Dateline: London - This has been a great weekend for me. On Friday I jumped on a British Airlines jumbo jet in Boston and flew to London. On Saturday, I attended the Society of Genealogists' annual Family History Fair. I have been to the Fair before and have always enjoyed it. This year was no exception. I am writing this report in the hotel room and hope to post it online before I head home on Sunday. It has, indeed, been a full weekend.
This year's Family History Fair was a bit different from the sessions I attended in previous years. This year the popular vendors' exhibit hall and seminars were held only on one day, Saturday, whereas the previous years' sessions that I attended were all two-day affairs: Saturday and Sunday. However, this year's event also had a series of seminars conducted on Friday afternoon, a tradition that was started last year and was obviously successful.
The Family History Fair has always been noted for the huge crowds attracted to this in-city event. Attendance in past years has been as high as 4,000 people although in recent years the number has been closer to 3,000. I was curious how much the one-day event would reduce attendance or if all those who normally attend over two days might get jammed into one.
In short, the attendance at this year's one-day event looked to be as high as any one-day in the past, if not more so. The vendors' hall was as crowded as I have ever seen it. I arrived at the exhibition hall about 15 minutes before opening time and had to wait in a very long line. The queue waiting to get in extended up Greycoat Street and disappeared around the corner one block away. Once the doors opened, it was another fifteen minutes before I arrived at the entrance. I am sure those further behind me had to wait much longer.
Once the Family History Fair opened at 10:00 AM, the vendors' hall filled quickly. The noise level was elevated and remained that way until closing at 5:00 PM. I was told that the total attendance this year was about 2,500, down only a bit from last year's two-day total attendance.
One thing that was different this year is the popular "Who Do You Think You Are?" genealogy show that appears on BBC television. The program reportedly has attracted many newcomers to genealogy, and the effect was visible at this year's Family History Fair. The seminars for newcomers were very well attended.
The vendors were generally pleased. Several reported they had sales as large in this year's one-day event as in previous years' two-day sessions. A minority of the vendors I talked with reported lower sales figures, however. One vendor that I talked with reported lower sales but also lower expenses (SoG used to charge for stall tables by the day); so, the result was a profit level that is about the same as last year.
A large number of lectures were held six at a time, all day long. A list of the lectures can be found at http://www.sog.org.uk/events/pdf/show2005.pdf.
I took a lot of pictures of this year's affair. If you would like to see what a genealogy conference in London looks like, you can see some of my pictures at: http://eogn.typepad.com/photos/sog2005
As always, I spent the bulk of my time in the vendors' hall looking for new products and services for genealogists. Here is a brief list of some of the things that I found:
MyFamily.com has had a U.K. records site at www.ancestry.co.uk for several years. However, the company has now opened a new office in Hammersmith and has promoted Josh Hanna to be Director of European Operations. Josh has relocated to Hammersmith, has hired a new U.K. staff, and is busily increasing the company's presence in the U.K. I noticed the phrase "European Operations" in Josh's title; I assume he will soon lead an expansion onto the continent.
I have known Josh Hanna casually for several years and am sure that he will be a valuable addition to MyFamily.com's marketing efforts in the U.K. The only drawback I can think of is that Josh is a rabid baseball fan, and I suspect he will go through withdrawal symptoms at not being able to attend baseball games. Hey Josh, cricket is a great game once you "get into" it!
Ancestry.co.uk also added the 1861 U.K. census to their online service on Friday, and company employees were demonstrating it a lot during the show.
The Origins Network is rapidly expanding their list of available online genealogy databases. They recently added Sussex and Essex records to their online 1841 Census. In cooperation with the Society of Genealogists, the Origins Network also recently added "Apprentices of Great Britain," a very large database. The same company has also added a great Irish research resource: the signatures from the William Smith O'Brian petitions. In addition, the company has entered into a marketing agreement with Burke's peerage and will soon be offering more data from Burke's.
S&N Genealogy Supplies had a very large stall (booth) and a number of employees to handle the crowds. The company has so many new products that I cannot possibly list them all. One that caught my eye, however, is a new DVD video accompanied by two data CDs. The new "Essential Guide to Researching Your Family History" features narrator Julian Richards from "Meet the Ancestors." I only had an opportunity to watch a couple minutes of the video while it was running in the booth. However, I was impressed with the professionalism of this video.
S&N has launched a new web site of interest to anyone with ancestors in London: www.LondonCensus.co.uk is the repository of new census indexes the company is creating. The company has already launched 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1891, and 1901 census sets on CD-ROM. Three of the indexes were launched this past week and announced at the Family History Fair. The company will be expanding the number of online indexes available, and then the 1881 census images (in addition to indexes) will be available on the site later this year.
1837online.com had a huge booth that was set up in sort of a classroom fashion. Every time I walked past the booth it was crowded with Fair attendees. 1837online.com also demonstrated their version of the 1861 census as well as numerous other online databases. The 1861 census on 1837online.com has all records fully transcribed.
Genealogy Marketplace is a new online site that serves as a focal place for U.K. and Irish genealogy research. The site has a free section as well as another section reserved for paid subscribers. The site provides listings of professional researchers, reviews of U.K. and Irish genealogy web sites, e-guides that provide tutorials on a variety of genealogy-related topics, FAQs (frequently-asked questions), advice, and a discussion forum. You can find the site at http://www.genealogymarketplace.co.uk
www.familyrecords.org features birth, marriage and death indexes. The plan is to add indexes and original images of all records from 1866 through 2002. The following is already available, according to the company's advertising brochure: full searchable and transcribed records and images for 1866 through 1920, surname range searches only for 1921 through 1983, and fully searchable records (but no images) for 1984 through 2002.
Oxford University is offering an Advanced Diploma in Local History. Best of all, the classes can be taken via the Internet. Details on the course are available at http://www.conted.ox.ac.uk
GeoGene is a DNA testing firm that helps you identify your prehistoric roots. The company offers two services: a GeoFather test traces Y-chromosome (male) DNA and the GeoMother test traces mitochondrial (female) DNA. The tests cost £99 (roughly $185 in US funds) each, or both can be ordered at the same time for £148.50 ($277.50 US). Details may be found at http://www.geogene.com
TraceSmart helps you find living people. The company offers searches of the 2004 and 2005 Electoral Rolls, 25 million telephone listings, 5 million property sales records, and more. Details may be found at http://www.tracesmart.co.uk
There was much more in the exhibitors' hall. However, those are the newer products and services that caught my eye and about which I was able to take notes. I am sure there was more that I missed.
The most popular genealogy software sold in England reportedly is Family Historian, and it was for sale from retail companies on the exhibition floor. While the producing company was not officially represented, I did meet author Simon Orde, who was attending the show. Simon is promising that the next release will add significant new features not found in genealogy programs. (I should point out that Family Historian already has several unique features; Simon is promising even more.) However, he was not ready to publicly release details just yet. I cannot say that I blame him; if I owned a software company, I would probably guard my new product as well. However, I will be keeping an eye open for the next release.
Any trip to London and especially to the Family History Fair is never complete until you have relaxed at a local pub after the main event is over. This year was no exception; you can see pictures of the "sidewalk pub" at http://eogn.typepad.com/photos/sog2005. Who says it rains all the time in England? Many of us sat on the sidewalk outside under overcast but pleasant skies. The sun played peek-a-boo from time to time as well. It is a good thing that the outside weather was so pleasant as the blokes inside the pub kept cheering while watching a sporting event on television. It seemed to be about kicking a ball through a net or something similar. Chelsea? This American didn't understand.
All in all, I had a great time at the 2005 Family History Fair. I'll offer a tip of the hat to the Society of Genealogists for hosting the event again. I only have one request for next year: please do the same thing again so that I can have another pleasant weekend in London. Thank you.