When you first visit Who Do You Think You Are? Live it can seem rather daunting. Walk in and you’re surrounded by hubbub: exhibitors chat to visitors about their latest web developments and new publications; microphoned experts address their theatre audiences on research techniques or DNA testing; and, more likely than not, someone in a WWI uniform or Victorian bonnet wanders past on their way for a coffee or the loo.
Fear not, you’ll soon acclimatise. But it pays to do some basic planning beforehand. Here are 5 tips to make the most of your day:
(1) Cherrypick your workshops: Start planning your day by deciding on a few workshops to attend. Some are free, offered on a first-come first-served basis, and others are ticketed (£2 in advance, £3 on the day). If you have the One Day Advanced ticket to the show then you have three workshops in hand, included within the ticket price – be sure to use them. Just getting started with your family history? Then take a look at the sessions in the Education Zone, new this year. Otherwise it’s a question of thinking what you’re seeking to get out of the day – you might want to immerse yourself in the military history of your ancestors, figure out what to do next where your research trail has gone cold, or put a question to a WDYTYA celebrity from the TV series. So, dip in and choose a few workshops, and your timetable for the day will start to take shape.
(2) Bring a nutty problem with you: Make the most of the Society of Genealogist volunteers in the ‘Ask the Experts’ section. They’ll give you up to 20 minutes of free advice on how you might progress your research or solve a mystery. You’ll need to prepare in advance – bring copies of your notes, certificates and other documents – and be as specific as you can be about what you’re trying to find out. You can’t book ‘Ask the Expert’ sessions in advance, so when you arrive on the day you might first whizz over to grab a slot between your workshop times. They’re experienced hands at the SoG, they like a challenge!
(3) Rootle through the attic: Ever wanted to know more about Great Aunt Ida’s brooch or Cousin Stanley’s pocket watch? Well, blow the dust off and bring it along. TV’s Eric Knowles and Marc Allum are the resident Heirloom Detectives; they’re not there to value your items, so you won’t discover you’re an overnight millionaire, but they will help you piece together the story behind your teapots, tools and trinkets. Maybe you’ve inherited an item that needs dating, which in turn might help you figure out how it has passed through the family? Don’t bring the crown jewels or a sideboard with you, go for small items you can tuck away safely in your bag for the rest of the day. Your heirloom might add colour to your family story – a great starting point for writing about your ancestors (for inspiration about heirloom stories, here’s one I prepared earlier).
(4) Bring your great great grandparents along: Well, maybe not in person, but bring a photo of them, a studio shot of Uncle Ernest in his WWI uniform, a family seaside promenade picture or any other mystery photos where you’re trying to pin down the date. Photograph Daters at the show might help you figure out why a particular photo was taken, or how the fashions or military regalia can hone your understanding of it. Rather like the Heirloom Detectives, it’s a question of booking a session with one of the photo experts when you arrive. And then, with more light cast on a family photo or two, how about having a go at writing a piece about it, rather like this snapshot outside the Admiral Nelson.
(5) Make a beeline for your exhibitor hot list: With 130 exhibitors each competing for your attention, it can be easy to load up with bags full of brochures and not actually have many meaningful conversations that move you forward. If window shopping’s your thing, fine, but you might want to at least identify a handful of stalls – say a hot list of 5-10 companies, organisations or groups – where you can spend some worthwhile time, make new contacts, share a family history research query, or get stuck into browsing a few new websites. By making a beeline for these stands first, you’ll be sure to end the day a few steps forward. You might, for example, want to browse and buy back issues of Who Do You Think You Are magazine, find out how to upload your WWI stories to the Imperial War Museum portal, or compare the various DNA tests to decide which one suits you best.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the workshops and exhibitors, partly to plan my own visit but also to share ideas that might especially help you enrich your research and write up your family history.
So, there we have it: Ready, Get Set… and Go!