Friday 21 October 2011

Back To Our Past - what an opening!

The 3-day Back To Our Past show got off to a lively start at noon when it opened its doors to a good humoured queue waiting outside Hall 4 of the RDS. Within no time at all, the atmosphere inside was buzzing and exhibitors were doing brisk business.

Among the busiest were those with a dual offer of immediate access to records and professional know-how. Both Helen Kelly on the Association of Professional Genealogists of Ireland's stand, and Aideen Ireland of the National Archives of Ireland must be hoarse tonight after many hours providing one-to-one advice and direction.

RootsIreland and FindMyPast also seemed swamped throughout most of the day. At the latter, I got a chance to speak to the ever cheerful and enthusiastic Amy Sell, Find My Past's marketing executive, about the imminent launch of 19th- and 20th-century newspapers from the UK and Ireland.

'Some 4million pages of the British Library's newspaper collection will be searchable when the new site launches later this year,' she explained. 'It's possible to register now and take part in a survey giving you a say in which newspapers get digitised after the launch. The partnership agreement will see the digitisation of 400million pages over the next ten years, so we'll be scanning and uploading every day and we need to know which papers our customers want most.'

Across the aisle was Eneclann, FMP's joint venture partner in the Irish version of FindMyPast. The .ie company officially launched the Irish Prison Registers collection this morning. Drawing on details contained in the collection's 3.5million records, Eneclann's CEO Brian Donovan gave a fascinating presentation on the subject of Murderers, Rebels and Drunkards: Your ancestors and the Law.

He also mentioned that some 15million Petty Sessions Court records would be released by June 2012.

Without mentioning any deadlines, Steven Smyrl, Chairman of the Irish Genealogical Research Society (IGRS) also suggested more outstanding records could soon be available online. 'A society such as the IGRS, being a fairly academic society, has a lot of material that other newer societies wouldn't have – in particular we have the terrific contents of our library in London,' he said.

'We're hoping to start putting some of this outstanding collection on the Internet quite soon.'

These records will be available only to members of the Society so the canniest visitors were taking up the special show membership offers. They could choose from a discounted traditional membership package (Library access, Journal and newsletters) for 20Euros or a special membership package of 60Euros which additionally includes a subscription to Irish Roots Magazine (an independent newsstand publication) and a cd containing all the IGRS Journals back to 1937. Excellent value.

There were, of course, many special show offers and promos available today. Among the best was one from History Ireland, a magazine that I criticise only for being bi-monthly rather than monthly. I love this publication. And today I eagerly signed up for a subscription that carried the added bonus of free access to JSTOR's Ireland Collection of 75 journals and 200 monographs. Oh Happiness!

While the Prison Registers took the 'launch of the day' crown, there were others of note. These included the first Irish Family and Local History Handbook (224 pages containing 60 articles and a huge listing section of libraries, genealogical centres, family history societies, cemetaries, professional genealogists and more) from Robert Blatchford Publishing, and the Irish DNA Atlas project by the Genealogical Society of Ireland.

Another exhibitor that I'll be following up after the show is the Irish Ancestry Research Centre, a company based on the University of Limerick campus and sponsored by American interests. It is already running family history workshops and online certificate courses but also has a walk-in research centre. Me thinks a visit will be in order very soon.

It was an excellent opening day. Informative talks, plenty to learn, plenty to discuss, and still more to discover. Which is why I'll be returning tomorrow morning!

Best print off another of my vouchers!

See also my report from Day Two.