Who Do You Think You Are
Under the umbrella of WDYTYA, this year’s show was held for the third time at the NEC, Birmingham. It was a very busy show with visitors from all over the United Kingdom as well as some from Ireland. And because many people now living in the UK have Irish heritage, there was great interest in Irish genealogists who came to the show.
In addition to the big four genealogy companies, Family Search, My Heritage, Ancestry and Find My Past, there were many smaller specialist and niche area stands from with many parts of England and Wales.
Two universities in Scotland, Dundee University and Strathclyde University, Glasgow, offer high level courses as part of their online Lifelong Learning programme. The University of Strathclyde has teamed up with FutureLearn to provide a free online course called “Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree”. The next course starts on July 3, 2018. Dundee University offers all its genealogy courses up to Masters online.
Compared to a few years ago, the presence of DNA offers looms large. Many of the talks deal with the importance of DNA in going beyond written records and expanding the area where members of your family might be found. Dr Maurice Gleeson, a leading DNA expert organised a series of lecture every day for the three days; with many illustrations from his own Tipperary family, Maurice demonstrated in a number of practical and easy to follow talks how DNA can help a person trying to understand where their family has come from and to what other families with different surnames yours might be related.
The Society of Genealogists organise an Irish Desk in their Ask An Expert area; there people with Irish ancestors can come and look for assistance. I had a session with a lady whose aunt was a religious sister in the congregation of The Little Sisters of the Poor. After many unsuccessful attempts to get help, we found the Provincial House of the Sisters in Ireland where the records of her aunt should be. Very helpfully, the Sisters included the address, phone number and email so that the lady can get more information about her aunt.
Another query I got, which is far more difficult to get a handle on, is a “non-paternity event” in a family. This is a bureaucratic and scientific expression which means that a married woman had a child whose father was not her husband. In the days before legal adoption in Ireland, such children are really hard to find since the name may have been changed from the birth name after the child was adopted informally by another family. And such was the stigma attached to such an event that the child was effectively not spoken about in the family.
The complexity of the place name structure of the Irish countryside was mentioned by many as well as the problems of the flexible spellings of surnames. However, thanks to websites like www.townlands.ie and John Grenham’s website (www.johngrenham.com) help was available.
The “big four” genealogy companies have lots of staff and workstations to help people use their particular specialist resources as their databases range across continents to include Canada and the United states as well as Australia and New Zealand.
The number of points of sale for DNA testing kits increases every year as interest grows in finding family members in other countries.
A final point for anyone planning to come to WDYTYA. Make sure you leave plenty of time for the talks and lectures; the speakers are all experts in their fields and there are more talks available than you could possibly attend. Just one example; Professor Dan Bradley, the renowned geneticist from TCD, gave a fascinating talk on ancient Irish genomes and human origins on this island. His talk was followed by a very lively discussion about some of the points he made.