August 3rd, 2010
Over the last few weeks I have had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Family History Fair in New Zealand, the inaugural Adelaide History and Genealogy Expo in South Australia and the annual Family History Feast in Melbourne, Victoria.
All three events were extremely well attended and the majority of talk sessions were booked out. I now have three ‘showbags’ bulging with information and I have lots of new leads to follow up. I also made new friends and contacts and advanced my research on a number of families.
So why were they successful? The NZ Fair was an inaugural event organised by the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, so there may have been a novelty factor but I don’t think that was a primary reason. Hamilton is south of Auckland, the former capital and north of Wellington, the current capital of New Zealand so it is ideally placed to attract people from across the North Island. Anyone from the South Island has to fly in and there were some from the South.
I believe that it was the program of excellent speakers that attracted the crowds of over 400 people. There were four streams of talks over the two days which were well organised and handouts were available for all talks. There were dozens of exhibitors, including regional societies and expert tables and free use of computers and some pay to view sites. If you didn’t attend the talks, there was still plenty to see and do. Comments and photos are available on the Fair’s Facebook site.
The Adelaide History and Genealogy Expo, organised by Unlock the Past, was similar to the NZ Fair with over 50 exhibitors and 38 talks from 25 different presenters. There were three main speaking areas where talks were presented throughout the day and at lunch time each day an episode of the Australian series of Who Do You Think You Are was shown. Again this was an inaugural event and attracted between 400 and 450 people with the majority attending both days. All the exhibitors were kept busy, expert sessions were well attended and speakers well received. Most people I spoke to would like to see it held every year.
Family History Feast is an annual event organised by State Library Victoria, Public Record Office Victoria, National Archives of Australia and the Registry of BDM’s Victoria. In recent years it has included the Don Grant lecture, an annual event organised by the Victorian Association of Family History Organisations (VAFHO). This year the speakers were all new presenters from the respective agencies and a guest speaker from the Discovery Centre,Immigration Museum, Victoria. Professor Geoffrey Blainey gave the Don Grant lecture on Victoria in the 19th Century: Everyday Life and Family History. All the talks were recorded and will be made available on the SLV’s website shortly. This year they are also going to put online the Powerpoint presentations as well which is good news.
This free event was booked out (over 100 people) but some people still turned up on the day hoping to get in. Not everyone who books turns up so everyone was eventually able to get seats in the State Library Theatrette. While I knew quite a few people in the audience, there were many people that I had not seen before. The attraction of Geoffrey Blainey may have been a factor and I did see some people ask him to sign copies of their books. Some attendees had come down from Ballarat and even as far away as Yarrawonga on the 6.30am train which shows true dedication.
Summing up, over the last few weeks I have seen over 1,000 people across two countries actively and enthusiastically pursuing their family history. They all left wanting more and vowing to go home and spend more time on their research and tracking down those elusive ancestors. I can’t see any of them running out of steam any time soon. I started my own family history in the boom years of the late 1970s and it is really exciting to be part of another boom time in genealogy.