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The Sussex and South London Family History Fair

11 Mar

Today I made my annual visit to the K2 Leisure Centre in Crawley, West Sussex. Forsaking the swimming pool, climbing wall and squash courts I made my way to the family history fair hidden away in the corner of one of the halls.

When I say hidden I mean it, there was no signage that I could see until I was almost at the door to the hall. Fortunately from previous visits I knew where I was going, otherwise who knows what energetic past-time it might have got tangled up in.

As family history events go this couldn’t more different to Who Do You Think You Are? Live a couple of weeks ago. It was small (about twenty stalls), relatively quiet (apart from the thundering of basketballs next door), no talks or lectures and definitely no celebrities.

There was quite a mix of stalls, some I had seen at Olympia and some not, but most if not all were familiar faces, from previous family history fairs. There seemed to be more of an emphasis on books, maps and postcards than at Olympia, but from my point of view that wasn’t a bad thing.

In fact that was a good thing, if it hadn’t been for the pair of postcard dealers I probably would have been in and out within half an hour, but even then I was on my way back to the railway station in about an hour and a half.

To be honest I didn’t really have very high expectations from this fair and in this respect I wasn’t disappointed. I only came away with one purchase, a book entitled The Future of the South Downs edited by Gerald Smart and Peter Brandon. It looks like it should be an interesting read, split between the history of the South Downs and the challenges facing them now and in the future.

I very much fear for the future of small family history fairs like this. In a genealogy world becoming increasingly dominated by the internet and the likes of WDYTYA Live I am not sure that they will survive. I would have to suggest that the organisers haven’t really helped themselves, their website is very sparse on details. That being said I might try to get to their Kent fair in May.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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I need a genealogy escape day once in a while

27 Feb

I know it won’t last, but I have come away from this years Who Do You Think You Are? Live incredibly motivated and fired up with enthusiasm for family history. The challenge now is to keep this going for the next twelve months until the next WDYTYA Live rolls around (assuming it does).

The weekend was filled with talk of what could be achieved in idealised genealogy world where anything is possible if you just have the time and money and know where to look. In the real world however I have definite shortage of the first two, although the third doesn’t worry me quite so much.

One aspect I really liked about the three-day weekend was that I was, for a very short time, a full-time family historian, nothing else mattered for those 72 hours. I know I can’t afford to do this very often, but I wonder if I might be able replicate this on a smaller scale.

Perhaps once a month I could take a day out and treat myself to a genealogy escape day where I can take myself off somewhere (not necessarily an archive) where I can concentrate on family history. Maybe in the summer I could find an isolated hill-top where I can just escape everything and think of nothing else but family history for a while.

It might seem a little selfish, but I think I need to get away from the hassles and distractions of everyday life every once in a while, maybe even disconnect from the internet, or at least use it as a tool and not let it be a distraction.

One thing I am certain of is that it needs to be planned in advance, firstly so that it doesn’t cause too much inconvenience to anyone else, but secondly so that I can make arrangements and get organised, but also so that I have something to look forward to.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2012 : Day Three – See you again next year

26 Feb

So that is it, the third and final day finished and Who Do You Think You Are? Live over and done with for another year, well almost.

Public transport being what it is on Sunday I had a much later start this morning (and an earlier finish) so when I arrived just after 11 o’clock things were already in full swing, although it has to be said that it wasn’t swinging quite as much as on the previous two days, things were a lot quieter.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2012 (26th February 2012)

I only managed to attend two workshops today (I probably could have fitted in another) and both were excellent. First was Dr Gill Draper of the British Association for Local History talking about free local history websites for family historians. This was an interesting talk and although I had heard of many of the websites there were a fair number that I hadn’t looked at before (or recently).

The talk was based on one of the publications from BALH, “Internet Sites for Local Historians” and I felt inspired to buy a copy afterwards. Flicking through the pages of the booklet I can see that there are many websites that I have never encountered before (and some old favourites), this could keep me entertained and educated for weeks.

The second talk was again based on a book or rather about a book, entitled The Platoon: An Infantryman on the Western Front 1916-18. Andy Robertshaw spoke enthusiastically about the discovery and exploration of the manuscript and the validation of it’s contents. I didn’t have time to hang around and get a copy of this book, but I will put it on my wish list.

On a personal level not only did I bump into my distant cousin again, but also one of my first cousins, who I had no idea was going to be there. Another highlight was chatting to one of the people at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum display, who it turned it was the director of the museum, and co-author of one of the books on my shelf which has photos of my relatives, and who had met some of my Mitchell relations in West Dean, Sussex. It could only happen at Who Do You Think You Are? Live!

Tomorrow my world returns to normal, when my alarm goes off at 5:15am tomorrow morning I won’t be leaping out of bed excitedly, but rather trudging grudgingly to the bathroom to prepare for a week at work.

"Goodbye, Olympia. I'll see you again next year"

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2012 : Day Two – Back for more …

25 Feb

I was back at Olympia for day two of Who Do You Think You Are? Live for more of the same, only this time the queues were longer and the show was generally a lot busier. I was a little worried that it was going to be too crowded inside, uncomfortably so, but there was plenty of room for everyone and the queues moved quickly.

I hadn’t planned anything first thing, so that I didn’t have to rush or worry about what I might miss, also to give me time to take a closer look around the exhibitors hall. I spent some time chatting to various exhibitors and got so carried away that I nearly missed my first workshop.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2012 (25th February 2012)

My first workshop of the day was Audrey Collins talking about The National Archives new ‘Discovery’ catalogue, which despite some technical issues proved to be a useful introduction to the new catalogue. This was the first time I had seen the new catalogue, but from what I saw it is a big improvement on the existing catalogue and something that I need to get used to using sooner rather than later.

Next up was Nick Barrett (with Brian Ashley) talking about ancestral tourism, and more specifically the Ancestral Tourism Partnership, an initiative to encourage family history tourism in England, for the benefit of all involved and the British economy. This is something that both Ireland and Scotland are good at, but England is lagging a long way behind.

Because the earlier celebrity sessions had over-run (now there’s a surprise), the questions at the end had to be cut short, and the one thing I would have liked to find out was how the average family historian like myself can get involved. I might just have to drop them an email to find out.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2012 (25th February 2012)

The next workshop was certainly different, Sue Elliott and Jean Milsted from NORCAP talking about adoption. The emphasis here was more on the current situation with regard to re-uniting adults affected by adoption rather than historical research. Although I have been working on a historical adoption case (Finding Minnie) I felt that it would be good to get more of a grounding in the topic.

After a short break for lunch and some shopping, I took my first steps towards understanding Irish family history with two workshops, the first by Chris Paton entitled Irish Research Online and that was followed by Brian Donovan and British & Irish Research: The Differences. Both workshops were excellent, I obviously still have a lot to learn but I feel more confident about tackling some Irish research now, although I feel a book on the subject might be a useful purchase tomorrow.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2012 : Day One – It’s awfully pink

24 Feb

“It’s awfully pink”, was my first thought as I stepped into the exhibitors hall at Olympia this morning for day one of Who Do You Think You Are? Live. The floor (upstairs and downstairs) was covered in a shocking pink carpet. At least it seemed quite shocking at first, but of course there were plenty of things going on to take my mind off it.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2012 (24th February 2012)

Everything was pretty much as expected, everything in more or less the same places as previous years. The queue to get in seemed a bit longer than last year, as did the queue for workshop tickets, but they both moved pretty quickly. The other good news was that the cash machine on the ground floor was working this year.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2012 (24th February 2012)

I was wondering last night (yes, I know I am sad) what the findmypast stand would look like this year. In previous years they have disguised their stand as a church and a school (and a bus or tram if my memory serves me correctly). Well this year it was an ocean liner, quite obvious when I think of it now, I only hope the “unsinkable” brightsolid are not tempting fate.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2012 (24th February 2012)

I had a great day, attended four excellent workshops, spent too much money, learnt some useful information and met up with a distant cousin and fellow Gasson researcher (Hi Mike, it was great to finally meet you).

Now I need to get to bed as I need to be up bright and early again tomorrow, ready to do it all again.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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