Last weekend I got out of the house and actually out of the country to visit Family Tree Live, held at the rather spectacular Alexandra Palace in London . This is one of the many Family History shows on offer this year for English-speaking genealogists in Europe. There has already been the traditional late-winter “Back to out Past” show in Belfast. on top of this there are some other key shows coming up:
The Genealogy Show – Friday 7th / Saturday 8th June at the NEC, Birmingham
MyHeritage Live 2010 – Friday 6th / Sunday 8th September at the Hilton, Amsterdam
Rootstech London – Thursday 24th / Saturday 26th October at the ExCeL, London
Back To Our Past (Dublin) – Friday 18th / Saturday 19th October (provisionally) at the RDS, Dublin
All in all, it’s a busy year for shows, so every show is fighting for attention and most-importantly foot-fall. How did Family Tree Live do ?
The good news was that there were plenty of exhibitors there. Most importantly the local family-history groups were well represented. For those researching their UK-ancestors in the period before registration and the UK census, these groups are the main sources of information. In addition the commercial vendors were represented by the likes of MyHeritage, LivingDNA and FamilyTreeDNA, as well as publishers Who Do You Think You Are and eponymous “Family Tree” magazine.
As you may have spotted this list excludes the two major commercial family-history organisations, Ancestry and FindMyPast. I don’t know why they were missing, however their absence suggests they are “saving their powder” for one or more of the other shows. Their absence, and possibly the lack of commercial push from these vendors, may well go to explain what felt like a poorly-attended show, especially on the traditionally-quiet Friday. Of course, the cavernous Ally Pally may have been partially responsible for the atmosphere (see below).
Still there were some major upsides to the show. I was impressed with the number and diversity of tutorials, workshops, round-tables and one-to-ones that were on offer. This can only be a good idea (and maybe someday I’d love to be smart enough to help folks at these events). These supplemented the many talks that were available on both traditional and genetic-genealogy. Whilst the talks themselves were impressive I was a tad disappointed with the quality of delivery of some of the speakers. Whilst the best speakers are “naturals” (for example one of my ex-bosses, who was an Amateur Magician by night) there is still a lot can be improved on through preparation and practice. In my previously business life I was dragged kicking and screaming to a two-day “Presentation Skills” course. Much as I hate presenting, learning the basics of structure and intonation really can make a big difference.
In terms of content I’m naturally drawn to the FamilyTreeDNA Hub and Lecture Theatre. As ever the regular presenters, Debbie Kennett, Maurice Gleeson, Donna Rutherford, Jonny Perl et al were doing an excellent job of de-mystifying the black-arts of genetic genealogy.
For me the most interesting and significant topic was the round-table discussion on “The ethics of DNA Testing”. Both the format and timing of the discussion (the last of the day) allowed the panel to discuss not just the thorny issue of “Familial Searching” but also the limits of when it is appropriate to contact and discuss DNA findings. The discussion, including commentary from an audience member who attended the FamilyTreeDNA “International Conference on Genetic Genealogy” in March highlighted the cultural and regulatory gap between the US and the UK approach to serious-crime. The adage of two countries divided by a common-language seems very apt. These thoughts built upon the lecture by Dr. Mark Jobling earlier in the day, where he observed that many of the criminals being caught by the “Familial Searching” in the US would probably already have already been caught in the UK, thanks to the fact that the UK National DNA database is better organised than US efforts.
The discussion also touched on the idea of using digital signatures to validate DNA data transferred between the DNA testing vendors (e.g. Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNa etc.). I’m no Bruce Schneier but the idea of using something like PGP (or, uhh, blockchain) to “digitally sign”a DNA profile sounds like a significant step in validating the origin of a DNA profile.
Whilst I suspect I’m a bit of an outlier on the subject of police use of genetic genealogy databases I was pleased to hear one of the ethics panelists mention he thought that the number of people concerned about such use will grow as some of the issues with their use become more apparent.
Much as I enjoyed the show I’m skeptical that it will survive another year. That may be a good thing. Having experienced the “Who Do You Think You Are LIVE!” shows, in London and Birmingham, I appreciated the scale and focus of that show. It was after-all one of the largest genealogy shows in the world. The fact that this show is one of six being held this year is both a positive and negative. It’s great that genealogy is attracting such audiences, but it sometimes it’s better to have few but more significant shows. For myself, the costs and time to attend all the shows will mean that I, inevitably, will not attend the majority of shows. I suspect/hope that next year it’s clear which of the show(s) is/are the winner(s). In the mean time I can only hope that YouTube and a high-quality Facebook feed help me through this particular glut…