Ask the expert

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.

Entrance of the Olympia building

Entrance of the Olympia building

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.

Overview of the exhibition

Overview of the exhibition

About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She has been doing genealogy for almost 25 years. Her expertise is helping people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. Hi –
    I HOPE somebody can HELP me? I’m having the worst luck trying to locate my 2nd Great Grandmother’s last name here in Michigan, U.S.
    Her name was (Margaret Walsdorf, Wahtstoroff – born 1855 – 58?) and her parents names on her death certificate read Nicholas/Michael Walsdors & Susan Gardner. Her place of birth reads Germany on some census’s and others – Holland, Dutch, Neitherlands.
    (I can find her on the American/Michigan 1900, 1910 1920 census’s but I cannot go backward in time to locate her????? One census reads she immigrated in 1871 another reads 1883 and her birth year is different 1855 and 1858. She married a Peter Carpenter (Pierre Francois Charpentier) in 1883 here in Michigan, Port Austin, Huron County.
    My QUESTION? is the correct spelling of her last name? and PROOF she came from one of these countries – Germany? Holland? Netherlands? Luxemboug. (Peter Carpenter was from Luxembourg) but his first wife died in a horse & wagon accident in 1882 and he married Margaret following year 1883.
    Doug Mills/Carpenter

    • Hi Doug,
      The name Walsdorf or Wahtstoroff does not sound Dutch but rather German or Eastern-European. I do not know any Dutch names that sound similar. Gardner too could be German (Gartner). See also my article about how to find your immigrant ancestors for more tips on how to go about this research. The first steps are in the US, and not just focus on her records but also those of her associates.

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