Well, another eventful show at Olympia has been a great success for the Society of Genealogists. I’m glad to say The Society remains integral to the event having continued our partnership with the new owners BBC Bristol Magazines (now Immediate Media). New owners mean new features and tweaks to the event while retaining its essential personality and ethos.
The new colour scheme with the dayglo pink carpet was a bit dazzling to the eyes but more importantly expansion into further parts of the upstairs gallery and a subtle readjustment to the table plan meant significantly wider aisles and more space to walk about. Attendance figures were slightly up on 2011, which is remarkable considering the economy. The show continues to try to strike a balance to provide attractions for the beginner and the more advanced genealogists. As well as using our own newly designed stand to recruit new members, promote the Society and sell our products, the SoG organises all the talks and presentations in the Show Studios (note another change of name) and of course provides remarkable expert consultations and help to the hordes who queue for answers to their questions upstairs in the gallery. The Society of Genealogists’ Family History Show itself is a key area within the vast space that is Olympia National Hall and the exhibitors from local societies, archives and smaller venues still have a distinct space for themselves independent of the more commercial companies. This means that the Society’s name is well represented on banners and signs all around the show, and the event remains the best place for us to recruit and sign up lots of new members. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who helps us to do this – staff and volunteers alike. You are an astonishing team.
The Celebrity Theatre was as popular as ever and I hear (though of course I was far too busy to go myself ) that Emilia Fox’s account of her experiences as a participant in the Who Do You Think You Are? TV show was very moving. The audience was delighted that she was joined on stage by her Father Edward Fox and her mother Joanna David was in the audience. I, however, was more delighted that some of the SoG talks in the Theatre afterwards attracted even more attendees than the celebrities with some of our talks having people sitting on the floor at the back of the theatre as ALL the seats were taken. It was also a great move to have tables and chairs outside the gallery studios so you could sit or stand outside to listen in if the studio itself was full. I think some of the quiet moments on the main floor during the show are attributable to the fact that up to about 600 people on average were attending the talks each session. I have to thank all our speakers who gave their time and expertise freely – especially those who travelled from Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Europe, Israel, USA and Canada to be with us. The programme was varied and many of the handouts and slides from the presentations will be found free of charge on the SoG website show pages www.sog.org.uk . Video clips from some of the talks will also appear on the Who Do You Think You Are? Live website.
New features at the show include a much larger military history and memorabilia area, photo dating booths and a fascinating section on ancestral trades, crafts and occupations with displays from rural museums. If you had nurses, postmen or coal miners in your family (like me) there was a lot to look at. Ancillary services and products from archival supplies, photographic scanning and producers of software and charts were doing a roaring trade as usual. This year Ancestry.co.uk’s stands were large white and elegant and very busy. The staff from Findmypast.co.uk were loud and funny with excellent costumes. Both stands had free access to databases and lots of fascinating presentations. TV Expert Eric Knowles was kept busy giving personal Antiques Roadshow consultations for those who bought their family heirlooms along and I wandered longingly past the Moorcroft pottery stand several times trying to convince myself to invest in some beautiful objects (and the Moorcroft stall holders did very well I am told – though sadly not from me in the end). The gourmet sausage stand was excellent and busy as usual but the show’s traditional Italian ice cream stand was sorely missed.
Readers may be aware that the Society of Genealogists is very active in the Social Networking world of Twitter, Facebook and Blogs. This year we encouraged Social Networkers to make ourselves public and meet up and 50 of us wore our colourful “Follow Me” best-in-show tweeter and blogger rosettes all weekend. Many of us tweeted live throughout the show and there are a huge number of bloggers who mentioned the show and gave daily round ups. Social Networking was the focus of the keynote talk from My Heritage’s Lawrence Harris and expert panel contributors included Internet guru Peter Christian FSG, Google experts Dan Lynch and Lisa Louise Cooke, and D Josh Taylor the new genealogy expert for Findmypast’s American venture. Then nearby Hilton Hotel and Pizza express at Olympia remain focal meeting places (as does the Hand and Flower Pub opposite) and I was delighted to attend receptions generously hosted by Findmypast and the US Association of Professional Genealogists [APG] (though I have to admit I was an accidental gate crasher on the latter but graciously welcomed by their President Kenyatta D. Berry.) It was most amusing to witness SoG Trustee Nick Barratt’s passion for Liverpool football club as friends, volunteers and some SoG Trustees retired to the pub on Sunday after we had dismantled and pack off home all the SoG stand at the end of the show).
Who Do You Think You Are? Live is THE place to go to hear and meet the experts and see what’s coming up in our world. SoG Trustee Nick Barratt and SoG Fellow Peter Christian both looked into their crystal balls and predicted an interesting slant on how mobile technology, more open data and greater collaboration will be game changers (though I would point out that what is now call “crowd sourcing” has been going on for years within the genealogical community as volunteer projects). I look forward to investigating if new genealogy portals like Mocavo really will enhance my online genealogy searching experience. I was impressed with some of the smaller niche source data sites that were exhibiting their wares – especially Peter McCracken’s Shipindex.org that led me to links about a ship that transported my 2X Great Uncle to Tasmania in the 1840s.
As you would expect gossip and rumour flourish at any event. I was delighted that our friend (and recipient of the SoG’s Prince Michael of Kent Award for services to genealogy), Wall to Wall TV’s Chief Exec, Alex Graham could confirm that a new 10 episode series of the UK Who Do You Think You Are? Show is currently being filmed and another has been commissioned, thus scotching rumours of its demise. Who Do You Think You Are? Live itself continues to flourish and has announced the date of the next show on 22-24 Feb 2013. They have plans for a very exciting future in partnership with the Society of Genealogists – which I guess means a lot of hard work for all of us in the future.