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28 February 2010

Judy Avery's Report From London: Who Do You Think You Are?

I'm so excited that Judy Avery agreed to send a report from this year's WDYTYA - Live. Okay, I'm a little jealous, too. Thank you, Judy, for taking time out to be our eyes and ears in London!

It's been a busy and jam-packed couple of days so at night I've been too tired to report anything! Today it's pouring rain and a good morning to stay in the hotel and actually try to write about what I've seen and heard at the conference.
It's called Who Do You Think You Are - Live: a National History Show at the Olympia Conference Center in London. Even though WDYTYA is a hit BBC show, it's not a BBC event but sponsored by Ancestry.co.uk., in association with the Society of Genealogists and The Genealogist.co.uk. It's a huge success - they estimated 10,000 to 15,000 participants over the three days and judging by the number of day passes and workshop tickets that have sold out, they've reached their goal.



The New England Historic Genealogical Society has a table in one of the corners for the first time and this is an experiment to see what response an American organization gets. The president, Brenton Simons, and three staff members are manning the table and giving lectures (they're called workshops in the brochure). Trustees and councilors were invited to join up and at least four of us are here - visiting booths (at least 200), enjoying bangers and mash for lunch and chatting with other participants.

Sandi Hewlett, Judy Avery and Meriwether Schmidt at the NEHGS table.

You should see the crowds! Very orderly, queuing up cheerfully as the British do, so happy to be here. There is a fairly-quickly moving line in front of the Military Memorabilia booth, where people are bringing in photos, medals, letters, etc. and waiting to talk to a military expert who can tell them about their treasures. Another very popular booth is Ask the Experts – a free 20-minute session with a genealogist and his laptop. Michael LeClerc and Josh Taylor have volunteered stints there, and find themselves answering family history questions about the U.K. and other European countries. They report great interest in people who went to America and have been lost by family members. "My grandmother's favorite brother went to California in 1910 and no one knows what happened to him."  Or "Mary sailed for America in 1890 - we think she went to New York and married a man named Smith." Remarkably in most cases, the staff members have been able to find some information or give helpful advice, and  people are so grateful. It seems at conferences in the U.S. we're interested in where our ancestors came from. Here we've had many questions on what became of family members in America.



Highlights for me: Maureen Taylor's talk on Scrapbooks. Remember when she gave that wonderful talk to the California Genealogical Society about dating old family photographs? She said scrapbooking in Britain isn't the big industry it is in the U.S. but it's coming. There are no big stores dedicated to readymade scrapbooks yet but supplies are in arts and craft shops. Audience members said they are making their own albums - very creative. Original photographs or documents should be copied and then pasted into the scrapbook. In the 20th century scrapbook makers began telling a story in their scrapbooks and it's a good idea to have a theme in the book.

Photo Detective Maureen Taylor

FamilyTree DNA has a big presence here and interesting workshops. If you're like me, you've done some testing but find it really frustrating and confusing to interpret. I think I understand it a bit better going to "DNA for Genealogy - Basic Concepts" and "I've Been DNA Tested - Now What?" FamilyTree is in the beta phase for a new program called Family Finder, which can find relatives within 4-5 generations across all lines. Traditional testing has done the yDNA and MtDNA chromosomes which can show direct male and female lines - good for surname projects and showing if men are related. The new Family Finder tests the other 22 chromosomes and can find male and female cousins, half-siblings, and will become the "perfect test for adoptees." Their new motto on a t-shirt is, "Sex doesn't matter anymore."
The best find in all this new information was Terry Barton explaining the FamilyTree website and giving information on his organization WorldFamilies.net. He and his wife have explained for us laymen about terms (markers, alleles!), and navigation of the FamilyTree website to get the results we want. "You are responsible for your own learning," he says, but this makes it seem possible.


So many booths with enthusiastic volunteers - small local history societies, Irish, Scottish and Welsh history groups, preservation supplies, map sellers, military history tables, a booth scanning documents, etc. I'm going back this afternoon and will try to take in some more!
- Judy Avery


Photographs courtesy of Judy Avery.

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