Tuesday 11 March 2014

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2014

Who Do You Think You Are? Live is now firmly established as the biggest event in the family history calendar in the UK, and it always provides a welcome opportunity to meet up with friends and colleagues and make new connections. This is my seventh year at WDYTYA. I've been to all of the shows apart from the very first one in 2007. There was a departure from the usual schedule this year and for the first time WDYTYA was held on Thursday, Friday and Saturday rather than Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In previous years Sunday has always been the quietest day, perhaps because of the difficulties of Sunday travel on public transport. The change of days seems to have paid off. The attendance this year was 13,128, slightly down on last year's figure of 13,941, but the footfall was spread evenly across the three days. Here are the figures for comparison:

Thursday 20 February   4,253
Friday 21 February        4,353
Saturday 22 February    4,522

Friday 22 February       5,444
Saturday 23 February   5,365
Sunday 24 February     3,132

In another change this year ISOGG (the International Society of Genetic Genealogy) stepped in to co-ordinate the lecture programme for the DNA workshop which is sponsored by Family Tree DNA. I worked with Maurice Gleeson and Brian Swann to put together the programme. For the first time we invited some speakers from the world of academia to complement the genetic genealogy talks. I believe we came up with a good mix of speakers, and the talks were all very popular and very well received. The abstracts of the talks and the speaker biographies can be seen here. Maurice recorded all the lectures and they are gradually being uploaded to the DNA Lectures - WDYTYA Live 2014 YouTube channel, though only if the speakers have given permission. The open plan speaking area was not ideal and there is quite a lot of background noise but, for those who were unable to attend in person, it is the next best thing. I was presenting two talks this year, both of which will eventually be on YouTube.

The DNA workshop area at WDYTYA Live is always very busy. We thought that last year was exceptional because of all the publicity from Richard III, but this year the interest in DNA testing was even greater. The Family Tree DNA stand was constantly busy throughout all three days of the show, and at at times it seemed as though the entire population of London had descended on Olympia to have their DNA tested. We had to implement a triage system. This involved volunteers talking to people in the queue to answer any questions that they might have and to ensure that, if they did want to have their DNA tested, by the time they sat down to be served they knew exactly which test or tests they wanted and what they might expect. Queries from people who had already tested and wanted help with the interpretation of their results were referred to the helpers on the ISOGG stand. Other people were sent away with literature so that they could read up on the subject and come to a decision. The DNA testing frenzy reached its peak at lunchtime on the Saturday. At one point there were over 20 people in the queue, which had to be subdivided into a swabbing queue and a triage queue. It almost seemed as though a mass hysteria had gripped Olympia, or perhaps it was just the British love of queuing and people didn't want to miss out! Family Tree DNA sold all the kits they brought with them, despite having brought many more kits than last year, and extra supplies had to be brought in from stock held in the UK by a project administrator. Nevertheless, by about 3.30 pm on the Saturday, all the kits had been sold. People were still able to place orders, and it was arranged that the kits would be posted to them free of charge. There seemed to be far more women than men testing which is perhaps not surprising considering that more women than men attend WDYTYA. The £35 mtDNAPlus test seemed to be particularly popular and there were lots of Family Finder tests sold. Some women were buying Y-DNA tests to take away for their male relatives. All in all there were nearly 500 kits sold, an all-time record, and everyone can look forward to lots of new matches in the FTDNA database in a few months' time.

I spent most of my time at WDYTYA on triage duty, and by the end of the three days I was feeling somewhat hoarse, but it was fascinating listening to people's stories as I chatted to them in the queue. I spoke to one lady who has Basque ancestry on all her lines going back to the 1500s. Another lady had come along to the show to get a kit for her father who was in his nineties. One gentleman had come over from Germany especially for the show, because there is no German equivalent of WDYTYA. I heard that there was one gentleman who had been given just two months to live, but he had come along to WDYTYA to get his DNA tested to make sure that it was preserved in the database as a legacy. His test is being expedited by FTDNA and I do hope that he lives long enough to receive his results.

I paid a brief visit to the Ancestry stand and took the opportunity to ask them if they had any intention of introducing their new autosomal DNA test in the UK. I was told that they are hoping to start selling it in the UK and a number of other countries in the first quarter of 2015. They are looking at getting the the DNA testing itself done somewhere in the UK. There are plans to introduce some sort of filter based on networking which would help solve the problem of finding the useful British matches amongst the large number of Americans in the database. The filter should recognise that people would be more likely to have meaningful matches with people in their own country and these would appear at the top of their list. There do not seem to be any plans to introduce a chromosome browser. Ancestry recognise that experienced genetic genealogists would like a chromosome browser but they think that most people would not now how to use one. They are working on an alternative solution, and it will be interesting to see what they come up with. I also asked what was happening with their Y-DNA tests which are now very hard to find on the website. I was told that they had at one time considered phasing them out but they still regularly receive orders every week from a few projects. They've now tried to set up a system so that the Y-DNA tests are easy to find for those who need them but difficult for everyone else to discover. BritainsDNA also had a stand at WDYTYA. I walked past their stand a few times but it never seemed to be very busy. Their tests are very expensive compared to the offerings from Family Tree DNA and I think they had a hard time competing.

I met up briefly with Peter Calver of Lost Cousins to discuss the arrangements for my forthcoming talks for the Genealogy in the Sunshine conference in Portugal. I had a brief chat with Jane Taubman and Simon Orde on the Family Historian stand. I met up briefly with Princess Maria Sviatopolk-Mirski, but got dragged to answer more questions about DNA testing. I paid a visit to the History Press stand, where I was greeted by a lady who just about to buy a copy of my Surnames Handbook! I was able to sign a copy of the book for her. While I was there I signed a few copies of DNA and Social Networking for the publishers to use, though I'm still bemused as to why anyone would want my scrawl in a book!  They'd apparently sold quite a few copies of both books as a result of my talks.

I was particularly pleased to have the chance to meet Tom Bromwich, my third cousin once removed, who was attending the show with his parents, and is the youngest family history researcher that I know. Tom started his family history research at a very young age and seems to do most of his research in the school holidays. He's a very careful and meticulous researcher and has already made good progress with his family tree. I would have taken a photo but I got summoned away to talk to a TV production crew, who wanted some advice on DNA testing for a forthcoming TV programme.

We were so busy that I only managed to escape to go to a handful of talks.  The highlight for me was Chris Stringer's  fascinating talk on the early peopling of the British Isles. I had the chance to talk him briefly afterwards and I was interested to learn that the Natural History Museum is thinking of re-testing Cheddar Man. The original DNA testing was done many years ago by Professor Bryan Sykes, but the research was never published in a peer-reviewed journal. A lot of the early ancient DNA research is now somewhat suspect, and it is thought that sample has probably been contaminated by modern DNA.

I also enjoyed John Rowlands talk on "The perpetual incognito of being a Jones: overcoming problems with surnames in Wales", the content of which was based on material from the newly published revised edition of The Surnames of Wales, written by John with his wife Sheila. This book is the bible for anyone studying Welsh surnames, and the new edition benefits from much new material and many new maps. I was also very pleased that I finally had the chance to meet Sheila as we have corresponded a lot over the last couple of years and become good e-mail friends.

On Saturday I attended Bruce Winney's talk on the People of the British Isles Project. The good news is that within any luck the long-awaited paper with all the wonderful maps should be published very soon. The authors have been dealing with referees' comments and should by now have resubmitted the paper.

There have been a lot of rumours flying around about the future of Who Do You Think You Are? Live and there has not been any official announcement from the organisers, but it appears that the show will either not be held at Olympia next year or will be held on different dates.  I am told that none of the exhibitors have as yet been given the chance to renew their bookings for 2015. The nearby Earls Court arena is being knocked down to make way for new housing, and exhibitions normally held at Earls Court are moving to Olympia. It has been suggested that the show might be held at the Excel Convention Centre, the NEC in Birmingham or even in Manchester. Although it would be great to see a version of WDYTYA Live in other parts of the country, I think there is always going to be a need for a large family history show in London. No doubt we will hear something soon.

The good news is that it has been announced that Who Do You Think You Are? Live is coming to Scotland this year as part of Homecoming Scotland 2014. The Scottish WDYTYA will be held at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow from 29th to 31st August. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend as the event clashes with the Essex Society for Family History's 40th anniversary conference in Basildon.  I am one of the guest speakers at this conference and will be hoping to enlighten the audience about the mysteries of DNA testing.

A number of other bloggers have written reports from WDYTYA Live. Emily Aulicino has done a nice write up with lots of photos of all the genetic genealogists on her Genealem blog. Jo Tillin, a fellow member of the Guild of One-Name Studies has done a great job providing a round-up of all the other blog posts from this year's Who Do You Think You Are? Live which you can find on her Full Circle Family History blog.

I leave you with a selection of photos from the show. Click on the images to enlarge them. Enjoy!
The DNA workshop schedule.
Maurice Gleeson explaining to a captive audience how to analyse
 autosomal DNA test results.
Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum gave a fascinating talk on
 human origins. Here he discusses the discovery of the 800,000-year-old
 footprints found in Happisburgh, Norfolk.
I get to meet Chris Stringer.
Connie Fisher of Sound of Music fame talking to Max Blankfeld of
Family Tree DNA. Photograph courtesy of Max Blankfeld.
Emily Aulicino telling a full house about her autosomal DNA success stories.
The crowds on the Family Tree DNA stand.
Triage in action on the FTDNA stand. Photo by Joss ar Gall.
At times the queue for DNA testing got so long that it wound right round
 the corner to the next stand. The people at the front of the queue are patiently
 waiting to be swabbed. Triage is in operation at the back of the queue.
The packed Family Tree DNA stand. There was standing room only for the
 lecture in the DNA workshop. Photo by Joss ar Gall.
Sue and Anne on the ISOGG stand with the poster in the background
 with the list of surnames for which sponsored DNA tests were available.
Photo by Joss ar Gall.
Richard answers questions on the ISOGG stand. Photo by Joss ar Gall.
There was standing room only for most of the DNA lectures.

A quieter moment at the end of the day but all four seats are still occupied with
 FTDNA customers having their DNA tested. The organisers had to come and
 tell FTDNA to stop selling so that they could shut the hall up for the night!
An exhausted but happy team of genetic genealogists with Bennett
Greenspan and Max Blankfeld of Family Tree DNA at the end of the show.
 Photo by Joss ar Gall.
Bennett and Max shared with all the volunteers a bottle of champagne and
wine that had been kindly provided by the organisers. We were promptly
 ticked off by an official for breaking the health and safety regulations by
 drinking alcohol during "take down" - the time when all the stands are
 dismantled - but by then all the alcohol had gone!
© 2014 Debbie Kennett. All photos © Debbie Kennett unless indicated otherwise.


Julie Goucher said...

A great write up Debbie. I will be at the 2015 WDYTYA, but I have heard rumours that it is possibly on the cards for a change of location?

Valmay said...

Interesting to see the comparison to last years figures Debbie. Glad you had a good year at the FTDNA stand. I had an increase in enquiries into our DNA project at the show this year and sent at least eight people to the FTDNA stand to be tested. Three came back to tell me they had had a test done and hopefully the others had a test too.

Debbie Kennett said...

Thanks Julie. I mentioned the possible change of date/location towards the end of my post.

Debbie Kennett said...

Thanks Valmay. I did speak to a few people wanting to investigate possible Indian ancestry through DNA testing, and I mentioned FIBIS to all of them. Some did say they'd already visited your stand. FTDNA will be doing their best to ensure people get into the appropriate projects so I hope the FIBIS project will have a big boost as a result. I think it makes a big difference now that the mtDNA test has come down so much in price.

Julie Goucher said...

So you did Debbie! Fingers & brain malfunction! I remember the original fairs at The Royal Horticultural Halls. I even still have a couple of the entrance carrier bags in my study! I agree with you an event in London is going to be needed, and I wonder what dimension the new venue will add to the event.

Debbie Kennett said...

I didn't go to the original RHS shows, but I still have my full collection of programmes from WDYTYA. I would hope that if they move to a new venue there might be better provision for the lectures - an enclosed room rather than the current open plan space.

Sue Griffith said...

Thanks for the update from Ancestry about them hoping to be able to market DNA kits in the UK early next year. I have updated the webpage “Notes for UK (&Ex-US Residents re. DNA Testing Companies” (http://www.genealogyjunkie.net/uk--ex-us-residents.html) to reflect this.

I was one of the beta-testers for AncestryDNA, but I’ve been disappointed by not having any potentially hopeful DNA matches, which I attribute mainly to the test not being available in the UK – but with there being no segment information, I can’t assess the “quality” of the matches shown. Although I live in the US, I’m a Brit and all of my identified ancestors were from the UK – so the vast majority of my cousins obviously live in the UK. My closest matches (n=19) are identified as “4th to 6th cousin”, but where the trees are large enough to tell, all seem to be far more distant than that and I have zero “shaky leaf” hints for potential common ancestors on our trees. I then have >7,500 more distant DNA matches (and the confidence they put in these matches is at best “moderate” and often “low”). I was also pleased to see that you mention about them introducing some sort of filter, to help in identifying the dearth of British matches from the masses of Americans.

Debbie Kennett said...

Sue, Thanks for updating your web page. I've also tested with Ancestry. I paid for my test when it first became available and at the time they seemed happy to ship to the UK, but they have since clamped down. There must only have been a handful of non-Americans who slipped through the net. I've written various blog posts about my AncestryDNA test:


Like you I have no shaky leaf hints. I have 15 fourth to sixth cousins. I've given up looking at my Ancestry matches because whenever I look at a tree I find that the person hasn't identified any ancestors from the British Isles and there's not the remotest chance of ever finding a connection. I shall be interested to see what Ancestry come up with. I'm somewhat concerned that if they don't come up with an effective solution we will end up with lots of disillusioned British testers.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your write-u and all that you do, Debbie. I am interested in your comment that the BritainsDNA tests are more expensive than FTDNA. I was contacted today by a Brit who is about to buy their Chromo2 Complete Combined test for 250 pounds. I thought that the closest FTDNA equivalent of that would be their Comprehensive Genome for $546 which is about 70 pounds more expensive than BritainsDNA. Am I misunderstanding?

Debbie Kennett said...


We are not comparing like with like here. The BritainsDNA tests are more like an expensive version of Geno 2.0 though Chromo 2 does have the advantage of having many more Y-SNPs. Chromo 2 is a deep ancestry test. You get 14,000 Y-SNPs and 3000 mtDNA SNPs. The All My Ancestry part of the test gives you ethnicity percentages. BritainsDNA do not have a matching database so the tests have no practical application for genealogical purposes. You might like to refer your Chandler to the DNA testing comparison charts in the ISOGG Wiki which are linked from this page:


There is further information on the BritainsDNA page in the Wiki:


He might also be interested to see some of my blog posts about the company starting with this one:


It all depends on his reasons for wanting to test.

Incidentally there was a Chandler who tested with FTDNA at WDYTYA. I told him to contact you and directed him to the Guild website. Has he been in touch?

Unknown said...

Many thanks, Debbie - that will be a big help. I have had a Chantler contact me as a result of the Guild stand at WDYTYA but not yet a Chandler from the FTDNA stand - I hope he does.

David Mowbray - 986 said...

Wonderful. I learnt a lot from this website!

And you a great job Debbie.

JoFC said...

Fab post Debbie - I've added you to my round up post which can be found here. Looking forward to next year wherever it is! http://fullcirclefamilyhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/tuesdays-tips-who-do-you-think-you-are.html