Well, I’m back. Or should I say I survived? My calendar over the last four days has been filled with nothing but talks about genealogy, genomics, resources and (to quote someone I met at WDYTYA? Live 2017) “nerdgasms”. Yes, Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017 is over, sadly, but I have to say that despite the pain in my feet, my headache and a swollen throat, I can honestly say it was well worth the short hop on a two-propeller plane and the three-night stay in a Birmingham airport hotel.
This was my second time attending WDYTYA? Live, but unlike last year’s one-day visit, I decided to prolong my stay by an extra day. Having arrived on Thursday afternoon, I made my way to the hotel, where I had arranged to meet two friends from Twitter (Sonia Sanchez and J. Carmen Smith, escorted as ever by her faithful Jim) with whom I have been in correspondence for a while. Over the past few months we have been helping each other out with each other’s research in Spain and the UK, so we couldn’t resist the temptation to meet up and exchange views and notes. I had a number of records to give to J. Carmen concerning her Spanish ancestors, which I’m sure have kept her busy since travelling back home! To compensate my lack of certificates for S. Sanchez, I gave her a packet of Belgian chocolate which I trust she will munch as she too reflects on what she has learnt, grasped and taken away from her two-day visit to Birmingham.
My first day at the show this year was marked by a slightly more planned approach to the stands I wanted to visit. It was difficult to avoid the Ancestry stand(s) as you came in, and even harder to avoid buying a few DNA kits for just 49GBP each (I won’t say how many I bought for fear of enraging my parents, who will probably read this entry). In any case, it was enough to make me momentarily a trending topic on Twitter and made me instantly recognisable even to Ancestry’s competitors. I also attended two workshops, one on Civil Registration: A Registrar’s View (which I found very interesting, if not a bit condensed for just 45 minutes) and one on High Definition AncestryDNA, given by the LivingDNA team. I confess the latter felt a bit like a sales pitch at first, but I was fascinated by the amount of information they were able to squeeze into a 45-minute presentation, not least because they showed the various ethnic groups within the UK (something which AncestryDNA has so far failed to break down).
On Friday I also took the chance to speak to an expert at the FindMyPast booth, and was fortunate to speak to Audrey Collins (who some of you may know as the co-author of the Pen & Sword book on BMD registration. OK, so we weren’t able to bring down the brickwall, but we had a delightful chat and discussed other topics of less-genealogical consequence. It goes without saying I couldn’t resist buying a copy of her book and asking her to autograph it, as a reminder of our 20-minute conversation. Friday was also the day I was able to meet familiar faces from the world of Twitter. I confess I had been on the lookout for them, but the amount of people makes it quite difficult to just “bump into” anyone at WDYTYA? Live! At any rate, I did get to see Andrew, Steve and Jane, so it was nice to put a face to the Twitter handle!
I should say at this point that my first day was spent in the company of Sonia, and I have to admit it was much more enjoyable than attending the show alone. It gave us a chance to look at stuff together, exchange views and keep each other company (it is amazing how easy it is to feel alone in a big crowd!). Upon returning to the hotel, Sonia and I decided to tackle my Mary Elizabeth Vickress brickwall, to no avail, although it was great fun. Next time I promise we’ll try to sort out some of her brickwalls instead!
Saturday was my second (and last) day at the show. It was quite crowded, with a higher influx of families attending. As I was alone, I kept an eye open for other possible Twitter friends – my prayers were answered when Carole (of The Surname Society, whom I shall probably be joining very soon) recognised me thanks to my Converse shoes. Sometimes it pays to stand out! I also met Marie Cappart, the foremost genealogist in Belgium, who was busy attracting passers-by to hr stand. I was also recognised by another, unfamiliar face: passing by the LivingDNA stand to have a look at which ethnic regions they have managed to identify, a nice young lady approached me asking if I was interested in their product. She immediately confessed she had recognised me following my Tweet on the AncestryDNA kits, and very kindly offered me a complimentary kit – just like that! Well, how could I say no? I confess my interest in this new company is growing, and although I am still going to test a few more relatives with Ancestry, time will tell whether I shift my focus to a company which offers a more broken-down ethnicity result.
My day was complete when I attended my last workshop on Ancient British DNA (given by Mark G. Thomas – highly interesting, if not a bit too technical and long-winded for my tired head by then). I couldn’t leave the show without passing by the FIBIS stand to see if a nice lady called Penny (whom I met last year, as you’ll remember) was there and see if she had found anything about her own Indian background. Penny remembered me and we spent a few minutes chatting about how DNA testing might help her to figure out her Indian-Burmese origins.To encourage her I gave her my last packet of Belgian chocolate, which I am told she will start enjoying soon “when Lent is over”.
And so, my friends, WDYTYA? Live 2017 drew to a close, and I walked back to my hotel room with far too many DNA kits and too much merchandise to test even my own sturdy carry-on luggage. Alas, another year has gone by, but I can’t wait to go back next year!