So, Who Do We Think We Are? The future of genealogy events in the UK.

It’s now been a month since Who Do You Think You are? Live was held at the NEC in Birmingham. I attended all three days and got to see and experience the event from a number of perspectives – as an attendee, as a student/professional genealogist and as a speaker.

My biggest take aways from the show this year were that attendance was clearly down, some big names were missing (The National Archives, for example) and local genealogical societies were a bit thin (where was Sussex and Kent, and also Scotland was not very well represented).

As Steve mentioned on his blog and Jane mentioned on hers, there was a high number of non-genealogical stands at the show and I felt quite sorry for the women trying to give away free wine samples at 10am. Also, while the free massage was nice, the number of orthopedic and life insurance stands was a bit of a concern. As someone who’s recently turned 40 I don’t like being reminded of such things.

As a genealogy nerd I loved wandering around and having a nose at things and networking and all that. But, putting my objective hat on, it really was lacking this year and could have been quite a disappointment for people attending who didn’t have friends and colleagues to meet up with and pass the time.

The Good

  • The Society of Genealogists. I love the SOG and the effort and energy put in by them to keep this show going and to keep it relevant and fresh and to get new people doing talks and presenting is something that is just so incredible and something for which we should all be thankful. Without them and their efforts (huuuuuuuge shoutout to Else Churchill here) it wouldn’t have been as organised or interesting as it was.
  • Local societies, new societies and universities. The people volunteering on these stands took time out of their lives to be there to answer questions and provide information. Now, I did have a couple of small issues, which I discuss in a later post, but on the whole, the effort by these groups and the fact that they were there made the show all the more interesting and more than just advertising space for the big companies. Shoutouts to Jeanette Rosenburg from the JGSGB for being good fun; the RQG and my dear University of Strathclyde.

The Bad

  • Communication. One thing I noticed during the event was the lack of really knowing what was going on. There were some boards at the entrance giving an overview of what was happening but there was a lot of stuff going on that simply wasn’t centrally publicised. Even something as simple as some announcements giving details of talks coming up next would have been good. Or bigger boards with more information on talks, events, who’s there, what’s going on, etc.
  • Refreshments and relaxation. The food choices were woeful and expensive and the lack of more seating and just places to chill and talk was an issue.

With the recent news that Who Do You Think You Are? Live will not be returning, there is a rather large gap in the genealogy trade show market in the UK. The question is – does this need filling?

In my previous life I worked in the computer game industry. Each year, there would be a number of trade shows/exhibitions that the company for which I worked would attend. These would happen all over the globe, but primarily in the US, UK and Germany (aka, “The Big Three”).

As time went on the big UK-based trade show got a bit smaller and ended up moving locations a few times. This year it will also be held at the NEC, but the lack of attendance by certain companies signals that perhaps it’s not going the way people hope it would.

In the US and Germany, on the other hand, things are a bit different. There are a number of big computer game/comic/sci-fi conventions that get bigger and better every year (some even have branched out to have East-Coast/West-Coast versions).

If we look at the situation in our own industry and the continued growth of RootsTech each year (to the point that UK-based companies and Universities offering genealogy courses have people and stalls at this convention) one must ask the question – Why can’t we get ourselves together here in the UK and have the same?

I will attempt to answer that question however, will do so in a completely subjective way that may, or may not, actually be accurate. Who knows, what follows in the next post may be the biggest pile of drivel I’ve ever written.

DNA – learning to expect the unexpected

This is the first part in a multi-part blog series about DNA testing and genealogy.

After 20+ years of genealogical research, I like to think I know my family history pretty well. As an Aussie, I am a big of a genealogical mongrel, or as my nan used to refer to her dog, Cindy, a “bitsa” as in “bits of this and bits of that”. It’s pretty simple, really:
  • Lots of Scots
  • Lots of Irish
  • Lots of English
  • A smattering of Swedes
  • Four convicts

So I was relatively certain of the results of any genealogical DNA test I would do. I imagined it would look something like this:
Source: Ancestry.com
When I decided to try the Ancestry DNA test, I was a bit put off by the fact that I’d need to gob into a test tube. Someone as classy and sophisticated as me simply does not spit, regardless of the scientific results. But for the sake of science, history, genealogy and my own bloody curiosity I built a bridge and got over this particular wave of discomfort. (This is proof that I am actually on my way to becoming a true professional).

To be quite honest, when the test arrived I was soon quite happily gobbing away into the plastic tube.

The influence of Apple of product packaging and presentation has been clear for a number of years. Clean lines, lots of white. Minimalism is key. I was, however, surprised to see that this influence had extended into the realm of genealogical DNA testing.

Photo: Ancestry.com
It’s quite simply a beautiful product. It’s a shame one has to mar it with saliva, but needs must.

Even the website to register the test is squeaky clean. For my web design friends – is this a matter of clean design, or is it a matter of familiarity (from using Apple products) and therefore an increased sense of trust? Answers on a perfectly and ethically designed website, please.

After spitting in the tube, adding the DNA stabilising solution and giving it all a good shake, I slipped it into a bio-hazard bag and into a lovely little postage-paid box that came with the kit. I then sealed it all up and popped it into the post-box.

The lack of immediate gratification was a wee bit disappointing, and the wait until I got my results felt extremely long.

The website provides tracking information from the moment you register the test. I checked the site every day to see if its status had changed from “Activated” to “Arrived” and more importantly “Processing”.

After around a week, the status changed from “Activated” to “Processing” rather quickly. I was then into the longest wait-phase. 6-8 weeks while the testing is done.

I waited impatiently for the test to confirm all my research and particularly looked forward to seeing if Britain, Ireland or Scandinavia came out on top. I expected it to kind of the way Eurovision does, with Scandinavia winning and Britain and Ireland getting a few points somewhere down the line.

I also joked that I hoped something completely obscure would turn up my results and hit us from out of left field. “OMG I HOPE IT SHOWS I’M JEWISH” I thought, knowing my step-father (who is Jewish) would find it hilarious.

I checked the website daily for an update and was growing more and more disappointed as no results were posted. “Maybe your DNA is so weird they’re having difficulty finding anything human in it,” commented one friend. I started to think he may be right.

No results. No results. No results.

As with the proverbial watched pot, as soon as I stopped thinking about it and obsessively checking I got an email. “Your DNA results are available.”

With a sense of immense excitement (and trepidation, perhaps I *am* alien) I logged into the site to see just who I am.

To say the results surprised me would be an understatement.

I was incredibly surprised to see both Scandinavia and Great Britain so far down the list. I was also overjoyed to actually see European Jewish in the list (my step father merely rolled his eyes when I told him).

Looking into the information on the data further, this is what is noted for the different regions in which my DNA has been.
Location
Primarily Located In
Also Found In
Europe West
Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein
England, Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, Czech Republic
Ireland
Ireland, Wales, Scotland
France, England
European Jewish
Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, Israel
Germany, France, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Romania, Bosnia, Serbia, Estona
Iberian Peninsula
Spain, Portugal
France, Morocco, Algeria, Italy
Scandinavia
Sweden, Denmark, Norway
Great Britain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, the Baltic States, Finland
Great Britain
England, Scotland, Wales
Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Italy
Asia South
India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka
Myanmar (Burma)

France seems to be the main connection point between all the regions except for Asia South meaning (in my 100% scientific opinion) my potentially French ancestors got around a bit.

I’m reading as much as possible about DNA testing for genealogy and the impact it can have on research. I shall write a future blog post about how such testing can influence the research one does and the results of research that people not only find but really want to find.

Concerning Convicts

A much-loved go-to pseudo insult of Australians by the English is “convict” or, if they’re feeling particularly nasty, “crim”. I am here to declare once and for all – calling us “convict” is not insulting. In fact, we love it.

No, really, we absolutely loooooooooove our collective convict heritage and, as a genealogist, there is nothing better than finding a convict in my family tree or the tree of someone for whom I am doing research.

The BBC series Banished has rekindled an interest in the plight of convicts sent to Australia, a place which is often referred to in the series as a “godforsaken corner of the world”. This is just unfair. Sure, they landed at Botany Bay (original name Stingray Harbour, but changed out of respect to Steve Irwin[1]) but it’s not the fault of Captain Arthur Phillip that he chose to land in what would become Sydney. Had he simply persevered further south, he would have been able to land in what would become Melbourne, and they all would have had a much nicer time.

If Banished is to be believed, they actually had an alright time of it. Hanging out on the beach, getting married, enjoying good weather every day, being able to ignore the Paleo fad and living on a high-carb diet, hanging out with that bloke from Game of Thrones, and creating what would become one of the most amazing, friendly, inclusive and non-racist societies on the planet.

Really clean and pretty convict people who are probably not 100% historically accurate representations of the convict population in the 1700s.


Researching ones convict ancestry can be tricky. Not only because every second person was called John Smith or Mary Jones, but also because the accuracy of their convictions, sentencing and subsequent duration of transportation can be a bit hard to ascertain.

Take the story of Patrick Glennon, one of my ancestors and the first convict feather in my genealogical cap (I have four, total, which actually makes the the equivalent of a Duke in convictdom). 

Patrick was a native of Clontarf, Dublin, Ireland when, in 1849 he was arrested, tried and convicted of the stealing of one bullock. His sentence – 10 years transportation to Australia.

Well, that’s one version.

Another version has Patrick arrested, tried and convicted of the stealing of one bullock and one heifer (an enterprising young lad, Patrick understood that boy cow + girl cow = baby cows = money). His sentence was 7 years transportation to Australia.

Yet another version has his sentence as life.

Not so pretty convict people.



What we do know is that young Paddy travelled with just 8 other convicts on the transport ship the Hyderabad. They left Dublin on 23 May, 1849 and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) on 26 August, 1849. Patrick is listed as being the only convict on the ship with a life sentence, the others having an average sentence of 7 years.

Patrick was pardoned in 1854-55 and went on to marry, have lots of babies and start one of the branches that led to me.

So, yeah I’m proud of him. Did he break the law? Probably. But what we need to keep in mind is the high levels of poverty in Ireland at the time. This was smack-bang in the middle of the Great Famine. People were hungry, people were desperate.

I won’t go into a discussion about the merits of transportation vs imprisonment – so many what ifs there it will just make my head hurt.

What I will say is this – men, women and children who broke the law (or broke the law) were transported to Australia. They were ripped from their homes, their families and friends, and taken to the other side of the world with no realistic chance of ever returning. They endured a horrendous journey, hard labour in a quite hostile land and, when they were released, often had to fend for themselves.

Patrick Glennon’s pardon. I guess he finally learned how to behave himself.



They formed the backbone of the country and embody the tough spirit of Australians. Aussies are tough, but we find humour in a lot of things. I believe this need for humour has been passed down the generations by the sheer necessity to see the positive in a situation in order to survive. Should we overlook the soap-opera feel of shows like Banished and take the history of convicts more seriously and should we more closely investigate the hardship and horrors endured by these people? 

Absolutely. 

The story of every single convict is an important part of Australian and British history and sweeping it aside as the go-to joke when talking with Aussies could be considered inconsiderate. But, in true Aussie nature our go-to reaction is to see the humour in it and brush such comments aside as funny.

Because they are funny. While the well-behaved (or badly-behaved but imprisoned) British subjects didn’t have to endure a horrific journey to the other side of the world, never see their families again or do years of hard labour building a colony, they did have to continue enduring the British weather.

So next time you’re calling an Aussie a convict, keep in mind that behind the smile and the laugh there swells an immense pride, a silent nod and a raising of a glass to the men and women who helped shape our country and our culture to be what it is today.


[1] This is lies.