Sunday, 4 May 2008

Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE - report

Just back home in Largs after a long overnight bus trip from a fantastic two days at WDYTYA in London's Olympia. Lots of celebrities, though I in fact did not get to attend a single one of the lectures, I was too busy getting around and talking to the vendors! Met lots of amazing names active in the field of genealogy down south, Rob and Elizabeth Blatchford, Else Churchill, Sherry Irvine, Paul Reed and others, as well as saying hi to many others from much further afield. On the Scottish front, we had two Scottish universities, Tay Roots, Inverary Castle, the National Archives of Scotland, Scotlands People/GROS, and perhaps surprisingly, just one Scottish FHS, all the way from Shetland (and a friendly bunch they were too!). How was it then? As they say in Gaelic, "direach sgoinneil!" - simply brilliant! Here are some gleanings....

The new edition of The Family and Local History Handbook (11) was fresh off the press and on sale exclusively at Rob and Elizabeth Blatchford's stall ( Definitely one of the essentials in any genealogist's library, not just for the vast listings of relevant associations that you may need to contact for your research, but for the sheer range of articles from across the British Isles. Check out the report on Britain's first race riot by Peter Mortimer, and whilst I have yet to read it, any article that contains the words "The Tipton Slasher" will soon get my attention! On general sale from May 28th...

I also caught up with Rebecca de Saintonge and her husband Robin at the Lifelines stall (, who specialise in turning family histories, written by customers into quality books that will last for decades, if not centuries. Like myself, Rebecca is ex-BBC, and is trying to put her many years of editorial experience into good use within the genealogy market. The books are an outstanding quality product that are designed to be printed in limited runs and then handed down from one generation to the next. Well worth a look!

Scottish universities were represented at the show, with both the Distance Learning genealogy courses team from the University of Dundee and the postgraduate programme in Genealogical Studies from Strathclyde casting for trade from their respective stalls. I was pleasantly surprised to bump into Gary Smith from the University of Dundee's archives - we were interviewed together on Radio Scotland's "Digging Up Your Roots" earlier this year. Definitely an archive to visit, with some excellent hidden gems! Alastair MacDonald and Bruce Durie were there from Strathclyde, joined by some of the London based postgrad certificate students. For Dundee's courses e-mail for more info at, and for Strathclyde, visit the website at Oh, and here's Ali...!

We are all waiting with anticipation for the recently digitised pre-1855 death records held by GROS to be made available online both at the GROS and on Scotland's People. There is, however, another source for almost 14,000 online deaths for pre-1855, located at Here's the blurb from the site: "The Scottish Death Records were extracted from parish records of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Specific parishes include Cockpen, Midlothian; Cranston; Crichton; Dalkeith; Dunfermline, Fife; Edinburgh; Fala; Gladsmuir; Heriot; Humbie; Newbattle; Pencaitland, Midlothian; Prestonpans, East Lothian; Salton; Shotts; Tranent, East Lothian. Record information may contain family relatives, occupation, residence, cause of death, the modern cause of death, the individual’s parish, county, and estimated date of birth". The database was created by Shauna C. Anderson, Ph.D, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology, Brigham Young University. Thanks hugely to Whitney Ransom and the rest of her World Vital Records team from America for taking me through this site. Well worth a look, and accessible for $5.95 a month, though be warned that it is an automatic recurring billing site!

Need a kilt? Here's your man...! Thomas O' Shea was there promoting his thang, dressed to the nines for the duration. He was awarded the title of Master Kilt Maker by the Scottish tartans Authority in 2007, is based in London, and is, err... from Cork; and his partner on the stand, well, she was from Cornwall - Scottish culture has taken over the world, bwah hah hah! (?!). Thomas actually has an amazing history, he can trace his tree back to the 13th century in Cork, all the relevant parchments are held under lock and key in his local parish church - proof that some Irish records did survive the Four Courts fire! Check the maestro out at

FindmyPast and Family Search were both there promoting their ongoing journey to help us search for our ancestors, and some interesting news from them. They have formed a partnership together which will see them collaborating on some major new records sources. First up is a project to digitise the Chelsea Pensioners records from 1760 to 1914, followed secondly by the Merchant Seamen's collection of records dating from 1835 to 1941, many of which contain photos of the sailors in question. The records are held by The National Archives at Kew, and will be a serious addition to the genealogists' arsenal, which should take about three years to complete. There was also news from FindmyPast on their venture with the archive concerning the 1911 Census for England and Wales - a preview site is now up and running at Here's Findmypast press guru Vicky Perry and colleague, about ten minutes before the hungry genealogical hordes overran the venue...!

Also on the census front, I caught up with Nicki Dray and Nigel Bayley at S&N's stall - they have some major additions for the Genealogist website soon, in the form of a better search interface that will allow you to search by address and even by Christian name, if for example you know the names of all the children, but not the surname. They also have the BMD registers for England and Wales, including the earliest records of births with linked images of the certificates (pre-1837). These include non-conformist records dating back to the 1650's, as well as Quaker records, and soon clandestine marriages perfomed outside the Fleet prison will be joining the collection. Check out S&N's .

Family Search also gave a me a tour of their sites at, , , and . Keep an eye out in particular on the second of these - Irish statutory records indexes are due to appear here in the near future.

Some other news then....! Some may recall last year that a series of Belfast street directories suddenly appeared online as if by the grace of God, only to disappear into the mists just a few weeks later. They were apparently put online by the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, but no reason was offered as to why they suddenly disappeared. Well, it turns out that they were mistakenly put online on a demo site by PRONI's contractor, and removed as soon as the error was spotted. The good news is they are returning to the new revamped PRONI site in the very near future. Even better news is that PRONI are finally going to be putting up a new online catalogue on their site later in the year, to be known as ECATNI. Other online projects soon to appear will also include an index to Dicoesan wills and a list of 1760s householders.

Also from Ireland, I caught up with the team from the National Archives in Dublin. I threw myself onto them with tears of joy at having provided access to the 1911 census for free. They are certainly loving the feedback that they are getting! I had thought that the entire 1911 census would not be available in its entirety until mid-2009, but they have assured me that it should all be online at the end of this year. Bless you, bless you all....!

You never know when a gratuitous shot of a WW1 tank will come in handy...! Back to the news...

Need to read about your rellies 200 years ago? Try the Times online site at which launched at the show. It is the same archive which has previously been accessed through some local libraries, but now with a new user interface and available for subscription to the public. Sorry, that should read it will be available for a subscription - right now, access is free, and will be for about two months as the site goes through its soft launch phase.

Another fun discovery was a new online family tree programme site at which also has a social networking facility akin to Facebook, and which is completely privately secured, You place your tree on the site, and only invited members can view, but it does a lot more than just keep your research together, and is maybe best described as providing a tool for both family history and family present. And it is totally free, which I still don't understand...! The best T-shirt of the event was spotted on their stall - a picture of a family tree with the words "Who's Your Daddy?" written across the top...!
Next year's WDYTYA show is going to be much earlier, at the end of February. There was some dissent from some vendors about this, but it seems to be down to an issue of availability.

Finally, a huge thanks to Claire Massey and to Vivienne for a great two days on the stall at Family History Quests ( It was a lot of fun helping out, and definitely a business to keep your eyes on, with some great products on sale including much of the Archive CD Books Collection, of particular interest perhaps to Scots on the ancestral hunt. To show my appreciation, here is an image of the great Dan-Meister himself, Mr. Dan Snow, with his pops during one of the Super-Theatre lectures. Try not to faint Claire...!

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