Wednesday, 22 April 2015

WDYTYA Live 2015 at Birmingham

After many years at Olympia in central London, Who Do You Think You Are? Live made its first foray out of the capital with the event in Glasgow last August.  The Scottish event was curtailed, so some doubted the move to The National Exhibition Centre (NEC) on the outskirts of Birmingham would be a success.  The announced return to the NEC next year, on the 7-9 April 2016, suggests otherwise.  For me, Birmingham had an added bonus of visiting my Aunty Dorothy, who attended the event for the first time.

Dorothy (not in period dress) in the 1939 cafe

Dorothy and myself are different kinds of attendee.  Dorothy was more interested in the talks than the vendor stands.  She found the Workshops listing on the WDYTYA? Live website difficult to find, navigate and print. That was an obstacle to her discussion on which talks were most interesting with the two friends she invited along.  An iphone/ipad app was an innovation this year, but there was no android app or Google calendar file for download and import.  Dorothy's relaxed approach was to arrive in time for lunch, attend a couple of talks, browse a few stands and chat with people in the 1939 cafe.  She enjoyed herself so much she came again the next day.

My full time 3 days required a lot more stamina, which I enjoyed just as much as Dorothy.  My focus included networking with other professional genealogists, learning about newly available resources, and helping people on their ancestral journeys.  I particularly enjoyed spotting Strathclyde alumni badges.  I managed to squeeze in only a few talks between stints on the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) stand and Ask the Experts. 

Ask the Experts area

My time giving expert advice flew by leaving me in need of the bottled water provided between each 20 minute session.  I helped people by reading secretary hand (an old style of handwriting), explaining property tenures, demonstrating online resources and search strategies, and pointing out records housed in offline archives.  An enquirer presented a type of document I had not seen before, so I also learned something new.

Attendee exploring records at the findmypast stand, The Genealogist Tithe Record poster

An important function of an exhibition is the demonstration of products.  The big online genealogy vendors, Ancestry, findmypast, My Heritage and FamilySearch all made their websites and records available for attendees to explore.  The Genealogist promoted their Tithe Record collection with a large poster, but provided no access to their website or records at all.  That was disappointing, as I particularly wanted to see the tithe maps.  On asking a staff member showed me the website on a tablet computer.  That was even more disappointing.

'Online map' and 'digital map' to most people means Google maps, bing, or satnav.  Mapping technology is now ubiquitous and there are plenty of examples of online historical maps, including tithe maps, that make good use of the technology.  In There Be Dragons – Finding Tithe Maps for England and Wales I voiced disquiet about this company's ability to present good quality online tithe maps.  Sadly, it seems my fears have been realized.  The map I was shown was a poor quality black and white image, which I think was from microfilm.  Neither the map image nor the pin markers were georeferenced or geocoded.  In my book, that makes the markers seriously un-smart. 

General Register Office stand

My experience at the General Register Office (GRO) stand was much more fruitful.  Following the Deregulation Act passed just a few weeks ago, it is now legal for civil registration records in England & Wales to be made available in a form other than an officially certified copy.  It will be up to the minister, whoever that will be after the election, to consult and implement any changes to current arrangements.  The GRO representative told me that about half of the registers have already been scanned, which is encouraging.

WDYTYA Live 2015 was stimulating and informative.  I look forward to next year.


  1. Thanks for your honest and balanced appraisal Sue. A visit to WDYTYA is on my bucket list, I might see you there one day.

  2. Thanks for your honest and balanced appraisal Sue. A visit to WDYTYA is on my bucket list, I might see you there one day.

  3. very helpful to read the reviews of this event from different standpoints - thanks


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