Well it is now a week since I returned home after the 20 day trip around Australia and New Zealand on the Unlock The Past History & Genealogy roadshow. The eleven days of the roadshow were blogged daily and I was surprised at the following the daily blog attracted with many people coming up to me and commenting on my adventures. Statistics show that there were 1800 visits with 1000 unique visitors which is simply amazing.
Many people have also asked for an overview of the whole roadshow and I have given this quite a lot of thought. There are many aspects to cover so this will be my personal view.
All attendees that I spoke to in both countries said they learnt a lot and that it had definitely been worthwhile attending and many would like to see roadshows on a regular basis. One person in Perth said to me after his first talk (me outlining the Treasures of the National Library of Australia (NLA) and its wonderful e-resources) that he had already got ‘his money’s worth’. I think he is the same person who later emailed me and said that he had received his ecard from NLA and had searched the 19thC British Newpapers at home and found two great reports on his two convict ancestors. It is success stories like this that definitely makes the roadshow worthwhile for both attendees and speakers.
It also highlights the value to organisations to be part of such events because it raises the profile of the organisation and what it has to offer genealogists and family historians. I feel certain that many of the archives and libraries that I mentioned during the roadshow will have spikes on their websites following my talks. Similarly those State archives and libraries who came along and gave talks or staffed displays will also see an increase in visitor numbers and website statistics following the roadshow.
It is hard for me to comment on what the other speakers felt about the roadshow but it is probably safe to say that Dan Lynch was totally thrilled to literally find his relatives down under – such a perfect example of it pays to advertise the names you are researching (see Day Nine for details). Plus he now has lots of Australian and New Zealand references for his Google Your Family Tree talks. Elaine Collins from FindMyPast UK spoke to many attendees and probably has a greater awareness of what the searching issues are for people downunder. There is also a much greater awareness now of the new FindMyPast.com.au website with talks by Elaine and Rosemary Kopittke. Similarly Louise St Denis from the National Institute of Genealogical Studies spoke to lots of attendees interested in doing online genealogy courses and no doubt, she knows more about the Australasian view of the world than she did previously. From my perspective I learnt a lot from all the other speakers, both international and local, and this is reflected in the daily blogs.
What was perhaps disappointing was that there were not more people in attendance at some of the venues. It is always hard to find the right time and venue for an event but I would have thought the opportunity to hear three international speakers plus good local speakers at each roadshow would have attracted more people.
On the other hand some people were superkeen and drove long distances to attend. One lady I spoke to in Christchurch had driven up from Alexandra, a 7 hour drive and there were others from Dunedin a 5 hour drive. In Brisbane we had someone fly down from Cairns and one gentleman who attended in Canberra also went to Sydney so that he could catch the talks he missed the first day. One person from Hervey Bay (central Queensland coast) flew to Adelaide to catch the roadshow. In Perth there were 4 from Geraldton and in Melbourne people from Mildura, Wangaratta and Gippsland. These are just a few examples of those who really wanted to attend and the distance/expense wasn’t going to stop them.
Which brings me back to my original point, why didn’t more attend when it was easier for them to get to the venue – are they already over catered for with genealogy events? Should we be focussing more on regional areas where people really seem to want us?
The local speakers at every roadshow all added to the richness of the program but also added to the decision making in that people had to choose which session they wanted to go to. Where the roadshow was over two days, this was easier but not on the single day events and people had to make hard decisions. It was good to see the various national/state archives and libraries have displays and give talks at most of the venues. Tom Foley from the National Library of Australia said in Canberra that he didn’t expect so many to attend his talk as he assumed that most Canberra folk would be familiar with the Library.
However, what I think we were seeing on the roadshows were people who weren’t members of genealogical and family history societies and were trying to do it at home on their own and as such, were probably not as aware of libraries and archives for research. Another confirmation of this is the number of people who actually joined genealogical and family history societies on the day in each of the venues. This was an additional bonus for the societies as they gained new members and more people were aware of their existence and the great resources in their libraries. The provision of handouts by most speakers was also welcome as people could then go home and explore further on their own, even if they had not heard the talk.
Some of the venues were excellent with food and drink onsite or close by while others were a bit more remote and it was harder for the speakers and exhibitors to get refreshments during the day and into the evening when there was an evening session. By the last day we had worked out that all we needed was someone with a car to drive us to the local pizza shop to bring back pizzas, then we could all have a great chat and eat before the evening talks. Something to definitely remember next time, although I wouldn’t want pizza every night!
As I wasn’t an exhibitor I can’t really comment on what they thought, but most seemed to be busy at every venue talking to people during registration and breaks. I have to admire Anthea from Gould Genealogy who was at every session from the start of the day right through to the evening’s end. Similarly Aimee staffed the registration desk for all cities except Sydney and New Zealand while Alan and Rosemary perfected set up and take down into a fine art! Those genealogical and family history societies that brought along books and CDs to buy all contributed to my going home with a heavier suitcase despite my mantra each day ‘I will not buy anything’ but it was all too tempting!
Would I do it again? Last week I would have said never after lugging home a suitcase that got heavier and heavier as the roadshow progressed and I got more tired and weary, some might even say cranky! This week I might be tempted and there are obviously things we would all do differently a second time around.
What I would like to see is more what attendees thought and what they have achieved or followed up since. I have the verbal comments from the roadshows, plus there have been some nice comments on my blogs and I am aware of other blogs particularly from the Sydney and Canberra roadshows, but given that nearly 1000 people attended there must be other success stories out there.
Unlock The Past is doing an evaluation of the roadshow and that will no doubt contain comments from attendees on the day/evening but what is the longer term outcome? Have people gone to society meetings or talked to others about their experiences at the roadshows? Are there people out there now wishing they had gone to a roadshow?
It takes a lot of time, money and organisation to undertake a roadshow, especially one of this size with three international speakers in nine cities across two countries. If roadshows are not supported, then it is unlikely that they will happen in the future which would be a pity. Of course smaller versions are always an option but then there is nothing like a grand venture. I ‘m just glad that I was able to be part of this one!