Who Do You Think You Are is the biggest event of its kind in the UK, with attendance last year of 13,000 visitors. This year the numbers were probably higher still.
But it’s not just the numbers that make this show stand head and shoulders above the rest—it’s the scope of what’s available for visitors. It has representation from many UK local family local history societies, the online research database companies such as FindMyPast, software suppliers and expert lectures.
But it’s also attended by major archives in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland; experts on local history, military history, archeology, conservation, the History Channel; even the London Times digital newspaper archive (below). All under one roof for three days.
Making available a great variety of resources and knowledge—some not immediately connected to family history as we’ve known it—gives the show appeal to a wide audience. The common theme? All exhibitors and visitors share a passion for history.
Over the two days I attended, I had the chance to hold (and of course feel the weight) of a Brown Bess rifle. Chatted to two enthusiasts dressed as Polish Lancers. Sampled lectures covering topics as diverse as Stonehenge, the Battle of Britain 1940, and Jewish family history research.
I also had a good look at the display of military vehicles, including a British WWI tank. I looked at historical objects (below)—coins, bells, buckles, clay pipe bowls and colourful fragments of medieval pottery—once discarded by our ancestors and since recovered from the mud of the Thames River in London.
But I spent most of my time volunteering to help visitors with research queries, both in the Guild of One-Name Studies booth (below) and as an expert advisor for the Society of Genealogists (both are leading family history societies in the UK). Most visitors I saw came from the UK, but there were a noticeable number of visitors from Canada, Australia, the United States and Ireland.
Visitors’ knowledge levels were equally varied. The success of the UK television show “Who Do You Think You Are?” has clearly encouraged a lot of people to take an interest in their family history. Some were absolute beginners, excited to find ancestors in the UK censuses. Other seasoned researchers were equally pleased to get advice on new sources for 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century research.
I finished on Sunday, a little tired and a little hoarse, but very satisfied, having had the opportunity in some way or another to assist over 50 fellow family historians.