The annual Who Do You Think You Are? Live! conference (often abbreviated to WDYTYAL) is now history. Held at the Olympia Centre in London, England, on February 22 through 24, this family history event is probably the largest such conference in the world.
I was fortunate to be able to attend this year's event in London although I did leave a bit early on Sunday in order to catch an afternoon flight back to the States. Attendance at past WDYTYAL events has varied from 12,000 to 14,000+ attendees. I left too early to obtain the final count from this year's event, but I think attendance was at least equal to past years, if not higher.
The weather was chilly, remaining around the freezing mark for all three days of the event. I saw a few snow flurries in the air every day although no snow ever accumulated on the ground. When I flew from Orlando, Florida, to London, the change in weather was a shock! I didn't warm up again until I returned to Orlando last night.
The Who Do You Think You Are? Live! event is affiliated with the popular Who Do You Think You Are? television program that is broadcast every season in the United Kingdom. However, the in-person event at the Olympia Centre is managed by a separate organization, and the name of the event is changed very slightly by the addition of the word "Live" with an exclamation mark: Who Do You Think You Are? Live!
I am fascinated by a genealogy event that attracts 14,000 or more attendees. What's the secret to their success? How can an organization in England accomplish this while others in the United States and elsewhere cannot? Actually, I think there are a number of "secrets," not just one.
First, by riding on the coat tails of a popular television show and even sharing the same name, the Who Do You Think You Are? Live! event obtains a lot of publicity. It was well-publicized on television and in national newspapers and magazines, as well as online. Publicity is perhaps the single most important factor in creating a successful public event. In addition, several actors and other personalities from the show's earlier episodes who are well-known to the British public were in attendance, and most also made presentations to the audience.
Next, England has a great public transportation system. Attendees from all over the country were able to easily travel to an event held in Kensington, London, at very reasonable costs. Driving and parking in London is extremely expensive. Public transportation is far more cost-effective as well as clean and reliable. A train station is located beside the Olympia Centre that serves both the Underground's District Line as well as surface trains. The train station even has a direct train to London's Gatwick Airport, and service to Heathrow is also rather easy on the Underground. A city bus stop is located about 20 feet from the front door of the Olympia Centre with frequent city buses traveling all over greater London.
I believe another major reason for the show's success is the fact that the WDYTYAL event is aimed at novices. Most of the lectures and almost all the exhibits provided information for newcomers to family history. There were detailed explanations of the basics of genealogy and long lists of places to find records, both online and offline. A minority of the presentations perhaps should have been labeled "intermediate," but I didn't see anything in the conference catalog that looked like an advanced topic. I will suggest that organizers of genealogy conferences in other countries should take note! Want to attract a lot of attendees? Reach out to the biggest segment of the general public: those who are not yet genealogy experts.
Finally, WDYTYAL is a vendors' event. The societies and companies that exhibited were the stars of the event. Upon entering the Olympia Centre, attendees immediately found themselves in the middle of the exhibits hall. To go to any of the presentations at the show, attendees had to walk through the (crowded) exhibits hall. Unlike most other large genealogy events I have attended, the exhibitors were not in a "side room" that was some distance from the lectures. In fact, the exhibits hall at WDYTYAL was "action central" with lectures given inside the adjacent halls.
I am pleasantly surprised at the popularity of DNA being promoted as a genealogy tool at this year's event. In fact, the crowds at the DNA vendors and workshops seem to get bigger and bigger every year, and this year was no exception. See my pictures below to see the crowds with standing room only, three and four deep, at the booths of Family Tree DNA, the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), and the DNA workshop lecture hall. Family Tree DNA took more DNA kits than ever before to the event but sold out before the end. Every time I walked past the Family Tree DNA booth, I saw people swabbing the insides of their cheeks. In fact, I don't believe I ever walked by that booth when there wasn't a crowd.
Almost all major vendors were exhibiting at this year's show, including quite a few from the U.S., one or two from Canada, and a few from Europe. In addition, I found that a bunch of companies that I have never heard of were also exhibiting; many of them were at their first Who Do You Think You Are? Live! conference.
Major sponsors of this year's event included Ancestry.co.uk, the Society of Genealogists, TheGenealogist.co.uk, Family Tree DNA, Ireland.com, The National Archives, and Love to Learn (a new exhibitor with a brand-new service for genealogists). In addition, I saw stands (booths) by many others that have been mentioned often in this newsletter: MyHeritage.com (sponsors of this newsletter with offices in the U.S. and Israel), FindMyPast, BritainsDNA, the British Deaf History Society, the British Newspaper Archive, Deceased Online, Eneclann (from Ireland), Family Chart Masters (from the U.S), FamilySearch (from the U.S.), the General Register Office, Histoires de Familles (from France), Mocavo (from the U.S.), National Institute for Genealogical Studies (from Canada), Origins.net, and many others.
I met a lot of Americans and several Canadians at this year's event as well as people from Germany, the Netherlands, and France. I was told there were Australians and New Zealanders in attendance as well although I don't recall meeting any of them. Every year I attend the Who Do You Think You Are? Live! conference, the number of foreign attendees seems to increase significantly.
No less than four snack bars were in operation, serving the attendees. It wasn't exactly gourmet food, but it was better than what I normally experience in convention centers. I didn't see anything being kept warm under heat lamps. In addition, perhaps ten or so restaurants, including one British pub, are within a five-minute walk of the Olympia Centre. I don't think anyone came to the WDYTYAL event just for the food, but I didn't hear any complaints either.
I must say that I enjoyed the 2013 edition of Who Do You Think You Are? Live! I have been to every one of the past Who Do You Think You Are? Live! events except for one year when I had a family conflict. I have never been disappointed and certainly hope to attend next year's event as well.
If you would like to spend some time in England learning about genealogy, you might want to attend next year's Who Do You Think You Are? Live! event. Keep an eye on http://www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.com/ for further information. It is far too early right now to find information on that site for next year's event; however, I am sure that information will begin to appear later this year.
I am including several pictures I took at this year's event. In most cases, the pictures below are the smaller versions. Click on any picture to view a larger version of the same picture.
Eric Knowles is well-known in the U.K. as an expert on family heirlooms. Here he offers his analysis of an heirloom for a show attendee.
Tne DNA lecture room was offering lectures all day on each of the three days.
All in all, this was a crowded, noisy experience. I loved it! This was a huge crowd of genealogists!
For more information, look at http://www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.com/.