RootsTech 2018

How quickly the year is passing us by, seems like only a short while since I set off to fly from the UK to Salt Lake City in Utah to attend RootsTech 2017 in the company of @TheKirstyGray.  A trip to RootsTech from the UK is not cheap, but the opportunities it presents for attending workshops, an extensive exhibition area and the opportunity to meet members of the genealogy community from around the world is unmatched. You can find out more about Rootstech2018 here: and this link gives even more information.

In 2018, both Kirsty and I will again be travelling to RootsTech and we have both been invited to be RootsTech Ambassadors. This means we will be tweeting and blogging from the event, which runs from February 28th to March 3rd 2018.

If you are thinking about attending RootsTech in 2018, there is an opportunity to save money by registering now. Registration has now opened, with the opportunity to buy at the “early bird” booking rate, which gives a saving of $100. You can find out how to register by following the link:

If you want a taste of what attracts visitors to RootsTech, check out this keynote speech from this year

A trip to Salt Lake City also presents unrivalled opportunities to visit the Family History Library and to use the amazing facilities available to further your research. Five floors of resources for the continents of the world .You can find out more about the library and its facilities here:


Disclaimer: In case you are wondering, I have been invited to be a RootsTech 2018 Ambassador. My role is to help publicise the event via social media channels from now until after the conference closes. I will receive free admission to the event in return.


Who Do You Think You Are? Live 6-8 April

Family historians are preparing to gather in Birmingham this week for the Who Do You Think You Are? Live Show, which is being held at the National Exhibition Centre.

The event is billed as being the world’s largest family history show, a claim which those of us who have attended Rootstech might query, but it is certainly the largest such event in the United Kingdom, and well worth experiencing at least once.

I first attended in 2012 and have attended annually since then and always find something of interest. In 2013 I took the opportunity to Ask an Expert, which is hosted by the Society of Genealogists. This is a regular feature  at WDYTYA? Live, and many visitors take the opportunity to book a 20 minute appointment with an expert genealogist. This year, I will be making debut as an “Expert” on both Thursday 6th and Friday 7th.

WDYTYA badge v2

Another debut for me this year is that of  “Speaker”. On Saturday 8th at 1.15 pm  in Theatre 3.  I will be speaking about “Delving into Workhouse Records”, illustrated with some of the Poor Law Union records which are held at my local studies library. I am fascinated by Poor Law Union records and enjoy digging around and uncovering the stories of people who came into contact with the Poor Law bureaucracy in whatever capacity. Most researchers will be familiar with admission and discharge records, but my talk will explore how financial records, committee meeting minutes , letter books and other records can be a treasure trove for researchers. I was stunned to see that more than 2 weeks ago, the workshop was sold out. No pressure then!

At other times I will be helping out with exhibitors including The University of Dundee’s Centre for Archives and Information Studies (Stand 268) and the Register of Qualified Genealogists (Stand 2)  If you are coming to the show, do come along and say hello.

You can find out more about the show by following this link:

A serious topic for today’s blog.

Yesterday, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse opened in London.  Already we are hearing the dreadful testimony from individuals who were sent to Australia and subjected to both physical and sexual abuse.  Sadly, abuse of children is nothing new, and as this sorry story from the workhouse confirms, children who complained continued to be ignored and disbelieved.

Amongst the Boarding Out Committee minutes I came across this story of a troubled young boy who would have been aged about 9 years of age. I am not going to use his true name nor that of the adults involved for obvious reasons, so will call him William. His father died and his mother became an inmate of the asylum at sometime between his birth and 1901, when he can be found as a resident of the workhouse. William was the youngest child in the family and his siblings no longer lived in the family home.

The Boarding Out Committee made no less than four attempts to place William with a foster family, and all these attempts ended in failure.  On the first occasion, William ran away from his foster home and returned to the workhouse, covered in bruises.  On arrival at the workhouse, he complained to the Workhouse Master that he had been severely beaten by his foster carer.  He was then examined by the Medical Officer, who found William’s bruising was consistent with his story of having been severely beaten. The Boarding Out Committee subsequently interviewed the foster parent, whose explanation of the injuries was accepted, and as so often seems to be the case, William was not believed.

Life did not improve for William. On the occasion he ran away from his foster home to his married sister, he was dragged back to the workhouse.  On the final occasion, the foster father returned him to the workhouse saying William was “incorrigible and would not work”. The Boarding Out Committee instructed the Clerk to enquire about a training ship to take William …. and “to tell the Workhouse Master to give him plenty of work”.

William was eventually sent to the Training Ship Indefatigable at Birkenhead. This cost the workhouse £22 and 10 shillings.  I do not know what happened to him subsequently. His real name is quite common so it is difficult to pin down but I have reason to believe he joined the army in 1910. A career in military service was not unusual for the boys who had been on training ships.

You can read more about the Training Ship Indefatigable on Peter Higginbotham’s excellent website


From the Workhouse to Flanders Field via Canada

I am presenting a talk, “Delving into Workhouse Records” at Who Do You Think You are? Live in April. I have been spending a few days in my Local Studies Library exploring the records looking for some interesting examples I can include in my talk.  Needless to say, as can often happen, I became distracted by the mention of an individual who had been Boarded Out by the Union Guardians, hence I spent some time following up on his story, has become the subject of today’s blog.

The source for this story was The Minutes of the Boarding Out Committee of North Bierley Poor Law Union. Here I found two specific mentions of a Leonard Cartwright. The first mention was in a minute of a meeting held on 7th March 1906:

Leonard Cartwright – Boarded with Dan Kellett of Wyke. Clerk to make enquiries as to whether this Boy can be taken out to Canada by Mr Kellett.

The second mention was dated 2nd of May, when the committee

Resolved that the Clerk be instructed to interview Mr Dan Kellett and ascertain whether he intends taking the above named boy [Leonard Cartwright] with him to Canada or not.

Sadly, I could not find any mention between the two dates, but I became curious about Leonard, particularly after finding an albeit nameless mention of him in the Report of the Chairman of the Boarding Out Committee dated 3 April 1907.  The chairman, Mr J Hardisty, was reporting on the successes of the Boarding out system and commented that

I may say we have had one case at the Servant  Girl’s (sic) Home, Sheffield; a boy has been placed on the training ship “Indefatigable”, Birkenhead, and another boy is now in Canada.

Leonard Fielding Cartwright’s birth was registered in the first quarter of 1897. Although his date of birth was given on many documents as 3rd December 1897, the year 1896 makes more sense. By 1901, he was living, along with 3 siblings, in the North Bierley Workhouse. A little digging soon identified that their parents were Henry Cartwright and Emma Dean who had married on 28 January 1889 at Bradford Parish Church. Henry was a widower and already had a family of 9 children with his first wife. His marriage to Emma resulted in 4 more children in addition to Leonard.

Leonard’s siblings were born in 1889,1890,1894 and 1899 respectively. So someone was missing from the workhouse, but I soon found her living in Leamington with her aunt and uncle. Why the children entered the workhouse is unclear. Emma may have died, or been unable to care for the children for some reason, and Henry was living with his daughter Martha Ellen Hart and her family, but is still described as a married man, rather than a widower. Emma’s whereabouts remains a mystery to be solved, but she most certainly did not die before 1903, when an infant of the same name did pass away.

It seems likely that the Clerk to the Boarding Out Committee might have been a little late in his efforts to interview Dan Kellett.  Dan, his wife Nancy, their children and a 9 year old Leonard Cartwright arrived in Montreal on 26th May 1906, having travelled from Liverpool aboard the ship Lake Erie. Then Leonard vanishes for a few years. Although the Kellett family can be found on the Canadian census shortly afterwards, Leonard is nowhere to be seen.

The next “sighting” of Leonard is when he enlisted on May 12th 1915. His military papers are available free of charge, to download at . He confirmed a sister, Edith Cartwright as his next of kin and gave her address in Shipley. He wrote his will on 9th June 1916 leaving his estate to his sisters Edith and Dorothy. An interesting comment amongst the papers also refers to his Next of Kin as his mother, Mrs Emma Cartwright and her address was given as being c/o Miss Edith Cartwright, so Leonard seems to have hoped or believed that his mother could still be alive. Leonard had assigned his monthly pay of $15 Canadian dollars to his sister Edith in May 1916.

Leonard originally enlisted in Calgary into the 56th Battalion Canadian Infantry and was transferred to the 50th Battalion Canadian Infantry after arriving in the UK on 9th April 1916. He subsequently sailed to France arriving in Le Havre on 11th August 1916. He was reported as missing in Action on 19th November and it was confirmed he had been killed in action by 16th December that year. His grave can be found in the Adnac Military Cemetery Miraumont.

Whilst this story has a sad ending, it is good to see that Leonard managed to maintain some contact with his siblings. However I cannot but help wonder about what happened to him between arriving in Canada with the Kellett family and his enlistment in the Canadian Infantry.

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!