Classes “Flying the UK Flag” at Rootstech 2017

Attendance at Rootstech certainly helps you get your 10k steps a day!  Yesterday I gave an indication of the number of classes available for attendees. As you can imagine, scheduling all the classes must be a challenge for the organisers. Salt Palace, where the event is held, has numerous halls and rooms available to accommodate the classes. However, they are widely spread across two floors and you need to allow plenty of time to get between locations, and arrive in good time. Unlike Who Do You Think You Are? Live, you cannot pre book a ticket, it operates on a strictly “first come first served” basis. Volunteer stewards police the rooms and if the room is full, you will be turned away. There are plenty of escalators between the floors, but owing to the size of the crowd, getting between locations in a brisk manner is not the easiest of things to do. So below is an example of one afternoon I spent dashing between classes and supporting the UK presenters.

I started by attending the 1.30 p.m session The Scottish Poor Law. The class was presented by Dr. Patricia Whatley from the University of Dundee’s Centre for Archives and Information Studies and covered both the “Old” Poor Law in Scotland 1579 – 1845 and the “New” Poor Law in Scotland 1845 – 1929.  Arriving a few minutes late I was advised it was standing room only, and judging by the questions during and after the talk, it was well received. Attendees were busy taking copious notes, some the old fashioned way by paper and pencil and others via IPads and laptops. Copies of the handouts available from the Dundee University stand soon vanished too.

The next talk started at 3 p.m.  Fortunately, I was already on the upper floor – or so I thought. I still had to get up another flight of stairs to find the suite of rooms where the next talk, Rummaging in the Parish Chest, was taking place. This class  was presented by Kirsty Gray, MD of Family Wise Ltd* and an Ambassador to Rootstech.  This was an extremely large room, which was just as well as the room was almost full. Taken 5 minutes before the start , the photo above gives an indication of how many attendees wanted to hear Kirsty’s talk.  This class looked at the various documents which can be used when researching English ancestors. Examples of various documents such as Settlement Orders, Examinations, Bastardy Bonds and Churchwarden Accounts were explained, as was how to make use of the National Archives Discovery Catalogue to locate the whereabouts of parish records. My neighbour was soon successfully looking at where to find the parish records for his ancestors. (Wi Fi is available throughout the Salt Palace)

The final talk started at 4.30, again presented by Kirsty, this time giving her class entitled Surnames: Challenged Pitfalls and the Downright Ridiculous.  Kirsty is Chair of The Surname Society and has a One Name Study which has given her plenty of experience interpreting hand writing and transcriptions.  This was a humorous talk which highlighted how mis-transcriptions of documents, including census returns, can give some hilarious names and occupations. It was a salutary lesson on reading the original document and applying common sense as well as palaeographical skills to work out what the document really says. A light hearted and amusing class to end the day.

All these talks were well attended and reinforce my view that there was a lot of interest in learning about UK research material, and that more classes on UK topics ought to be available for Rootstech attendees.

Yesterday’s blog had links to the sessions and classes which can be viewed on line.



Reflections On Rootstech 2017

Since my return from Rootstech last week, I have been reading various blogs and tweets about the event, and so here is my contribution.

Rootstech is certainly the largest event in the world.  It brings together family historians with a wide range of skills, from novice to the experienced professional researcher.  More than 30,000 visitors came from across the world to attend the event at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City. In addition to the keynote sessions, almost 300 classes and computer labs were available for attendees to choose from. I ordered a copy of the course notes, as it is impossible to attend them all!  The bound volume is about 4 centimetres thick and I narrowly avoided excess baggage charges bringing it back home.

Sadly, Rootstech was poorly attended by British genealogists.  Obviously the cost of travel and accommodation involves some not inconsiderable expense and of course you need to factor in costs for food and refreshments. That being said, there is a way for non-attendees to get at least a flavour of the event. The keynote sessions were available via live streaming, and several sessions were recorded and are now available on line. These can be viewed at,,,

The archive for the 2016 event is also available via the Rootstech website.

As well as attending various classes (and collecting ribbons) I also helped out on the University of Dundee Centre for Archives and Information Studies.  In addition to enquiries about studying with the university, we fielded hundreds of enquiries about the “Hows, whys and wherefores” of researching in the UK.  People want to visit their ancestral homelands yet, apart from honourable exceptions, there was scant presence from either the British tourism or genealogy community to advise them on how to go about it.  This is surely ‘missing a trick’.  In England in particular, very little has been done to market the concept of Ancestral Tourism, something the Scots have embraced with enthusiasm.  I do think that as British genealogists and family historians, we need to do more to promote both our country and our skills.


Maybe next year…..

Farewell Salt Lake City

We leave Salt Lake City on February 14th (very appropriate for me!). Regular followers may remember we have visited Lambs Diner and Grill several times to eat brunch. This restaurant reminds me of a stereotypical American diner, with booths and a long bar where you can partake of the typical American menu items. So for my final day I ordered blueberry pancakes. What I did not expect was a pile of 3 pancakes, each the size of a side plate, piled up with butter and maple syrup. Delicious as it was, it was just too much for me to eat, and was sufficient to keep me going until “wine o’clock” at our hotel where each evening they offer glasses of red or white wine, or beer to residents, accompanied by various snacks. A tough assignment but someone has to do it!

As it was our last day in SLC, @TheKirstyGray and I indulged in a cup of hot chocolate after a research session in the Family History Library. (Well it was a bit colder than recently).

Last minute shopping completed, we returned to pack out suitcases ready for the return to the UK and check in for our flights, only to be told our seats will be allocated at the departure gate _ “arghh” was my reaction. So if I don’t arrive back in the UK on the 15th of Feb, you will know we have been bounced off the flight, lost between SLC and Detroit and we will not be happy bunnies!

Catch up with me on the other side!



The morning after the Rootstech before

Followers will know I have been at Rootstech 2017 for several days, and now it’s all over for another year.

It has been 3 hectic days, 4 if you include the Innovator Summit, meeting with like-minded family historians, ranging from the novice to the very experienced. I was helping out on the University of Dundee Centre for Archives and Information Studies Exhibitor stand. I studied for my Masters degree in Family and Local History by distance learning with Dundee. I talked to so many people with British ancestry who wanted to know more about their heritage and how and where to access information which is not available on line.

We often say “It’s a Small World” well yes it really is!  I travelled 4703 miles (7569 km) from my home to Salt Lake City. On day one of the conference, I met an American professional genealogist, who is also a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, as I am. This lady had once lived in the UK and it transpired that she had moved into the small Cambridgeshire village of Great Paxton at around the time I moved out of the same village. So we took a selfie, however as I forgot to ask her permission to post it, I do not feel able to post it quite yet. I appear to have featured in a number of photos across social media, some flattering, some less so…the power of social media can be quite frightening at times!

I started my blog by writing about conference ribbons, so here is the final count, in order to avoid tripping up over them I split them into 3 rows so here is a photo of my final tally.




Conference Ribbons

I first attended Rootstech in 2016. On registration, you receive a delegate badge in a plastic wallet attached to a lanyard. Nothing particularly remarkable about that., its fairly standard conference procedure.  What was unusual, particularly to my English eyes, was the number of conference badges adorned with “ribbons”, in a multitude of colours, bearing different messages, slogans, logos etc, some serious, and some downright wacky!

And so, for my trip this year, I have joined the ribbon brigade, I am not only collecting ribbons, but also distributing them to delegates. I have already acquired several ribbons and the event has barely started.

Ribbons are a great conversation piece and a great ice breaker. Also, walking around Salt Lake City, the Rootstech delegate badge and its ribbon “tail” provoke smiles and acknowledgement from complete strangers. How very un-British! Standing in my hotel reception this evening, my colleague and I were asked to explain the meaning of our ribbons by a group of American businessmen. Currently, my trail of ribbons includes: Exhibitor, Trouble Maker, I Tweet, Caution! Researcher, Support your Local Archives, England, The Surname Society and #Ancestryhour .

I have already seen Crazy Cat Lady, I Haunt Cemeteries, Wales, Family Storyteller and Runs with Scissors to name but a few. By the end of the conference some of the ribbon tails will be a positive trip hazard!

You can follow my tweets of events at Rootstech 2017 by following @Historylady2013. I will be tweeting photos of the ribbons too.


What is a Painted Lady

I am currently out of the UK, on my way to attend Rootstech 2017 in snowy Salt Lake City, but am taking the opportunity to “detour” via San Francisco for a brief holiday before settling down for an intensive few days of genealogy. I am therefore undertaking the obligatory tourist  tours and visits, sampling the various sights and sounds San Francisco offers in the company of @TheKirstyGray.

So, in answer to the question posed in the title of this blog is: it rather depends upon where you live. In the UK, most people will tell you it’s a butterfly, as indeed it is, but in San Francisco, a Painted Lady is an entirely different thing.

San Francisco is vulnerable to earthquakes and over the years, the city has lost a number of architectural gems. The city has also been ravaged by fires which have also destroyed properties.  Wikipedia defines a Painted Lady as “Victorian and Edwardian houses and buildings painted in three or more colours that embellish to enhance their architectural details” although the guide on the (almost obligatory) open top bus tour was adamant that the houses had to be original Victorian houses, and not those which are replica buildings.

When I was studying house history, learning about various architectural styles in order to be able to “date” the origins of the construction, was vital. Walking around San Francisco, it has been a delight to see so many differing architectural styles and to appreciate the skills not only of the original builders and architects, but also of those who seek to preserve the heritage of the city.

If you want to know more about the Painted Ladies, this website might be of interest to you.


Today we visited Alcatraz. I found it a rather disturbing experience, to witness the conditions in which the men were incarcerated, but was surprised at the variety of the flowering shrubs in bloom. Many I recognised, if I could not actually name them, but gardening is not my strong point.

Tomorrow we travel to Salt Lake City. I will be spending time , when not at Rootstech , doing some research at the Library.

During the last few days, Kirsty and I have been staying at the Vertigo Hotel. You might like the photo below – but then again maybe not.


Naughty John Dawson Strikes Again

Last week I wrote about education records and gave the example of how they helped to tell the story of John Dawson. I was also able to use land records to find out more about him, as you will see.

Reading through the minutes of the Board of Guardians in the 1870s, I became aware that John and his brother owned a farm in a small village not far from Keighley. By this time, John’s brother had returned to live in the workhouse, where he was identified as being a lunatic in the 1871 census. The brother’s share of the rent, one third, was being handed over to the workhouse to pay for the brother’s upkeep.

Making use of the records held at the West Yorkshire Registry of Deeds I was able to trace the purchase of this farm in the 1860s, when John and his brother had bought the farm from its owner who lived in Kirkby Lonsdale. The Dawson brothers never lived at the farm, which was tenanted by a Mr Gill, and the Gill family continued to occupy the farm into the 20th century.

In 1883, John’s brother died in the Wakefield Asylum. I found two deeds had been registered on the same day. One was a statutory declaration of intestacy of the brother, the other giving details of a mortgage that John had taken out on the farm. In subsequent years, John took out two further mortgages on the property. Two of the mortgages had been advanced by the same person, a solicitor in Bingley.

John was registered to vote in Keighley, although the electoral roll confirms his address as being Brasenose College Oxford and his name remained on the roll until 1906.  Now it is not an easy task to find a date of death for John, as he has quite a common name. I had no idea where he died. There were simply too many options in the first decade of the 20th century so I decided to try and find a deed which would record the transfer of the farm to another owner which would have confirmed the date of John’s death, but to no avail. I then looked at the 1910 Valuation Office Survey, sometimes called the “Lloyd George Doomsday Survey” and found that the owner of the farm owner was shown as Samuel Weatherhead.  Perhaps John defaulted on the mortgage?

The 1910 survey is fascinating and contains lots of information about properties and you can read more about it here

I hope this week’s series of blogs have given you some ideas for how you can use land records to help to tell your family story.