NOTE: This article contains a number of pictures. You may click on any of them to see a larger image.
Today the long-awaited Who Do You Think You Are? Live! expo, in association with the Society of Genealogists' Family History Show, opened at the Olympia Exhibition Hall in Kensington, a section of London. As expected, the crowds were huge.
I snapped a picture outside the exhibition hall a minute or two before the doors opened. As you can see, the crowd waiting to get in had formed a queue that went up the street and around the corner! Every train that pulled in to the nearby Underground station discharged hundreds more people. The line kept getting longer and longer. I ducked into a nearby coffee shop to wait for the line to thin out.
At 10 AM the doors opened and the crowd surged in. I sat across the street and watched. It was at least twenty minutes before they all got in the door, long enough for me to drink two cups of coffee and have a delicious breakfast roll. I then paid my bill, crossed the street, and entered. Even so, I had to wait indoors for a minute or so in the shortened line before getting to the main exhibit hall.
The annual Who Do You Think You Are? Live! expo always focuses primarily on the exhibitors, and this year was no exception. The exhibit hall was perhaps the size of four basketball courts and was jam-packed with people, all looking at the exhibits offered by commercial exhibitors and non-profit, local societies. The aisles were crowded all day long; there never was any "down time" when the crowds thinned out or when the noise level subsided.
One thing I like about Who Do You Think You Are? Live! is the large number of societies that have stalls at the show. Each society usually exhibits the local records extracted by that society and offered for sale, typically on CD although sometimes in paper-bound booklets. Dozens of county family history societies exhibited at this year's event.
All of the major genealogy vendors of the U.K. were represented, as were several from other counties. Some were companies I had never heard of before. The better-known names exhibiting included Ancestry.co.uk, FindMyPast.co.uk, the Association of Professional Genealogists (with the stall staffed by APG members from England, Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, the Netherlands, and perhaps some others I didn't recognize), the College of Arms, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cassini Historical Maps, the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives, Debrett Ancestry Research, Deceased Online, Eneclann, English Heritage NMR, Family Tree magazine, FamilySearch (with a mix of people in the stall from England and from Salt Lake City, Utah), FamilyTree DNA (with a mix of people in the stall from England and from the USA), the Federation of Family History Societies, the General Record Office, GenesReunited, the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, the Irish Family History Foundation, the Maritime History Archive (from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada), MyHeritage.com, the National Archives of Ireland, the National Archives of Scotland, Origins.net, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, RootsMagic.co.uk, the Royal Air Force Museum, Scotlands People, TheGenealogist.co.uk, Your Family Tree Magazine, AmericanAncestors.org (the New England Historic Genealogical Society), the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, the British Deaf History Society, the Guild of One-Name Studies, Pharos Tutors, and many, many others. A complete list of exhibitors may be found at http://www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.co.uk/component/exhibitors/
The exhibitors took up almost all the space on the first floor. The second floor had most all the military exhibitors as well as the Society of Genealogists' "Ask the Experts" room, which always seemed to be mobbed. Multiple lecture halls were in use, and videos played most all day long. In fact, the "Who Do You Think You Are?" Theater on the second floor ran videos constantly, and I saw large crowds there every time I walked by.
In short, it was a mob scene. I think that's great. We need more "mobs" like this in genealogy!
In fact, some of the more experienced exhibitors remarked in the first hour or two how attendance seemed to be down from last year. However, they all changed their minds by two or three o'clock as new arrivals kept streaming in the door. In fact, by three o'clock, the exhibit hall was very crowded, perhaps more so than in past years.
After the hall closed at 6:30 PM, I talked with Else Churchill over dinner. She is the Genealogist at the Society of Genealogists, a position roughly equivalent to that of General Manager. She smiled as she described the successes of the day. She was obviously pleased.
I was impressed by the number of DNA vendors at this year's show. I missed last year's event, so I cannot compare that one; but earlier years always saw two or three DNA vendors in attendance. There were more this year, and I also noted numerous DNA-oriented lectures on the agenda. In short, DNA has now become a fundamental part of genealogy research in the U.K.
The U.K. genealogists also have grown increasingly tech-savvy over the years. Huge audiences sat in presentations by Ancestry.co.uk, by FindMyPast.com, and by anyone else speaking on computer-related topics. When I attended genealogy conferences in London ten or twelve years ago (before the Who Do You Think You Are? Live! expos started), I used to think the U.K. genealogists were behind the Americans in adopting computers for genealogy research. If anything, I now think the reverse is true today. The average U.K. genealogist now looks first online for new information.
I didn't see any major new announcements of brand-new products or services this year. However, almost every vendor had an incremental announcement of new databases being added online, new books published, or new expansions to existing services. For instance, I made the "mistake" of asking Nigel Bayley of TheGenealogist.co.uk, "What's new?" His answer went on for about fiften minutes, simply listing new items recently added to the catalog, all without repeating himself and without going into details about any one item. In short, he and his company are constantly adding new databases at the rate of several every month!
I am always impressed with the audience that attends Who Do You Think You Are? Live! In the States, most conference attendees are in their fifties or older. To be sure, a high percentage of those at Who Do You Think You Are? Live! were in the same age bracket, but there were numerous exceptions. Twenty- and thirty-year-olds were everywhere. I saw numerous families in attendance, some with teen agers and even some couples pushing baby carriages. This is a show that attracts all ages. I suspect it will attract even more youngsters on Saturday and Sunday than did today's Friday session.
One thing different about the Who Do You Think You Are? Live! show from most multi-day shows in the States is that many people come for only one day. At most U.S. conferences, attendees normally return day after day as long as the event is held. In contrast, Who Do You Think You Are? Live! is an "expo." There are different events on different days, but much of the first day's show is repeated on the second day and then again on the third day. As a result, many attendees stop in for one day only.
The show's organizers planned for 15,000 to 17,000 attendees at this year's Who Do You Think You Are? Live! However, because many come for one day only, you never see that many people in the hall at any one time. I suspect that tomorrow (Saturday) will peak at 7,000 or 8,000 simultaneous attendees. Still, that's a good sized crowd!
One final note: the next time I come to this conference, I'm going to wear more comfortable shoes! My feet are killing me. I was on my feet almost all day and can barely walk this evening. Does anyone know of a shoe store conveniently close to the Olympia Exhibition Hall? If so, I'll buy some replacement shoes in the morning.
Let that be a warning: if you ever attend a future Who Do You Think You Are? Live! show, make sure you wear comfortable shoes! You'll be glad you did. Regardless of your footwear, you will be glad you attended.