Posted by: Christine | March 24, 2014

Converting the Hobbyists

Last Friday I spent the day at the NEC near Birmingham, attending the Hobbycraft Exhibition. No I haven’t found yet another occupation, I was with some other members of the Rugby Family History Group doing what I enjoy most – talking about Family History!

We were manning a stand for the FFHS (Federation of Family History Societies), which we do twice a year. FFHS attends events like this all over the country and local Family History Societies represent them there. See here for an event near you.  So why do we attend events that are not aimed at Family Historians? Precisely because they are not aimed at Family Historians! We can creep up on them when least expected.

Actually what we are doing is publicizing Family History Societies – not just our own, but all societies. It’s amazing the number of people who have never heard of Family History Societies. I have been attending these events for several years now and witnessed how the views of the general public have changed about genealogy/family history. My modus operandi is to grab anybody who pauses to look at the stand and ask them if they are interested in family history. Originally the answer was either yes, in which case you could have a conversation about how they were doing and try to help with any problems they might have, or no, but it sounded interesting. In that case we could explain how they could get started. It’s a wonderful feeling when someone walks away, enthused to start researching. I wonder how many people I have started on the path to addiction!

Nowadays it is completely different. Practically everyone has tried researching their family tree (the power of television!) but most of them still don’t belong to a family history society, or even know they exist. The most annoying response is “Oh yes, I belong to Ancestry”. Then we try to convert them to the benefits of family history societies.

Stand all set up and waiting for customers

Stand all set up and waiting for customers

As you can see the FFHS is celebrating its 40th Anniversary. As it is also the centenary of the start of World War One, we had a display about researching military ancestors. We were also advertising the WW1 Centenary Quilt – a project to embroider  squares to commemorate those who served with the Commonwealth forces during the First World War and who did not return home. For details see here.

We had quite a busy day, talking to anyone who stopped for a look. Our main weapon was the Really Useful Leaflet, which we handed out to practically everyone. This useful publication contains a list FH societies and also useful websites as well as information  on how to start FH research. (By the end of the day, I can say this in my sleep!) This years edition also contains information about researching WW1 ancestors. You can  download a copy  here.

Apart from persuading people of the joys of  joining FH societies, we had several interesting conversations. One visitor wanted help with a problem which I wish I had – she had been given suitcases full of family documents. What should she do with them all? We discussed various methods of cataloging and that she should continue scanning everything – not to mention backing it all up, in several places. If she wanted to share some of the documents, I recommended starting a blog – much easier than setting up a website.

Someone else was trying to discover if a distant ancestor was the father of his wife’s illegitimate first child. Could a DNA test help? As he has an unbroken male decent from this child and a cousin descended from the legitimate children (also male), I recommended a Y-DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA. It should prove if he and his cousin had the same (male) ancestor. If they are not related he could compare the result with others in the database and perhaps get a match.

Getting to work, helping the public

Getting to work, helping the public

We didn’t just help people, we learnt things ourselves. Another query concerned ancestors in Jamaica. After several questions we discovered that this person had gone down all the avenues and was obviously an expert on her own subject – the family were Jewish traders, originally from Spain. She could get a long way back, but was missing confirmation of a more recent link. It was all very interesting and towards the end she mentioned some family names. One of them was Lindo. Now, in my family tree, I have Lyndoe from Norfolk. She knew about this family and said it was connected. A whole new field of research has opened up! I also told her to check the Guild of One-Name Studies website to see if anyone had registered the name. If not, she should join and register it herself. (I checked and it isn’t already registered – I hope she joins)

By the end of the day, I was exhausted, but also exhilarated. I felt I had done my duty and hopefully passed on my enthusiasm for family history – and encouraged a few more people to join a family history society.

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