I am sitting this evening in a hotel room in London, England. I am dog-tired. That's a sign that I had a busy and successful day. You see, I attended a genealogy and heritage show all day today. Given the size and activity of this show, it is no wonder I am exhausted.
I wrote about this show in recent weeks at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2007/01/society_of_gene.html and at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2007/04/who_do_you_thin.html. This week, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend in person. The show organizers had predicted that 15,000 people would attend. Given that it is a three-day event, I am assuming that means 5,000 attendees per day. Today was opening day, and it certainly felt like there were more than 5,000 people in attendance.
I arrived at the convention center about an hour after the show opened. Once inside the exhibitors’ hall, I had to walk sideways to navigate through the crowds. I didn't hear the final attendance figures of Day #1, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was 5,000 attendees or even more. It certainly felt like more.
It was a “mob scene” all morning and into the early afternoon although the crowd did thin out a bit later in the day. It was noisy, crowded, and slow-moving. In other words, it was perfect! Thousands of people were at the conference to learn more about genealogy, military history, history of their homes, and more. All of this fits quite well under the umbrella term of “heritage.” I have never seen so many people in one place who were interested in heritage.
The exhibitors' hall was crowded with traditional genealogy vendors, providers of maps, online web services, heritage tourism services, museums, several television crews, and many more. The exhibitors’ hall looked like a “who's who” of genealogy in the British Isles. Almost every company and many non-profit organizations from England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland were there. I cannot begin to write about all of them, but you can find further details at http://www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.co.uk.
In fact, there were a number of non-heritage vendors in attendance. I noticed Cadburys, the candy company. I also saw and sampled products from a booth selling Italian gelato ice cream (It was delicious.).
Returning to heritage, the Solent Sky Museum of Southampton brought a complete Spitfire fighter replica airplane from World War II as a part of the military heritage exhibits. The display of the Spitfire and several other military exhibits were sponsored by the History Channel. When was the last time that you saw a World War II fighter plane of any size inside a genealogy/history/heritage convention hall? One of my personal highlights of the day occurred late in the afternoon, when I had the opportunity to sit in the pilot's seat of this aircraft. As a private pilot, I enjoyed imagining myself seated in this aircraft in 1941 flying over the Channel, looking for German bombers. If you are an aviation buff, you will enjoy seeing pictures of the Spitfire and other the aircraft at the Solent Sky Museum web site at http://www.spitfireonline.co.uk.
The number of “live stages,” Impressed me, too. There were multiple presentations going on nearly all the time. Ancestry.co.uk had their own stage. The popular “Who Do You Think You Are? television program had a dedicated stage. The Society of Genealogists had no less than three classrooms that were filled most all day with a variety of presentations. In the center of the exhibitors’ hall, an elevated stage featured heritage presentations all day long. I saw many people in medieval and military dress, showing how our ancestors lived, fought, and, in some cases, died. There was sword fighting, medieval musicians, dancing, and much, much more.
Megan Smolenyak-Smolenyak is the Chief Family Historian for The Generations Network, the parent company of Ancestry.com and Ancestry.co.uk. She and I conducted a presentation this afternoon in the Ancestry.co.uk stage. We wore microphones connected to public address systems so that we could be heard. However, the noise level in the hall was so loud that we could not hear questions from the audience; in some cases, those asking questions were seated only ten feet away! That will give you some idea of the level of enthusiasm at this conference. I have never heard a genealogy conference in the States with an ambient noise level that high.
This was billed as a “heritage event.” Indeed, there were presentations, exhibits, and vendors representing genealogy, history, military heritage, house histories, and more. However, one thing struck me when I walked around the second floor balcony overlooking the main exhibits hall: the most crowded section of the hall all day long was the section devoted to genealogy. To be sure, there were crowds everywhere. However, the biggest crowds were always to be found in the genealogy vendors' area.
The many vendors did a great business today. One bit of “scuttlebutt” I heard described the experience of one vendor who prints glossy pedigree charts. This particular vendor sells several versions of wall-sized “fill in the blanks” charts. The company made a “best guess” as to how many of the charts they could sell in three days and printed that number in advance. They had so many charts packed into cardboard tubes that the inventory would have filled their lorry (truck) several times over. Instead, the vendor had to ship most of the inventory by freight. It seems that the vendor misjudged the sales potential: they sold out in six hours! Yes, they were out of inventory before the end of the first day. I heard loosely similar stories from other vendors as well. Such was the enthusiasm of this crowd.
Another of my personal highlights today was when I was able to walk around the exhibitors’ hall with a television crew from www.RootsTelevsion.com. We conducted interviews of several of the “movers and shakers” in U.K. genealogy and heritage. We plan to conduct even more interviews tomorrow and take television images of the many activities. Even if you were unable to attend this conference in London, we hope that you will still be able to obtain a “virtual view” of the show. Those interviews will become available over the next few weeks at http://www.RootsTelevision.com.
In the meantime, I took a lot of still pictures today, and those photos are available right now at http://blog.eogn.com/photos/who_do_you_think_you_are_/. Those photographs will give you some indication of the interest level at this show.
OK, I am off to bed to get some rest before diving back in tomorrow morning.