I am currently in London, to attend Who Do You Think You Are Live, the biggest genealogy event in the world. People were already queueing to get in about an hour before the show opened. Once inside, they could listen to lectures, visit one of the dozens of stands or have their DNA sampled to be analyzed.
Last year, one of the parts of the program that I most enjoyed was ‘Ask the experts.’ If you need help solving a brick wall, you can book a free twenty-minute session with an expert. A Scottish expert helped me with my one British Isles ancestor, Edinburgh baker-come-soldier Paul Turnbull, who married in Edinburg in the 1500s.
This year, I volunteered as an expert. Since there would probably be few visitors with Dutch research questions and I speak German and French too, I signed up for Western European research in general. Five genealogists came to my table, all wanting to know more about their German ancestors.
I was able to help all of them, even though I was able to give none of them the ultimate answser they were hoping for. Instead of giving them a fish, I gave them rods and tried to teach them how to fish. Most of them had found a reference to a German ancestor and wanted to know how to find their ancestor in Germany. I explained how they should make the most of the resources in England. By consulting all the original records instead of just the indexes, they might find out the names of their immigrant ancestor’s parents. Studying the neighbors in census records might show that other people in their community also came from Germany, possibly from the same region. That technique is especially useful if you don’t know a place of origin. It is always a big temptation to start research in the country of origin as soon as you find a reference to a foreign country, but to maximize your chances of succes, that is actually one of the last things you should do. A name that is uncommon in England might be very common in Germany, so unless you know enough about the immigrant ancestor to be able to tell which of several same-named Germans was your ancestor, it’s too early to start research in Germany.
I loved this format, being thrown a new research challenge every twenty minutes. All of the visitors came prepared, and had obviously already spent many years collecting information on these brick walls. It was so gratifying to be able to give them all tips for new things to try and to hear them say “I didn’t think of that!” I already look forward to next Saturday, when I will do another ‘ask the expert’ session.