A Family Tree Live 2019 review

A review of the first ever Family Tree Live show at London.

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.

Family Tree Live 2019 at Alexandra Palace.
Family Tree Live 2019 at Alexandra Palace.

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 Rutherford at Family Tree Live 2019
Donna Rutherford talked about how to get more out of your autosomal DNA test results.

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.

Family Tree Live showguide 2019
You get a free showguide for Family Tree Live as you walk in.

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 seek dead people badge
The Family History Federation gave me this great badge!

Family Reunions

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 😉

Royal Visitor

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!

 

Overall

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.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017

What have the first 2/3rds of Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 been like? Here’s my findings..

This year I decided that I would visit the annual Who Do You Think You Are? Live show for just two days, rather than three. For the last few years I’ve done the full show, but with lots of other things competing for my time at the moment – packing up my house, and moving in 2 weeks time, and a load of pots and trays of seedlings in need of my attention (see my gardening blog), I’m pre-occupied.

It was great to get to meet up with some familiar faces – friends who i’ve made from my previous visits, or who I’ve got to know via Twitter conversations and the likes of  #AncestryHour. It’s also great to meet with some new faces too, and that includes companies.

As soon as you step into WDYTYA? Live, you can see exactly who the big sponsor is – Ancestry. Their stand seems to get larger each year, in floorspace and height. Still, it’s packed with information-hungry researchers all looking to smash through a brick wall with the help of their research team.

Ancestry show stand at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017
Ancestry with their three-pitch stand. Just how much bigger can they get?

Ancestry’s big sell here is obviously their AncestryDNA kit, and even if you somehow missed this whopping great big stand, you’d soon be looking for them as their tests are a hot topic of the many talks in the orbiting theatres.

Once again they had their own mini theatre to help curious family historians to learn more about autowotzits and mitre comicals or something like that.  If only more test-takers would add family trees to Ancestry!!

AncestryDNA talk at WDYTYALive 2017
AncestryDNA’s stand includes a mini theatre where you can learn how the test works, and how to crunch the data.

I swung by the FamilySearch stand, which like previous years seemed very busy, and also like last year, was running series of small demos and tutorials. I managed to join the back of a group of people watching a demo of researching my beloved 1851 census.

FamilySearch research tutorials.
FamilySearch’s tutorials are free and on their stands.

My favourite talk by far on the 2 days was Debbie Kennett‘s talk ‘Autosomal DNA demystified‘. I’ve keenly followed Debbie’s articles and advice on DNA over the year, and so I knew that I’d be a fool to miss this. Her talk clearly lead us into the topic of DNA, the types of tests that are out there – including their benefits and shortfalls – and then led us through how to analyse the data.

Debbie Kennett about to demystify autosomal DNA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017.
Debbie Kennett about to demystify autosomal DNA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017.

She also reminded us that whilst DNA is the ‘in’ thing right now (and her stage was surrounded by DNA testing companies), that you should go into it and prepare for the unexpected.

I always find Debbie’s advice to be very clear, even when it’s technical, and her approach to advice always feels impartial. There’s so many companies out there vying for your DNA test money, but it’s hard to pick out what each one can give and how they compare. Debbie seems to be the voice who talks about this.

DNA test price war?

Stand of the show clearly goes to LivingDNA – which really stood out with a big screen and swish stand.

Living DNA at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017
Living DNA had a huge screen stand, and they really stood out as the fresh, new, sparkly attraction.

Living DNA are currently running a test for me, so I hope to report back on this in the near future.

There was definitely what seemed like a price war on this year, with AncestryDNA having slashed their usual price of £79 (excluding that annoying £20 P&P) to £49 (i bought 3 more), and with FamilyTreeDNA pitching at £40, and with newbies LivingDNA pitching at £99. Other tests were also available, but I didn’t spot the prices.

I wondered whether the DNA Test ‘price war’ simply indicates that the main players have finally recouped their product development and marketing budgets, meaning they can now discount their tests, mixed with the surge of competitors making the price more volatile. It feels a bit like it’s a race to the bottom (so to speak), but I think there’s also a need to be clearer about the differences between the tests.

I was really pleased to see that Dr Turi King was back at the show, talking about the Richard III case. I first saw her (as a VIP!!) back in 2013 when it had only recently been revealed who the mystery skeleton was. It was great to hear some of that story again, and also pick up the factoid that poor Richard is missing his feet still. Maybe he had good boots on that day, and someone took an easy way of getting them!

I mentioned this revelation on Twitter, which annoyed Richard III, who despite being somewhat lifeless of late, seemed to get a bit annoyed at Dr King for revealing it. I guess we should all tread caref…. Oh.

Where Do You Think They Were? Live

I was really pleased to bump into Paul Carter and Pam Smith – two more of my regular show chums – and I was really interested to hear about their new Name&Place project which I’m really looking forward to seeing at next year’s show (no pressure!!).

Speaking of ‘where’, I think that this year was the first year ever that Genes Reunited’s stand has been absent. Obviously, as a company, they have been passed from pillar to post, but seeing as they’re now part of the same product family as FindMyPast, then I guess they’re slowly being absorbed out of existence.

Twile and FindMyPast at their WDYTYALive stand in the middle of the show.
Twile and FindMyPast at their WDYTYALive stand in the middle of the show.

It was great to see Twile on the FindMyPast stand, and their infographic idea really strikes a chord. I think infographics are great at giving bitesized pieces of information in a memorable and eye-catching way. Family history needs this, because I’m all to familiar with just how exciting it can be… but not to the person I’m telling it to. Their eyes glaze over as they get confused by the distant cousins and multiple greats.

Once again, I caved in at the Pen & Sword stand following what is probably now my annual papping of it. I love books, and I’ve got loads of them. I tried to resist, remembering that I’ve got to pack all of mine up into boxes and move them in a couple of weeks… but I was finally lured back to the stand and bought just one more – the final copy of Stuart A Raymond’s ‘Tracing Your Nonconformist Ancestors‘.

I also popped along to see the team from MacFamilyTree, not because I’m really thinking about replacing my Reunion software, but I wanted to see what theirs was like, and whether I could finally hunt down a family history software that doesn’t have printable charts that look like they were last designed in 1997. I find that a lot of these modern on-device software releases (as opposed to online subscription websites) are great, but the printable chart options really let them down. I’m not 100% sure I’ve found what I’m looking for still. Maybe I just need to begin a start-up company.

Anyway, that’s it for my two days at the 2017 WDYTYALive show. What did you make of it?

I think this year I went with little expectation or preparation, aiming only to get 2 more DNA kits, to sit in on some more DNA talks, and to catch up with those familiar faces. I did all that, and enjoyed the show.

As I look at my show purchases, I’m trying not to think about how much money I spent – more of how much money I saved on waiting for the show to get the show discounts, and how many more relatives this will enable me to connect with.

Swag from WDYTYALive 2017
Some of my WDYTYA? Live 2017 show swag.

I don’t think my feet or my bank could handle a third day, so I’m glad to be at home with my feet up and a cuppa in my hand.

Enjoy Day 3 of the show, and as ever, happy history hunting!

Andrew

SOLVED: Elizabeth Levitt Where Are You?

Genealogy solved! John, Elizabeth and Richard Levitt have been found – hiding as a ‘Harding’ in the 1871 Swaffham Bulbeck census from Cambridgeshire.

Last night, after posting about how I was struggling to find some Levitt relatives on the 1871 census, I stumbled across them.

I’d spent quite some time trawling through records on sites like FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.co.uk and FindMyPast. I even manually went through each folio scan one-by-one, courtesy of my copy of the 1871 census for Cambridgeshire from S&N Genealogy. There was no sign of them at all in Swaffham Bulbeck.

Assuming that all three had perhaps eluded the census enumerator (as a few people did), despite being in the same place before and after this census, I gave up and put them aside for another rainy day.

One last little search on Ancestry.co.uk just before retiring for bed saw me searching very vaguely for any John and Elizabeth in Cambridgeshire 1871 with a John being born in 1838 or 1839.

A list of search results appeared and nothing remotely Levitt, Livett, Levet, Levit etc stood out. So I thought that I would just work my way through a few and started clicking to view the census returns regardless of the surname it had turned up – after-all I had exhausted all other search ideas.

The faux-Hardings on the 1871 census
The Levitt family were 'hiding' as Hardings.

John and Elizabeth Harding were just one of these, and after clicking through and staring at the census return for a few seconds, I noticed that Elizabeth Skeel was living immediately next-door aged 90.

This was significant as Elizabeth Skeel was an ancestor – that was certain. She was the mother of the Elizabeth Levitt that I was looking for.

I then noticed that one of the Hardings was a 27yr old unmarried Richard S Harding. Again, Richard Skeel Levitt never married and would have been 27yrs old.

I’d found them!

So who were the Hardings? Well, amongst John and Elizabeth Levitt’s children was an Ann Maria Levitt born about 1841. She went on to marry a George Hunt Harding. This fact help me unravel what I was staring at.

John ‘Harding’ was noted as the ‘Head’ of the household, with Elizabeth ‘Harding’ noted as his wife. Then, the unmarried Richard S ‘Harding’ was listed as the son. Following him was the married Ann Harding noted as the daughter, and lastly two children noted as ‘grandson/granddaughter’.

This doesn’t exactly make sense. At first glance, you might have thought that Richard and Ann were married with two children and were living with his parents. If Ann was Richard’s wife, then she would have usually been noted as something like ‘son’s wife’ or ‘daughter-in-law’. Noticing Richard’s marital status was the final piece of the jigsaw.

One question here is though, and maybe it was one that confused the enumerator, was that whilst Ann Harding is noted as married, there’s no sign of her husband George. I’ve started looking for him, but as yet, he’s missing… so the search starts again!