Saturday 10 October 2015

Back To Our Past 2015 – Review three-day genealogy and dna extravaganza of Back To Our Past got underway at the RDS yesterday, on a beautiful sunny morning in Dublin.

The new venue – the Serpentine Hall – brought mixed reviews. I heard several moans about the dim lighting on one side of the hall and the low ceiling and smaller space was seen as more intimate by some and as uninviting by others. Either way, it was noticeable that most of those entering the hall did so from the RDS Main Hall where the much bigger Over 50s Show was being held.

In itself, this wasn't an issue (the more visitors the better, of course) but the exhibitors floor plan was clearly designed for visitors to enter via a dedicated external entrance and to be greeted by the larger exhibitor stands. A trio of stands stood in a vast island of carpet! The extra space was welcome as a way of keeping the temperature down under a low ceiling, but rather drew attention to the exhibitors who had not chosen not to attend this year.

North of Ireland Family History Society stand
L-R Maggie Lyttle, Ann Robinson, Kathleen Morrison, Sandra Ardis
For those visitors who wanted some guidance on getting their research started, there was plenty of help to hand. Same goes for those who had started and lost their way or needed some help with a brickwall, and they seem to have been more numerous than beginners.

Several stall holders mentioned this, including Sandra Ardis of the North of Ireland Family History Society (NIFHS). "We've had enquiries covering all the counties of Ulster and it's noticeable that people are asking questions about research further back in time. Often the paper trail has been completely exhausted and we are suggesting DNA testing as the only likely next step."

The NIFHS was attending at the end of a busy year for the Society. As well as attending several fairs, big and small, the society's Resource Centre in Newtownabbey has been extended, a programme of courses has been planned and is now underway, and a programme of monthly lectures and outings has been organised by each of the organisation's eleven branches. As if that weren't enough, the Society is hoping to set up a new branch in Newry (get in touch if you'd like to be involved or help organise).

The Irish Genealogical Research Society were also attending and launched the only new resource to coincide with this year's BTOP. It's the Early Irish Death Index, a Members-only Index of pre-1864 records discovered in unusual and lesser-known resources. See my blogpost for more information. It's the third new and unique resource launched by the IGRS this year.

Genealogist Lorna Moloney was at the show to promote the 2016 Ancestral Connections: 'Roots to the Rising' Summer School at University College Cork. In addition to the thorough induction in Irish genealogy provided in the lecture line-up, next year's school will have a secondary focus on the 1916 centenary, hence its subtitle.

Lorna also delivers the Genealogy Show on RaidiĆ³ Corca Baiscinn (92.5 & 94.8FM). She tells me that this coming Thursday's show, broadcast live at 4pm and thereafter available on the website as a podcast, she'll be talking about pre-1800 records such as Fiants, Penders Census, Hearth Roll Tax and the Books of Survey and Distribution.

As is always the way at genealogy shows, several exhibitors have special offers and discounts. FindMyPast, for example, is offering a one-month free subscription worth €9.95. Over at the Irish Roots Magazine stand, Julie and Maureen Phibbs are selling gift packs containing four back issues (you choose the year) for just €5, a saving of €15, and you can also pick up an annual subscription to the quarterly publication for €20 (normal price, inclusive of postage €25 or, for international addresses, €27). AncestryDNA and FamilyTreeDNA have good value discounts on their products, as I mentioned in my Preview blogpost.

Accredited Genealogists Ireland are not only doing free consultations throughout the day (many slots are already booked but there are enough gaps in the schedule to make it worth turning up and taking pot luck), they are also running a competition on each day of BTOP; see details on their facebook page.

The Genetic Genealogy Ireland conference had a full house, all day.

I didn't get a chance to attend any lectures myself on Friday but both the general genealogy lectures/workshops and the Genetic Genealogy Ireland (GGI) lectures seemed to be well-attended. Genealogist Maurice Gleeson, who organises the GGI, seemed happy with how the first day had gone, when I got to chat with him in the evening. He describes the GGI as a 'pop-up conference'. "It aims to bring together scientists and academics and family history researchers so that they can talk to one another and learn from one another. It's a high quality conference run on minimum expenditure, thanks to many volunteers."

Some of the latter travel at their own expense from the USA and UK to help answer questions on the FamilyTreeDNA stand (FamilyTreeDNA sponsor the GGI) and they were certainly kept busy doing just that throughout the day.

The doors have now opened on Day 2 of BTOP and I'll be making my way along to the Hall very shortly. I'm not planning to write another review – gone are the days when shows such as BTOP resulted in a frenzy of new releases and products, requiring days of reporting. Instead, I'm intending to attend some lectures today and take tomorrow off.

If you're thinking of attending the show, the hours for both Saturday and Sunday are 11am to 6pm, and you can still get free admission thanks to IrishRoots magazine.