Family History Fair Tips for Beginners

I attended “Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015” staged this year at the NEC in Birmingham. It was my first ever visit to this annual event, although I have been to a number of local family history fairs in the past. Although it probably does not suit all, for me the new location was far more easily accessible than London, the previous venue. I had a fantastic time. It was a lovely, relaxed atmosphere. I met lots of fabulous people. And I came away with a wealth of new information and tips which hopefully will lead to the demolition of some of those family tree “brick walls”.  I also seem to have committed to researching my husband’s tree too as a result of my visit, from a geographical area outside my sphere of knowledge. So I made new contacts to facilitate that.

With lots of family history fairs and events coming up in the next few weeks such as the “Family History Fair and Lecture Day” at Pudsey on 25 April 2015 and the “Yorkshire Family History Fair” in York on 27 June 2015, I thought I would share my 10 tips for those new to going to such events. These are aimed at beginners, they are not exhaustive and some may be more applicable than others, depending on the type of event.

Tip 1: Before the event familiarise yourself with the exhibitors. For big events such as “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” and the “Yorkshire Family History Fair” the cast list can be overwhelming. I make a list of those stands and tables I definitely want to visit as, on the day, it can be all too easy to get caught up in the atmosphere and miss out someone, only realise too late when you are on your way home. I also take a map with those tables highlighted. Nevertheless the joy of these events is the opportunity to browse and see what is available. You never know what you might stumble across which may prove relevant/interesting for your research. For me this time the unexpected interest was DNA, which seems to be the latest big thing in genealogy.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015

Tip 2: Make a note of the workshops you are interested in and, if possible, pre-book them. This was my failing at “Who Do You Think You Are? Live”.  When I finally got round to checking I discovered the workshops I really wanted to attend were all booked up at least the week before the event. So if you are really keen on a particular talk book it as early as possible. All was not lost for me as there was the opportunity to hover on the periphery of the unenclosed workshops. But it was not quite the same as having a seat in the designated area.

Irish Catholic Records Workshop

Irish Catholic Records Workshop

Tip 3: Take plenty of pens and a notebook. Invaluable for making notes of key workshop points as well as any general tips or contact details you pick up whilst there.

Tip 4: Take your ancestor details with you. It is all too easy on the day to forget exact dates and locations for them. I have my full tree available on a Phone App. But I make sure I have a hard paper copy too, in case reception is dodgy or my battery dies and there are no charging facilities. A number of Family History Societies have A4 printed family tree “Ancestral File” books available to purchase where you can record your research. These are perfect not only for Family History Fairs but also for record office visits.

Tip 5: Keep a list of books you own and take it with you. I have a bookcase full of genealogy reference and general interest books, so it is all too easy to forget what exactly I have on those creaking shelves.  To counteract this I also have a small pocket book listing in alphabetical author order all my books. That way when I go to one of these events and see a book I think looks interesting I can check to make sure it is not one I already own. It does take organisation and discipline in remembering to add each new purchase to the list but it can end up saving a lot of money in the long run on duplicates! This extends to Family History Society publications such as parish register indexes, MIs and even the Alan Godfrey Map Series. Make sure you know what you already own to avoid spur of the moment duplicate buys.

Tip 6: If you have hit any ancestral “brick walls” take what information you have with you. There are lots of experts on hand to help. Some of these may be drop-in sessions; others you may have to pre-book a slot. But it is well worth getting advice which may help you progress your research. I tend to take photocopies of certificates etc just in case I end up losing them. But for photographs it is always best to take the original.

Tip 7: Talk to people. It is amazing how friendly and knowledgeable everyone is and how much you can learn. It is the joy of this type of event.

Tip 8: Have a set budget. There are so many tempting things on offer at these events it can be all too easy to get carried away. Products range from books to CDs, joining societies, magazine subscriptions, software, genealogy supplies, courses and even DNA tests. I have a set budget before I go, a mixture of cash and card. I try to stick to it…..although it can be difficult!

Tip 9:  Pace yourself. It is all too tempting to rush round all day trying to cram in as much as possible, resulting in information overload, headache and exhaustion. Take time out for a coffee and a bite to eat, a chance to chat to people, re-group, evaluate what you have learned and still have left to do and importantly re-charge those batteries (and I’m not talking my phone here). The day will be an all the better experience for it.

Find My Past 1939 Team Rooms

Find My Past 1939 Team Rooms

Tip 10: Finally take a lightweight bag and wear a pair of comfortable shoes – you will certainly cover some ground during the course of the day, especially at the bigger events!  And you will come away with far more leaflets, books etc than you started the day with.

I hope this is helpful to those new to Family History Fairs. Any other tips please feel free to share.

A useful events list can be found at


5 responses to “Family History Fair Tips for Beginners

  1. Great tips! I hope to put them to good use someday when I attend an event like this.

  2. Hi, where is this being held in 2016 & when please?

    Thanks, Lucy

  3. Oh cool awesome, cheers for the link

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