Family History ‘Shows’ – a British Perspective 1

Last year I wrote about the demise of Who Do You Think You Are? Live. This British Family History Show had evolved from the Family History Fairs of the 1990s, that had been run under the auspices of the Society of Genealogists (UK). It had developed from the traditional Fair, where genealogical societies displayed their wares and touted for members, to a highly commercialised showcase for the major players in the genealogical world; the soaring costs of a stand meaning that all but a few family history societies were priced out of attending. Over the years, the educational aspects of what became an annual three day event had increased, with three stands of presentations provided by the organisers and some of the exhibitors offering additional free lecture sessions.

Although this was the ‘must attend’ event in the British genealogical calendar, there was some dissatisfaction expressed about various aspects of the show from speakers, exhibitors and attendees. A number of speakers in the main arenas, where a charge was levied, were unhappy that their audiences were depleted by free talks, on similar topics, run by the commercial stands. There was also a general disquietude about charging the audience for talks, when the speakers were unpaid. The incursion of what became a disproportionate number of unrelated charity stalls was another complaint. There were problems with the venue, latterly the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham, as some of the talks were in arenas that were open to the exhibition area, which both speaker and audience found distracting.

Recently, not one but two ‘replacement’ events have been announced for 2019. Although both went public on the same day, in an attempt to show no favouritism, I am mentioning them in chronological order of event.

Family Tree Live
 is to be held at Alexandra Palace in London on 26 & 27 April. This is being organised by the well-established Family Tree Magazine (UK), in conjunction with the Federation of Family History Societies. It is hoped that the involvement of the latter will see a return to the emphasis on local societies, rather than commercial giants. They say “We don’t want to give away all the surprises just yet. But it’s safe to say that the aim of Family Tree Live is to provide a really informative, exciting ‘family history experience’ – one that’s suitable for everyone, adults and children, those new to the idea of doing some family history and those who are long-time experienced researchers too.”

The Genealogy Show will be staged back at the NEC on 7 & 8 June. The organising board consists of a number of high profile genealogists from across the globe and the international flavour is set to be a selling point. “The Board members are dedicated to providing outstanding educational opportunities through talks and stands, as well as creating an environment where family historians from beginner to expert can network together. Even at this early planning stage, many international genealogists are making travel plans to attend the event.”

It is early days yet and it will be interesting to see what both have to offer. Will it be similar to previous offerings, or something a little more innovative? Neither approach is necessarily a bad thing. Already there seems to be an element of ‘side-taking’ amongst potential attendees. I do hope that this does not descend into ‘political’ acrimony and that these events can co-exist, bringing out the best in each other and avoiding some of the pitfalls of the final years of Who Do You Think You Are? Live. That way, the winners will be the family historians who attend. Inevitably, questions are being asked. Can the British genealogical community sustain two such events each year, albeit in different locations? Will one fall by the wayside? Time will tell. I welcome both events and hope to be actively involved.

About Janet Few

Janet Few is an experienced family, social and community historian who writes and lectures regularly on these subjects throughout the English speaking world. She is well known for her appearances as her alter ego ‘Mistress Agnes’ who aids Janet’s work as an historical interpreter. Janet is the manager of Swords and Spindles, a company providing living history presentations for history groups and schools. For further information see

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One thought on “Family History ‘Shows’ – a British Perspective

  • Lorraine Howard

    I will certainly attempt to attend both shows. I live in Ireland do both involve s fair bit of travelling but I learnt a lot at The Who Do You Think You Re shows in previous years. Best of luck to the organizers. I am sure there are many looking forward to them.