The Family History Show at York is one of my family history year’s highlights, and 2019 did not disappoint.
A one-day event held at York Racecourse, it is billed as The Largest Family History Show in the North of England. With around 60 exhibitors, the stands are close together creating a bustling market-place experience, so there’s a real atmosphere of camaraderie amongst the exhibitors which rubs off on those visiting.
Sometimes bigger national events in exhibition centres can seem a tad remote and ‘commercialised.’ In contrast York conveys a really friendly, relaxed and welcoming feel. It’s great for show novices because it’s not overwhelming, but for regulars it’s like returning to a much-loved home.
Whilst Ancestry, Findmypast and the big DNA kit push was absent, to be honest it didn’t matter. There was so much else to focus on with a wide representation from the family history world. These included purveyors of postcards, maps, magazines and books to providers of genealogical supplies and courses alongside archives and museums. TheGenealogist, FamilySearch, Society of Genealogists, Ministry of Defence Records Section and the Family History Federation were amongst the bigger organisations. And it was fantastic to see such a range of Family History Societies from across the north of England and beyond.
I’ve attached the list of attendees below.
There was also an Ask the Experts area, plus seven talks in the two lecture theatres rounding off with an Expert Panel. Inspired by watching BBC’s A House Through Time I attended Gill Blanchard’s Tracing Your House History talk and came away with lots of tips and ideas to trace my house history … if I ever have the time! Time may be even more of a premium for me, especially as I ended up joining the Family and Community Historical Research Society (FACHRS). I’m full of enthusiasm to get involved.
After a busy few hours on my feet it was a relief to have a sit down. There is a cafe area for those all-important refreshment breaks, but this year we brought sandwiches and ate them in fresh air and glorious sunshine overlooking the finishing straight. And what a view it was!
Then it was back to it, and finding out what’s new. Morley Family History Group covers the area synonymous with the surname Aveyard, the subject of my One-Name Study. And they are in the process of producing a raft of new and updated parish register indexes and Memorial Inscription booklets.
Another stop-off must for me was the Ministry of Defence Records Section. They had some fascinating original documents on view including a 1914-1916 Wellington Barracks Footguards Attestation Register and some Air Ministry files about missing WW2 airmen. It was a wonderful opportunity to touch history, reading the lists of names knowing these were all real people who more than a century ago signed on to serve King and Country. It was especially sobering viewing noting how many were annotated with Killed in Action, Died of Wounds or discharged because they were no longer fit for service. One name which stood out for me was Albert Gun[n] who attested in Dewsbury and was Killed in Action.
They also had a prototype online application system for service records which you could test and provide comments on. I understand it is hoped to have more news on this at RootsTech London.
I loved catching up with many familiar faces. And the show would not have been complete without popping over to say hello to the Huddersfield & District Family History Society team of volunteers who, at the end of a busy day, were still on their feet. I must declare an interest here as I edit their quarterly Journal.
I did fear with three big national family history shows scheduled for 2019, one of which took place only a couple of weeks earlier, that York would find itself squeezed out. With competing family and budget demands, to get to London and Birmingham from the north of the country for a show is a big commitment both in terms of travel time and cost, particularly if an overnight stay is factored in. The same pressures apply to exhibitors, with many relying on volunteers. York, for this part of the world, is far more accessible.
This accessibility factor, combined with the breadth of relevant exhibitors attending and talks geared towards the audience, thankfully meant my fears did not become a reality. The morning in particular seemed busier than ever.
And the years of experience behind the running of the show meant the organisation was excellent at all points – from booking tickets (excellent value at £8 for two if pre-booked), to directions to the racecourse with its ample free car parking, plus regular free shuttle buses from the railway station for those on public transport. Once at the venue things continued to run smoothly including a fast-track entry lane for those who had pre-booked, two private rooms for the free talks (so no noise seep) with these being large enough to accommodate all who wished to attend, and a floor plan to navigate your way around the exhibitors.
It proved a thoroughly enjoyable day and 20 June 2020, the date of the next Family History Show in York, is already firmly pencilled in my diary.