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Expert tips for making the most of a family history fair


Genealogist Mike Sharpe shares his tips for making the most of a visit to a family history fair such as Who Do You Think You Are? Live!

So, you’re off to Who Do You Think You Are? Live! Whether a newbie or a veteran, this massive show has something for everyone. Having attended the event for the last eight years, here are my tips for making the most of your visit. 

Before the Show

First off, visit the show website to buy your ticket – it’s cheaper in advance.

While you’re there, take a look at the workshop timetable and list of exhibitors. Study these and make a list of which exhibitors and workshops you wish to take in. The workshops are very popular, so if there’s something you particularly wish to see, it’s best to book in advance.

For exhibitors, prioritise those who are ‘must see’ so you can make sure you get to them first. Don’t forget the various expert zones, such as the heirloom detectives, photo daters and military experts.

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The day before your visit, get together everything you’ll need to take:

  • A copy of your research, or at least those parts that you wish to discuss with experts. This could be in the form of a printout, in a ring-binder or on a mobile device
  • Other items such as photographs, medals and family heirlooms
  • Plenty of cash (most exhibitors take cards but cash is quicker, and allows you to keep tabs on your spending)

Snacks and refreshments – it’s going to be a long day, you’ll need sustenance! 

At the show

With so many stalls and a packed workshop programme, you need to be organised. Familiarise yourself with the hall so you know which workshops are where, and keep an eye on the time so you don’t miss something you’ve booked for.

It’s tempting to spend time searching for records at the online terminals, but remember these commercial websites can be accessed anytime, either by subscription or at your local library. Much more useful, in my view, to tour the aisles, making contact with those ‘must-see’ exhibitors on your list and chatting with others. You never know who or what you might stumble across.

Please remember that as exhibitors we have reasons for being there too. Obviously, we’d like to bring our products and services to your attention. Nobody likes a hard-sell and most exhibitors are happy to spend time answering visitors’ questions. But please, keep to the point. Time is limited and we have other people to see, so don’t start recounting everything you’ve found out about your family when it’s not really relevant. 

After the event

Arguably, the real value of any family history show comes after the event. With so much going on, it can be difficult to take everything in on the day. Don’t just go home and put all those hard fought-for leaflets on one side - read them! Then TAKE ACTION:

  • Go online and look at the record sets mentioned in talks and workshops
  • Follow up with suppliers, by phone or email
  • Join a family history society and start attending the meetings
  • Sign-up for a family history course online or at your local college
  • Draw up a strategy to start tackling that ‘brick wall’
  • (And my own hobby horse) Start that long-promised write-up of your family history or life story

Enjoy the show!

Read Family Tree's in-depth guide to Who Do You Think You Are Live 2017 in April Family Tree magazine, available now.

About the author

Mike Sharpe is a professional genealogist, writer and lecturer specialising in Birmingham and the Midlands, and runs the Writing the Past research and writing service. He is a member of the Society of Genealogists and several family & local history societies. His book, Tracing Your Birmingham Ancestors, is published by Pen & Sword. Visit Mike’s website

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