It’s billed as the world’s largest family history show. Gareth, Ron, Sandra and I visited “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” at the NEC early in April 2016 on behalf of Stirchley History Group. We hoped to link up with other societies, find out more about what records are available online and offline, stock up with maps and books and – as one always does at events like this – look out for the interesting and unexpected that might help us with our research.
The biggest stands were those run by the large commercial organisations that provide online access to census records and other vast archives of historical data. Their services, and especially their powerful searchable indexes, have made it easier than ever for anyone to research their own family tree. There were also numerous smaller stands run by local family history societies who have detailed knowledge of records for an individual county or region or other countries such as India and the United States. It was good to make contact with the Birmingham and Midland Society for Genealogy and Heraldry which has a large archive.
What the adverts promoting genealogical research don’t tell you is that some of the discoveries waiting to be made in the records are likely to be unwelcome. Be prepared to encounter secret illegitimacy, the spectre of the workhouse, legally dubious marriages and those all too common cases where a child’s birth and death were registered on the same day. Nonetheless this kind of research opens a fascinating window into the world of social history and, in turn, local history. Tracking individuals and families who lived in Stirchley helps us to build up a picture of life in the area in former generations.
Of all the many eye-catching heritage features in Stirchley Baths none attracts more interest than the 1911 map on the café wall. At the show we were able to buy reprints of historical Ordnance Survey maps and to find out where to access a wide range of maps online.
The show was busy throughout and even the more specialist stands attracted many visitors. There was also a large programme of expert talks, many of which sold out. It was encouraging to see this level of interest in family and local history, and we came away with plenty of information to follow up and pointers to further research.
Phil Banting, Stirchley History Group