Sunday, 31 August 2014

Wha's like us? - WDYTYA Live Glasgow 2014

The last two days have seen the Who Do You Think You Are Live event ( come to Glasgow for the first time. Despite the shock cancellation two weeks ago of the Sunday part of what was originally planned to be a three day event (which irked many vendors and led to a massive air of uncertainty as to how things would go) the event proved to be a massive success, at least for those exhibiting and attending. For many at the event, they had previously attended family history shows in Scotland, not least of which last week's fantastic event organised by the Lanarkshire Family History Society in Motherwell - but the brand behind WDYTYA elevates such shows to a new level, attracting many more exhibitors and vendors from much further afield. In Scotland we have not seen such a show on this scale before, and the public was most definitely hungry for it.

For two days I was extremely fortunate to be able to work alongside an Australian colleague, Alan Phillips, who brought his Unlock the Past ( cruises and book range all the way from Adelaide for his second WDYTYA Live show this year, having previously exhibited in London. Over the last three years I have produced a few genealogy books for him for the Australian market predominantly on Scottish and Irish themes, as well as having participated as a speaker on an Australian talks tour and on two of his successful genealogy cruises at sea (and will be doing so again on another sailing next July from England to the Baltic). From a personal point of view, it was great to see that my books, and many others in the range, are now being published in the UK for the first time, thanks to a new partnership agreement with Yorkshire based My History (, so these will soon become much easier to obtain on this side of the world. The titles can also be accessed as ebooks from We had a busy two days on the stand, the cruises in particular drawing a lot of interest. I've written about these extensively in the past, but to summarise - cruises, good weather, conferences, ballrooms, sunbeds, pools, daytrips, archives, good food, good company, origami towel animals!!! (see the cruises tag label on the right of this blog page for reports on what to expect!).

Friday was a very busy day to start with, and tailed off a bit in the afternoon, whereas Saturday was just manic from start to finish, up there with the busiest of busy days ever seen at London's Olympia venue, where the show has only exhibited previously. A major cause for concern prior to the event was that so many big vendors from the genealogy world would seemingly not be attending - no sign of My Heritage, British Newspaper Archive, FindmyPast, The Genealogist, the National Archives and others, for example, who frequently attend Olympia. In fact, in hindsight, they were genuinely not missed, as the Scottish offerings on many of these sites are limited at best - with the exceptions perhaps of TNA and the British Newspaper Archive, which would have done the business easily, and as a Scottish based company (headquartered in Dundee), it was felt really should have been there by many folk who I spoke to. But many other big vendors that had previously exhibited did attend, not least of which was Ancestry (, which was mobbed from start to finish. ScotlandsPeople and the National Records of Scotland were there, equally backed up with queues for the whole event, and others such as FamilySearch.

But for many vendors, this was virgin territory. It's all too easy to think that with the annual hype over Who Do You Think You Are Live that it is a product that everyone must somehow know up here, but London is 300 miles away and at best gets three or four Scottish vendors exhibiting a year. In Glasgow, however, it was time to play for many for the very first time, and Scotland turned up in force. We had family history societies from the length and breadth of the country, the National Library of Scotland, the Mitchell Library from Glasgow, SCRAN, the Scottish Council on Archives, various local archives, Visit Scotland, the Universities of Strathclyde and Dundee, Scottish Monumental Inscriptions, and just about all of my colleagues from the Scottish Genealogy Network were floating about somewhere to help out in some capacity or another! From south of the border we had the Society of Genealogists, the Federation of Family History Societies, Deceased Online, My History and others, whilst from Ireland we had the Ulster Historical Foundation, the North of Ireland Family History Society, APGI and Ancestor Network. And many, many others, including exhibitors from Belgium and the Netherlands.

There were many personal highlights over the two days. I was very proud to be able to give a talk on Friday about the history of Scottish marriage to a Glasgow audience, which was packed out, many having to stand alongside the edges of the theatre to listen in. I've given many talks in London at WDYTYA Live, but the Weegies have a sense of humour unparalleled on earth (my granny was one!!), and we had a great craic for an hour or so. My colleague Marie Dougan, who runs Ancestral Consultants (, and who was also on the Unlock the Past stall, gave two talks on technology and genealogy over the two days, and after each of these I participated in a panel of genies to discuss issues raised, with some great questions from the audience.

I also did a couple of Ask the Expert sessions, where visitors could book twenty minute sessions to ask for advice - and on Saturday, who was the expert seated at my table before me but none other than Irish genealogy god John Grenham! The sessions were fully booked out and great fun to work on - a couple of women came to seek advice from me in the first of 3 sessions in an hour slot on Saturday, with one of them having a specific query, which I gave some suggestions on. They trotted off, and I dealt with another member of the public, but twenty minutes later the first two ladies came back for another slot - this time with the other woman now seeking help - I thought it was Groundhog Day at first! And speaking of catching up with folk again, a woman I met in London two years ago, whose ancestor's murder I had written about in my book The Mount Stewart Murder, which was investigated by the same chief constable at the same time that my own ancestor's murder was being investigated, popped by to say thanks for all the suggestions I gave her in London on how to find the murder trial papers!

I managed to speak to a few exhibitors briefly. Robin Urquhart from the National Records of Scotland mentioned a fantastic initiative in securing kirk records from the Netherlands (Rotterdam and Veen), which not only acted as session records and minutes, but also as consular records affecting many from across Britain. How these will be made available is still under discussion, but they are being translated, and it remains to be seen if they will be published in book form or perhaps with some form of online access.

The Scottish Cultural Resources Network ( was there, with Andrew Nicoll, formerly of the Catholic Archive and ScotlandsPlaces, now on the team, and he briefed about many updates soon to happen to the site - watch this space. Miriam Silverman was back in Glasgow, she's Ancestry's key archival scout, constantly looking for new materials for the site - I met her a while back in the Mitchell Library on one of her trips to Scotland, but she has been back regularly visiting various establishments, so hopefully we'll see more Scots content on the site soon! (Still stunned at how the team managed to get so many Irish Catholic parish records on the platform a few months back!). I also had a quick catch up with the University of Dundee team, for whom I will soon be writing an Irish family history module for their postgraduate genealogy courses - again, watch this space, I'm very much looking forward to it!

On Friday evening a huge number of genealogists hit the town for a meal, with some great craic, and a huge thanks must go to Emma Maxwell, secretary of the Scottish Genealogy Network and with her husband Graham, one half of the duo working for Maxwell Ancestry and the new Scottish Indexes platform ( Another seriously massive thanks must go to Else Churchill of the Society of Genealogists for all her efforts, and those of the SoG team, in getting the talks programme sorted - I didn't see a single talk that was not booked out. Glasgow was hungry for a great lecture programme at the event, and that's what the SoG delivered.

Finally, one of the reasons cited for the cancellation of the Sunday event was "poor ticket sales" in advance, but a member of Immediate told me that they had been bowled over by the number of walk-ins on the Saturday in particular - they had never had so many people just walk in off the street without a pre-booking at a WDYTYA event before. It had been put to me previously that perhaps Glasgow could not sustain a three day event - but then (and with lip firmly bitten!), I would have to retort that we didn't do too badly with the recent Commonwealth Games! Glasgow is not London or Bristol, it is a different market, a different culture, and has a different way of doing things - and it is fair to say that a bit more notice in announcing the event, and better advertising, may certainly have helped. I personally think Immediate were wrong to cancel Sunday, and that may be something it will need to reflect on for future events, particularly in its relationship with vendors, because whilst Immediate may hire a room, the vendors make the show, and they are its currency - an asset that needs to be invested in wisely and not just taken for granted. Despite such an error, the public received everything they deserved from the two days that were available to them, and that goes down to the energy and passion of the Scottish genealogy community, and those who came to play with us from elsewhere in the UK, and from overseas.

As the saying goes here: Wha's like us? Damn few an' they're a' deid! 


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And please consider purchasing the great new version of Caledonia by The Libations at 79p via - all profits go to help fund Scottish foodbanks


  1. Cancelling Sunday because of poor advance sales was I think a mistake. Many of us have family responsibilities and elderly relatives and do not like to book "short trips" in advance in case a family crisis causes cancellation.

    I was planning to get to Glasgow Sat pm, have a general look round, an early evening in Glasgow followed by some specific planning back at the hotel for a full day on Sunday trying to break a few Scottish brick walls.

    Somehow travelling for many hours just for a frantic Saturday afternoon did not appeal. I am so glad I was not faced with a hotel booking to cancel. Saturday also sounds as if it was a bit manic as presumably locals who were planning to go on Sunday changed to Saturday.

    Might I book in advance a trip to where-ever WDTYTA next exhibit? Not on your life. I had a narrow escape this time from being left with a useless hotel booking. London/Birmingham is a much longer and more expensive trip and I don't want to be caught out again.

  2. Thanks Chris for a very entertaining and informative talk on Scottish Marriage - just looked through your photos and yes I did manage to hide as you took a photo of your audience before your talk - however I was very surprised to see my back right in the centre of one of the others! (drat!) Thank you for the best workshop of the weekend (well of the ones that I attended)