Only 6 weeks’ ago we were at Family Tree Live at Alexandra Palace – and last week we took the project to another family history show: THE Genealogy Show, at the NEC in Birmingham. And we’re delighted to say this one went just as well!
We took along the tried and tested mix of an enthusiastic and knowledgeable team, great resources and something a bit different – a number of people commented on the fact that it was excellent to find a project with a dedicated focus like this at the event. One person even wanted to make use of one of the railway safety posters from our display for his workplace health and safety team: excellent!
On both days we were supported by colleagues from the Modern Records Centre – James King on the Friday and project co-lead Helen Ford on the Saturday – and in addition on the Friday by genealogist and Twitter friend Jacqui Kirk (who went above and beyond by bringing along the sweets to dish out to people!). In addition it was lovely to see two of our project volunteers, Cheryl and Chris – they’ve been doing great work with us and hopefully the stand did justice to their efforts.
It was fascinating talking to so many people over the course of the 2 days – some we’d met before in person, some we’d only ‘met’ on Twitter and many we’d not encountered before. In particular it was great when one of our volunteers from Transcription Tuesday came and said hello – we’d not expected that! We were able to help a large number of people with their enquiries, something we’d hoped would be possible. As a past events, it went in peaks and troughs – we might have a quiet patch, followed by an utterly hectic period where people were queueing up. Thanks to everyone who talked to us during the event.
Once again we handed out a huge number of our project information sheets and data visualisation sheets, so hopefully now people have been checking what we have to offer (including our free database) from the comfort of their own homes. And we were also pleased to support an initiative which Jacqui Kirk is championing (and we’re fully behind), working with the London & North Western Railway Society to make the railway records they hold better accessible – with the ultimate aim of making all railway records (including, of course, railway worker accidents) better known and more easily and widely used. You can find out more about the LNWR Society & its ancestry project here.
As a genealogist Jacqui already knew that most people have a family member who worked on the railways somewhere in their tree but working on the stand brought home to her that many family history researchers just don’t know where to start researching them. It has been one of those areas branded “too difficult” in the past but projects such as this one and that of the LNWR Society aim to change all that making it easier to find and navigate the records to tell an ancestor’s story. Something that she was pleased to hear so many researchers out there want to do.
What was interesting was the number of people who’d researched the bare details of their family trees, but who were now going back to ‘fill in the details’ and find out more about the social context of their ancestors and find out a bit more about their lives and deaths. For those with railway workers in their family pasts we were in an ideal place to help. To that end we talked with people with the full range of railway roles, from the most junior to the most senior occupations: navvies, clerks, platelayers, station masters, shunters, firemen, porters, drivers, inspectors, railway police (including 1 railway detective!), ticket collectors, foremen … and more. There were a large number of enquiries about accidents which took place in the interwar years, something our coming project extensions should be able to help people with (for more on this, see the end of this post).
As Helen said of her time on the stand: “I had an enjoyable day on Saturday at THE Genealogy Show at the NEC helping to promote the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project. We received a lot of enquiries about railway ancestors and heard details about a few accidents in the 19th and early 20th centuries – unfortunately for dates which are not yet in the RWLD database – though hopefully soon! It was useful to be able to point to the various sources at TNA, NRM and MRC and generally spread the word. A great day all round.”
The feedback from people was really good, too. Virtually no one had been aware of the potential of the accident records to assist their research – but after visiting our stand they reported that they now knew the potential and would consider making use of them. A few comments were also particularly nice to receive:
‘this seems a very interesting area for social research and maybe we can find things for the future from how we treated people in the past’
‘a great project – please keep extending records!’
‘I’ve alerted my students to this resource for research’
‘this has been such a wonderful find’
The key aim of taking the project out to events such as these has been to help spread the word about the project and to assist people in their research – but they’ve always also brought us benefits in terms of people volunteering their help. THE Genealogy Show was no exception: we had people volunteer to help with the transcription work (an amazing offer which is gratefully received), as well as people telling us about the railway employee accidents in their family pasts. Given so many people worked on the railways and the statistics for deaths and injuries were for the 19th and much of the 20th centuries quite horrifying, it’s not surprising that one of our most common conversations was about a family member who was hurt in the course of their railway work. What was gratifying was that not only were people willing to share details with us in person, many have offered to send us further information and to write the cases up as blog posts – so, watch this space for more!
None of this was possible without help and support from a number of sources. Firstly, Katherine and the team at THE Genealogy Show were really helpful, including in making our attendance financially viable. The University of Portsmouth’s technical support (thanks again Mark, Tom and Scott!) and financial contribution, part of my recent sabbatical, made sure we could put on a good show. Perhaps most importantly, the stand volunteers meant we were able to offer a friendly and knowledgeable face and to help as many people as we did. So, a huge thanks to Helen Ford, James King and Jacqui Kirk.
All in all, it was a very busy couple of days, but well worthwhile (even when we were nearly locked in the car park at the end of the show!). We’re looking forward to following up on the connections we made – and bringing the benefits to the project.