Today was the first day of the first ever Family Tree Live show at Alexandra Palace in London.
The show is what felt to me like the first of the three contenders to being the ‘replacement’ for the now defunct Who Do You Think You Are? Live annual show that closed its doors after a long run in London and later in Birmingham.
For me, the journey to Alexandra Palace has a couple of changes that I needed to make on my train journey, rather than my direct route. On my trip today I befriended a traveling companion at Stevenage, when a fellow family historian from Lincoln asked me if it was the train to Welwyn. Discovering our same destination, we stuck together and talked about research and events we’d been to in the past. This helped my journey pass quite nicely, although it’s little more than an hour in total, ending with a nice walk up the hill along the edge of Alexandra Park to the venue. I think there’s a free shuttle bus.
The entrance is on the far side of the building, so if you’re attending tomorrow (Saturday 27th April), then expect to walk around the pretty Victorian facade, unless it’s raining.
Once in, get your printed ticket ready and you can make your way through to the hall, past a myriad of signs telling you to not take photos or film things without specific permission of the exhibitors. Ouch.
Stands, Space, and Seats
The first thing I noticed once into the exhibition hall was that there was plenty of space between the stands – a welcome addition after what had at times been a bit of a squeeze between stands at WDYTYA? Live. I arrived at about 10am and the show steadily increased in visitors over the next hour.
With this being a Friday, it’s hard to judge success, as many people may not have taken a day off work to attend. Fingers crossed that Saturday is a roaring success.
Like other shows, there were a large number of Societies with stalls – these are great for shopping some county data collections, or asking one of their stand experts for advice on county-level sources.
I headed over to the Family Tree DNA theatre and caught Donna Rutherford‘s talk on getting more out of an autosomal DNA test. Clearly a popular choice as I stood with others at the back.
Donna’s talk gave me plenty of things to think about in how to best use the data in my matches, but also ideas on what level of cM to draw a line after and put on the back-burner. I’ll definitely go looking for the extra tagging in AncestryDNA to help me manage these matches as I have 6 tests, and 1 more to go.
Speaking of DNA tests, whilst there were plenty of talks, the big WDYTYA? Live test company, Ancestry were not present. FindMyPast weren’t either. Whilst this might be a disappointment for many (if only because you’re looking for more cheap test kits or subscription deals to buy), it did mean that other companies like MyHeritage, LivingDNA, and FamilyTreeDNA had a chance to shine instead, and I saw plenty of people at these stands.
I spent some time at the Railway Work, Life & Death Project stand, as they’re busy documenting railway accidents. Sadly, my Gt x3 Grandfather, James Martin‘s gruesome death at Black Bank, Cambridgeshire in 1868 was just a little bit outside of their remit, but I’ll be ready to hand over information if they ever get into the 1860s.
I also checked in on my annual genealogy show chums, Paul and Pam, to see how Name and Place is getting on. It looks like their exciting new project is about to be released into the wild, that will help researchers looking for data and information on the people in specific places – a kind of one-name study and one-place study resource. There also seemed to be a really nice link in with Ancestry for census images as supportive resources. Can’t wait to see it live!
The food was somewhat disappointing at the venue, with not a particularly great choice. The staff seemed to be somewhat in trauma when I tried to buy a tea. With Alexandra Palace being up on top of a hill, there’s not very much nearby, so apart from walking out of the hall and going to the venue restaurant, you’re stuck with a pair of sandwich and cake stalls, with tea and coffee.
I booked my show ticket online, which was really easy, but afterwards I realised that I needed to book my talk/workshop tickets too – and this was a separate system (of if it wasn’t, it wasn’t clear there were other tickets to buy when buying the main ticket), so I was left with chance as to which talks I could attend.
The free show guide revealed that nearly all of the Workshops were sold out at the time of print – these certainly looked busy, and for those that I spoke to who’d run one or attended one, they sounded like they were really useful.
The AGRA experts advice area was busy as usual, and I saw many familiar faces at tables giving advice. This is kind of speed-dating for family historians, with each expert offering practical advice on the visitor’s genealogy questions.
I also headed over to the The Postal Museum to talk about The Post Office Rifles, and I also stopped at the newly re-branded Family History Federation stand to chat to them about their work. I was delighted to be given this amusing badge, which I wore on the train home to much concern from my fellow passengers.
I’ve never been to a family reunion, but having been a family historian for… ugh… 24 years now (how the hell did that happen?)… perhaps everyone has been waiting for me to do it.
Having been going to shows like this for 10+ years, you get to meet up with familiar faces and meet new ones, and so whilst I saw my almost-as-distant-as-it-can-get relative Amelia Bennett, I also happened to sit down at a bench in the Village Green area opposite a woman reading through her notes.
She looked up at me, asked me if I was Martin.. and then introduced herself – as it turns out that she is a maternal cousin of mine that I’ve never met before. She recognised me as she’s a blog reader here and we’ve messaged each other before. I knew she’d be going, but this stroke of luck brought us together. We spent some time comparing tree notes on our mutual ancestor (my before heading off to our respective talks. She’ll be starting her own blog soon 😉
It was a delight to see that the show even had a royal visitor – yes, Her Majesty the Queen and Empress of India was present and, if I dare to say, was looking a very young and spritely 199 years old!
I only booked one day, but I’m curious as to how Saturday will fare. With 3 shows to pick from this year, I wonder which one the family historian (as opposed to the professionals) will choose to go to most.
I liked the ticket price for this show – it’s the cheapest (RootsTech’s UK debut is by far the most expensive), so that’s a positive, but it also maybe means it’s the smallest. However, the quality of the Society stands is unrivalled, as these local groups know their topic inside out.
The missing FindMyPast and Ancestry stands allowed others to shine (FamilySearch seemed the biggest), but I wonder if this might disappoint those attracted to genealogy by the tantalising TV adverts.
The atmosphere was friendly and positive, the venue surroundings were pretty, but a few more stands, and menu choices would really help this show out. I’d recommend expanding the Village Green idea (which I loved), and perhaps a few smaller short talk spots.
- Favourite part: Meeting my fifth cousin, twice removed.
- Least favourite part: Chips or sad sandwich decision process.
- Overall, 3 / 5, and would consider visiting again next year.