and no roots and had spent decades contacting different bodies and trying different researchers, in an attempt to work out who she was. The local authority had provided scant information and had told her that nothing more could be found or done. Assuming this to be a workhouse story, I trawled the categories of records that could relate to her time in care, such as workhouse registers and minute books, infirmary records, local schools and the orphanage itself. The exercise was complicated by the ever-changing London boroughs that had responsibility for different bodies at different times.
Most of these records were closed, so I used a Freedom of Information Act request. Within a few days, and after some thorough checks by the London Metropolitan Archives, I received 50 pages of documents relating to Miriam’s time in the orphanage. One of those 50 pages contained a single, vital piece of information, that the Ruth’s birth mother had been divorced by her husband four years before. Despite some confusion over the name of the mother, this led me to the mother’s divorce records at the National Archives which gave me her maiden name. With this, I was able to find Ruth’s own birth certificate, registered under a different first name and with her birth mother’s maiden name.
Although Miriam is now very frail, the break-through was delivered to her by her daughter over the summer, along with the news that I had found two nephews who were still alive. Researching aristocratic families in the English Civil War and Polish families captured by Soviet Russia is fascinating stuff but it doesn’t get much better than being able to tell Ruth who she is after 70 years of searching.
Still want to be a professional genealogist?
Becoming a professional sounds like a lot of fun, rewarding, and interesting hard work to me, but I’m happy to keep it as my go-to hobby.
How about you? Are you inspired after reading Pam and Mark’s answers? Or are you like me and enjoy keeping the casual nature of it?
Huge thanks to both Mark and Pam for taking time out (ages ago!) to answer my questions. If you’re interested in contacting either, you can of course find them online at:
The WDYTYALive? team have kindly given me a special discount code to pass on to you – meaning you can get 2 tickets for just £24.
If you’re not sure about attending, I can say that I honestly know exactly how you feel.
It took me a few years to want to come to such an event – I was confused as to why I would want to come to a large London-based building (as it was), to see/hear/talk about something to do with the TV show. As usual, curiosity got the better of me though, and I’m grateful of it.
In the few years that I’ve been attending, I’ve since found the event a wholy enjoyable experience – where I learn so much, discover some great resources and tips from those who have been researching for much longer than I have, and get to meet and learn about great new innovations and record sets from a wide range of large and small companies.
Add to this, the means of meeting up with fellow bloggers and genealogy twitter users.
It’s since become a genuine highlight of my genealogy and actually, my social calendar.
You can use this discount code AM24 at the WDYTYA? Live ticket site. Just enter it in the ‘Code’ box near the top of the screen, click ‘Use Code’. Then scroll down a little, and you’ll see that the option to buy ‘Adult 2 for £24’. Select ‘2’ and then you can complete the payment as usual.
Thanks to the WDYTYA Live team for this offer, and I hope to see some of you at the show.
I was amused at Laurie’s comment about the popularity of the many people who research their family tree ‘even if they do so at the cost of ignoring their living relatives’ (I’m conscious of this situation)!
The segment only lasts 11 minutes, but I thought it was fascinating enough to share here – to hear about those people who DON’T want to discover their family’s past, and their reasons why.
Sometimes those reasons were because they didn’t want to ‘reconnect’ with disreputable family members in the past, as they’d put in a lot of effort to distance and better themselves and their own family.
Getting lost in the branches? Here’s a handy relationship calculator from the team at Crestleaf to help you work out your family tree.
I often get emails in response to my website or this blog, or through sites like Ancestry, from distant relatives. Naturally I am fascinated to work out the relationship between us, but it can be really tricky to do so.
Probably like a few of you this long Easter weekend, you’ll be spending time with family, and inevitably talking about ‘the tree’. My mother often asks if i’ve discovered anything new, but I often watch her eyes glaze over as she gets lost after about the third step when I’m trying to describe how one of those distant relatives is related.
A couple of days ago, Mark Subel from the team over at Crestleaf, sent me a handy chart that helps make it clearer, so I thought I’d share this with you here to help you overcome those glazed eye responses too…
I’ve also opted to stay in nearby Coventry, so will be hopping onto the train for a few minutes east > west each day.
I do have a few ‘to-dos’ though:
Sync the Reunion10 files on my iPad. I found this so useful last year, when I was able to talk to the Devon Family History Society, and compare what was in their database with what was in my tree without folders of papers to wade through.
Collect a spoon from my mother. Yes, a spoon. I’m hoping to show this spoon to Eric Knowles, in a bid that he might use his expertise to give it a date that may reveal that it is more likely to be one of the spoons that an ancestor went to court over, after being accused of theft, and was found not guilty by a jury because of conflicting evidence. Does this carefully handed-down spoon have significance. More on that after the show!
If you’re going to the show (tickets still seem to be available), how are your preparations coming along? Any workshops that you’re interested in attending? Or maybe you’re one of the presenters – in which case, are you ready?
I’m also really looking forward to re-connecting with those people who I’ve met at previous shows, and who i’ve enjoyed the discussions and witty comments from on this blog and other social media. The event really helps to make that spare room hobby, feel like part of a combined effort to preserve the history, heritage, and collective memories of generations.