A Nostalgic Look back at Genealogy Shows

It is a month ago since the #FamilyHistoryLive show and what a month that has been! I thought it might be an opportunity to have an interlude from European Ancestors material!

I recently was searching in my office for something and came across something from one of the very first significant family history shows here in the UK. I subsequently placed said item in a safe place and then of course forgot where the safe place was only coming across it earlier today so this is a belated post.

In the days prior to the internet the focus was very much on the family history societies. In those days, there was mass transcriptions and then those made available by a look up service along with the sale of fiche or booklets of those indexes. Most family history societies held an open day or event and invited all to attend.

SOGThe Society of Genealogists (SOG) held genealogy shows and this image is of a carrier bag from what was likely to be the last show in that format, replaced by the Who Do You Think You Are? Live events, firstly held in London and then in Birmingham.

The events organised by the Society of Genealogists were low key and friendly, and took place at the Royal Horticultural Halls in London. I remember the first show, which was I think in 1999 and the queue to enter was going around the block. Those were the days!

There was no lectures or speakers, [incorrect – I was just reading The Genealogist, the journal of the SOG and it mentioned that there was indeed lectures, 27 of them!] it was a format that provided opportunity for Societies to recruit members, sell genealogical products and meet fellow enthusiasts. In fact, it was at the show in 2002 that the Anglo Italian Family History Society had their inaugural meeting and formed as a society

The tipping point came when WDYTYA was launched, first as a TV series and then a magazine. I guess it seemed a natural progression that the SOG event would become intricately linked with this new style of show that encouraged learning and speakers. Indeed, I spoke several times at the show when it was held at the NEC (National Exhibition Centre).

The internet explosion of course gave way to the commercial organisations, 1837.com became I think BrightSolid then morphed into FindMyPast. Ancestry became a leading organisation and FamilySearch has moved into the organisation it is now, with millions of records online and the amount is growing. FamilySearch recently celebrated it’s 20th Anniversary. Shows such as those organised by local societies began to fade into the past, although there are still a number around and they need to be supported by other societies and genealogists. If we do not, then they will fade into the past, much like our ancestors did.

We have moved from being a country that has had the purchasing of genealogical material at the heart of these events, to the shows being more of a learning experience with the ability to purchase and network with fellow genealogists.

The demise of WDYTYA? Live in 2017 was a shock to the genealogical community. No doubt because of the ability to balance the financial books. There is a fine line between making a profit, or breaking even whilst still attracting the public and being affordable to the genealogical groups. During the last year there were no shows in the UK, although there was Back to the Past in Ireland.

This year there are three events. Firstly, FamilyTreeLive hosted by Family Tree Magazine (UK) and the Federation of History Societies which took place at the end of April. I spoke at that event – a presentation and a workshop.

I have been selected as both an Ambassador and speaker for RootsTech London, when that takes place in late October, more on that in the coming weeks.

RootsTech London looks to be an interesting event and I am curious to see if it will have the draw that FamilyTreeLive did. I suspect the vibe will be quite different.

I shall be back later today with a much overdue review of #FamilyTreeLive.

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European Ancestors – Portuguese Surnames

255px-Flag_of_Portugal.svgRather similar to Spanish surnames, Portuguese ones are divided into:

  • First names – Nomes Proprios
  • Last names – Apelidos

Last names are formed from surnames representing the heritage from both sides of the family.

Such as:

  • First names – Jose Maria
  • Surnames –
    • Mothers side = Almelda
    • Fathers side = de Pais Vierra.

According to Portuguese law, there can be a maximum of two first names and up to four family names. Each name can be a simple one, such as Almelda or a Composite name, such as de Pais Vieria. An additional complication is that siblings may take on different surnames from their heritage, so a different surname does not necessarily mean step siblings or half siblings.

Women are not expected to change their surname upon marriage and if they do, they cannot drop their existing name. The married name “simply” tacks onto the existing name.

Men can legally change their name to that of their wife and have been able to do so since the 1970’s but in 2014, it was estimated that only 5% of men had actually done so.

Portugal has a list of “approved” names that must be adhered to when naming a child and some are listed as gender specific.

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European Ancestors – Regions of Unified Italy

Continuing with the migration of the European Ancestors material. Italy is divided into 20 regions. Those marked with * indicate they have a degree of autonomy and can enable legislation at a local level. The Country is broken down further into 109 provinces and 8,101 municipalities.


Map courtesy of FamilySearch


  1. Abruzzo
  2. Aosta Valley *
  3. Apulia (Puglia)
  4. Basilicata
  5. Calabria
  6. Campania
  7. Emilia-Romagna
  8. Friuli-Venezia Giulia *
  9. Lazio
  10. Liguria
  11. Lombardy (Lombardia)
  12. Marche
  13. Molise
  14. Piedmont (Piemonte)
  15. Sardinia (Sardegna)
  16. Sicily (Sicilia) *
  17. Trentino-Alto Adige *
  18. Tuscany (Toscana)
  19. Umbria
  20. Veneto
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European Ancestors – Spanish Surnames

spanish flagContinuing with the European Ancestors material.

In Spain children typically are given their first name followed by two surnames.

The first surname represents their father’s surname and the second represents their mother’s surname.

Since 1999, the gender equality laws have made a provision for some surname transposition and where parents are unable to agree the order of the surnames the decision is made by the official presiding over the birth registration.

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European Ancestors – Researching in Portugal


courtesy of Wikipedia

The obligation to keep church parish records began on 11 November 1563 following a session of the Council of Trent.

There are three distinct phases of that researchers in Portugal should be aware of.

  • Between 16th and the end of 17th Centuries information recorded in Portuguese records was at the decision of the Priest. Some recorded more details, whilst others recorded just the minimum.
  • Late 17th Century to around 1860 we see an additional amount of information provided
    • Baptisms recorded the place of birth.
    • Marriage recorded parents of bride and groom
    • Deaths included the name of the widow or widower.
  • 1860-1911 there is the standardisation of records following a Royal Decree in August 1859.
    • Birth records included the occupation of the father, residence of the parents, Grandparents names and residences and the name and addresses of the witnesses.
    • Marriage records included Marital status of the bride and groom, name and residences of the parents of both bride and groom and the same of the witnesses, the age of bride and groom and their occupations from 1900.
    • Death records include the residence of the deceased, names of the deceased parents or spouse. On occasions the records also provide the details of the deceased Grandparents.

In Portugal there are the following archives:

  • National Archives
  • 17 District Archives
  • 4 Regional Archives
  • 3 Municipal Archives
  • 1 Diocesan Archives

The website tombo.pt is an amalgamation of material from all those archives, but does not necessarily mean that all the contents of an archive has been uploaded to the website.

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European Ancestors – Surnames

If you are researching an European surname there is a chance you are capturing every instance of that surname wherever you locate it irrespective of whether it connects to your own family or not.

The concept of examining the details and focus of a surname is not necessarily an obvious one and yet can provide amazing insight to your ancestry even in the very broadest of terms.

I would recommend that researchers visit the Guild of One-Name Studies website and insert the surname into the search box on the top right. That will enable you to do several things:

  1. Determine if the surname is registered with the Guild
  2. Determine if the surname is recorded in the numerous indexes of the Guild, which are constantly being updated
  3. Access the joining page of the Guild. You do not need to register a surname in order to join the Guild.

Where-in-the-World-Jan-2018-768x538The image shown above is a representation of European surnames registered with the Guild as of  January 2019. Is your Surname there?

Useful Resources

  • Surname Research Guide FTM CoverThe Surname Research Guide by Julie Goucher & The Guild of One-Name Studies published by Family Tree Magazine (UK) and issued with April 2019 magazine (print and digital)
  • The Surnames Handbook by Debbie Kennett, Published History Press, 2012, ISBN 978 – 0752468624
  • The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: The Art of a One-Name Study, Published by the Guild of One-Name Studies, 2012, ISBN 978 – 1903463161
  • Our Italian Surnames by Joseph G. Fucilla, Published Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc, 1949 (reprinted 2003) ISBN 978 – 0806311878
  • Surname Atlas by Archer Software (based upon the UK 1881 Census)
  • Pharos Introduction to One-Name Studies
Posted in European Ancestors, Genealogy, One-Name Studies, Pharos - Introduction to One-Name Studies course, Surnames | Leave a comment

European Ancestors – Channel Islands

The Channel Islands is made up of five different islands, each one represented by their own flag, as 1407312087illustrated here. The islands are Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm.

The islands are located in the English Channel close to the Normandy coastline and are a crown dependency. The islands are governed by two Bailiwicks – One representing Jersey and other Guernsey. The Channel Islands was the only territory within the crown dependency to be occupied by Germany in the Second World War.

Whilst the Channel Islands falls outside of the remit of European Ancestors, I have nonetheless provided a set of links and general information for the island to assist you in your research.

General Sites

Genealogical and Historical Sites

Recommended Books & Papers

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European Ancestors – Isle of Man

IOM FlagMost well known as the venue for the TT Motorsport races, the island is located in the North Sea between Great Britain and Ireland

The Isle of Man is a British Crown Dependency, which is self governing, however, Britain is responsible for it’s defence and external affairs. Britain also retains some powers to legislate the Island should the needs arise.

The Isle of Man is not part of the European Union.

The island has been inhabited since 6500 BC and is one of the Celtic nations. Manx language is a branch of Gaelic and it’s cultural influence began as early as the fifth century.

Whilst the Isle of Man falls outside of the parameters of European Ancestors, I felt it was worth including it here regardless and have therefore provided a set of links and general information for the island to assist you in your research.

General Sites

Genealogical and Historical Sites

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European Ancestors – Surname Distribution Maps

Surname distribution maps are very helpful in identifying a presence for a surname in a particular country. Below there are a list of Country specific distribution maps.

On a global scale is best site is World Profiler – this site which is run by a university in the UK has had issues for a while. The site takes a surname, asks for an email address and the gender of the requester, these are for statistical purposes. The site also uses Adobe Flash Player and coupled with the statistical material it often sends some browsers into a panic!

I have used the site initially successfully with Chrome, then Microsoft Edge without issue. Sadly the site is, at the time of writing (23 May 2019) unavailable and I hope it returns, which is why I have left the link in place. If you find it working, please do leave me a comment! In the meantime, you can see an example below for the surname of Orlando

World Profiler - Orlando

Surname distribution for the name of ORLANDO

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European Ancestors – Migration Links Polish in Persia (Iran)

From 1942 until the end of the Second World War there was a population 120,000 strong of Polish migrants in Iran, this was part of around 300,000 Poles that had been forced out of their homeland by the Russians and forced into the east of the Soviet Union and Siberia.

The details are fascinating and strictly speaking outside of the remit here, but they should not, and if you are researching Polish ancestors, must not be overlooked.

  • Iranian Documentary, “The Lost Requiem” produced by Khosrow Sinaiin 1983. This film took twelve years for the producer to make as he researched, filmed and interviewed as many people as he could locate from the former Polish community which spent the years from 1942 in Iran. The film has been made available by the producer and can be found at YouTube.

Other Links

Posted in European Ancestors, Genealogy, Poland | 6 Comments