We all know how the internet has driven the explosion of growth in family history over the last 20 years, but there are so many other aspects to this much-loved hobby, and all of them can be found in the thriving world of genealogy events.
A few years ago Discover Your Ancestors took on the organising of one of the country's ﬂagship fairs, the Yorkshire Family History Show – now amazingly in its 25th year – and has since expanded its Family History Shows brand to encompass equally successful events for London and the South-West of England. You can ﬁnd full details of each event this year online at www.thefamilyhistoryshow.com.
Each of these events brings together the very best of family history: from regional societies in a wide radius around the speciﬁc show location; to national organisations such as the Family History Federation and the Guild of One-Name Studies; to leading data websites such as TheGenealogist.co.uk; to suppliers of archival materials, books and maps, CDs, biography and life-history recording services, and a host of other exhibitors. But that's far from all: aside from the opportunity to get hold of useful data and resources for furthering one's research, visitors clearly love the opportunity to attend the shows' series of free themed talks, have one-on-one sessions with well-known expert historians, and take part in a Q&A session with an expert panel. Each of the show venues also offers great facilities, so you can enjoy a snack between sessions and catch up with genealogy friends.
Many people come together to make these shows such a success, and the events have clearly proven a rewarding experience for them. Our military expert, Chris Baker, for example, comments: "I have been delighted to act as military expert at shows in recent years at Bristol, London and York. They have all been a pleasure. The venues are excellent for access, show layout and facilities. I know that behind the scenes the organisers devote a great deal of effort and attention to detail and it certainly shows in the eﬃcient running of the whole event.
"Every show has been very well attended and my time at the desk, helping people who have enquiries about an ancestor's military story, seems to ﬂy by. I hope that I have helped everyone and I must say that, from some of the photos and documents that visitors have brought in, I have also learned much myself. The talks by the various experts are also very well attended and there are usually some great questions to deal with at the end."
Photo expert Jayne Shrimpton echoes this experience:
"In my experience the Family History Shows are always lively events, with exhibitors kept busy on the stands and enthusiastic visitors making the most of the resources. For those participat-ing, it's a great opportunity to catch up with one another working in genealogy and also to meet members of the public face to face. My Dating Family Photographs talk, as part of the packed lecture programme, is always well attended and sometimes I recognise the same faces in the audience, coming back to learn more and enjoy viewing different images. Afterwards many people often come over to my photograph-dating desk in the popular Ask the Experts area of the show."
Regulars at the shows can often tell when social history expert Keith Gregson is giving a talk, because the strains of his ﬁne singing voice can be heard across the hall! He says:
"I have had the pleasure of giving talks, individual advice and group expert advice at all the shows over the last couple of years. I have been very encouraged by the numbers attending the talks (often standing room only in some cases) and enjoy the panel advice session at the end of the show, which is always informative… and frequently highly amusing! I particularly enjoy the one-to-one sessions where I have met many people with interesting tales and brick walls and am pleased to know that I have been able to help positively on a number of occasions."
And Keith makes a good point about what Discover Your Ancestors and the shows are all about: genealogy is a great deal more than lists of facts.
"The shows provide a genuine opportunity to share my passion for social history. It is one thing to know names and dates of ancestors but the real joy of family history lies in ﬁnding out how our ancestors lived and worked. I taught history at a large urban comprehensive school for over 30 years and am certain that it is the lives of 'ordinary folk' in the past that stirs interest and imagination most."
If your organisation or society is thinking of taking a stand at one of the shows, don't hesitate: they are great value and offer unique exposure to this passionate market of eager family historians. We're proud that our exhibitors have found the shows very effective, and keep coming back. Here's what Devon Family History, one of many such associations from across the land which attend one show or another, said about their experience at the South-West show in Bristol:
"It's been very good – a nice atmosphere here. Easy to park, easy to ﬁnd, nice refresh-ments and lovely, friendly people come to see us."
And This Way Books report a similar positive reaction to the show:
"Very busy, it's been excellent – there's been a good crowd right from the start and it's been busy all day – really interesting people, good car parking facilities and catering, it's a great venue. I would deﬁnitely recommend [the show] to anybody else, visitors and stallholders."
The shows offer a wealth of advice and resources for newcomers to genealogy. Here are a few comments from some of our visitors at recent shows:
But there's always something forestablished experts in the ﬁeld, too – each show is different, and one can never run out of new things to ﬁnd! Professional genealogist Paul Blake commented on one of our recent shows:
"I think it's been excellent, a really good fair, a good turnout, a lot of interesting stalls – a very good, successful day."
And even US genealogy legend Dick Eastman has been:
"It's just a great place… I've been here about four hours now and [there's] been no quiet period at all – a constant hubbub, which I think is a very good thing for genealogy and people who are interested."
And Chris Baker has the best advice of all for anyone wanting to get the most out of these jam-packed shows:
"I have learned to arrive early so that I actually get the chance to see the many exhibitors' stalls. There really is something for everyone, with terriﬁc information, contacts and books, CDs and other goods on offer. Can't wait for the next one!"
Book your tickets now at www.thefamilyhistoryshow.com