Tracking down ancestors around the globe


08 September 2013
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Think your ancestors are totally and utterly from the British Isles? Think again.At the ‘Exodus: Movement of the People’ conferen

Think your ancestors are totally and utterly from the British Isles? Think again.

At the ‘Exodus: Movement of the People’ conference (6-8 September, Leicestershire, UK) family history delegates from all over the world have gathered to discover and discuss more about where their ancestors actually came from - and where they went. ‘One thing we’ve been extremely good at, is the import-export business’, said Alec Tritton (Chairman of the Halsted Trust, the conference organisers) and on our genealogical research journeys we often find ourselves tracking ancestors arriving and leaving these islands.

Launching straight into ‘Prehistoric migration to the British Isles: from the year dot to 1066’, the conference’s jam-packed schedule got off to a flying start with Dr Andrew Millard who intriguingly rattled through hundreds of millennia of human history and pre-history. Starting from the first humans in Britain, seven or eight hundred thousand years ago (subsequently sent packing by sheet ice), to the hunter gatherers following the herds c8,000 years BC - at a time when Britain (but not Ireland) was connected to mainland Europe by a land bridge, it was not until the Mesolithic period (c5,000BC) that Britain actually became an island/the islands that we would recognise from a map today. Andrew explained how, by studying and mapping the strontium levels in teeth, excavated from burial grounds, and comparing their distribution with that of Neolithic pottery remains, multi-disciplinary teams of academics - including Andrew - are managing to track our distant ancestors’ pan-European migratory and trading paths out of Africa.

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The next lecture sessions were more like ‘genealogy as we know it’ with John Hanson’s round up of useful links for passenger lists and Craig L Foster’s ‘Did British Naming Patterns Also Cross the Atlantic?’. Find it frustrating that you can’t be in two places at once at a conference? Exodus attendees don’t have to miss out on a lecture topic, however, as the conference organisers have deftly solved that problem by planning that the weekend’s lecture programme was to be professionally filmed, the footage to be made available to delegates online in the coming weeks. Combine that with the extensive lecture notes that will also be emailed out to attendees and the conference is far more than a three-day learning session.

The after-dinner talk by Michelle Patient, President of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, was funny, instructive and extremely thought provoking. Don’t kid yourself that your convict ancestors hadn’t done very much wrong, advises Michelle - even those transported for seemingly minor crimes were often repeat offenders. And then there’s the issue of the indigenous populations - New Zealand’s established for 800-1,200 years prior to the arrival of Europeans - and Australia’s for seven to eight hundred thousand years - and the subsequent impact on these cultures.

Sadly, I was just there for the Friday (retiring ignominiously after coming last in the after-dinner quiz - the rest of the team I was in will remain nameless to spare their blushes), but thank you to the kind winner who donated me her Exodus tee-shirt - much appreciated! And if ever you get the chance to go to a Halsted Trust organised event, I’d thoroughly recommend it both for what you’ll learn and the fun you’ll have doing it. Oh, yes, and as Else Churchill says, 'For the goody bag. As it is a very good goody bag'.

In the meantime there are numerous articles about ancestors on the move to enjoy: