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Anthony Adolph - February 2012

Published on 22 Mar 2012 19:43 : anthony adolph : 0 comments : 10448 views

Last week, I was delighted to discover that I was listed amongst the seventy or so nominees for 'Genealogy Rock Stars' on John D. Reid's American "Anglo-Celtic Connections" website. Other British nominees included Else Churchill, Audrey Collins and Chris Paton. I don't think any of us could ever be genuinely described as "rock stars", but then what is a rock star supposed to be like? I had lunch in the Cavendish Hotel recently with a very famous rock star, who has hired me to trace his family tree, and far from throwing plates about and eating people's pets, he behaved exactly like a very keen, very knowledgeable family historian!

February 24-26 saw the annual marathon of genealogical excitement that is "Who Do You Think You Are? Live". Just like the athletes of the Classical world, we all meet up at Olympia - though in this case it is Olympia in London, and not the original place of that name in Greece. And unlike the fore-mentioned sportsmen, we all remained fully clothed throughout.

This year, I was very honoured to be asked to appear on the Genes Reunited stand on the Friday of the event. I gave a talk on censuses (and how to use the on-line versions of them Genes Reunited) in the morning, and seminar on 'joining the dots' in the afternoon: it was about bringing together record-based research, surname origins and genetics. The latter was somewhat overshadowed by the all-mighty Tony Robinson (Baldrick from 'Blackadder') booming out from a nearby lecture-area, but all went well none-the-less (note to Mr Robinson, if reading: Henry VIII was succeeded by Edward VI, not Bloody Mary!).

The most interesting part of the day was meeting Genes Reunited members and listening to their questions and comments about the site, and indeed meeting some of the other members of the G.R. team who I've only known via e-mail contact, or less, up to now. Phil Moir, who is in charge of the technical side of the site, was particularly interesting. He showed me what the site looks like behind the flashy exterior: vast pages of computer code, broken occasionally by lines of genealogical information - absolutely fascinating.

Many thanks to everyone who came up and talked to me. I heard some really interesting stories, and had the enjoyment of showing some people how the site works, and even finding a relative or two. One gentlemen had a problem involving an ancestor who was a mariner in the 1840s. He'd not been able to find him in the 1851 census, but had not looked in 1841 yet, so we had a go. The ancestor still didn't appear, probably because he was away at sea, but we found his wife and child living with the wife's parents in Liverpool. I spend my entire working life finding people in censuses - but the look of absolute excited joy on this chap's face when we found his ancestral family reminded me of exactly how precious and thrilling it is to look back so far into the past - and to find your ancestors, looking back at you.

BrightSolid hosted a marvellous dinner for us and various other luminaries of the genealogical world afterwards, including Paul Blake and my fellow 'rock star' Else Churchill, who was looking fantastic and actually rather rock-starish. It was interesting to meet Debra Chatfield and Chris van der Kuyl for the first time. Chris is the man whose company bought Genes Reunited a few years ago, having already acquired FindMyPast and pioneered the extraordinary success that is ScotlandsPeople. Chris has had a huge and very positive influence on the world of genealogy, so I listened attentively to his speech outlining the firm's plans to break into the market of American genealogy. Good for him: I've no doubt he'll succeed, and that American genealogy will be all the better as a result.

I wasn't at Olympia on Saturday because I'd already been invited to another genealogy event, 'The East India Company and Me', at the National Maritime Museum. What a lovely, peaceful contrast to the mayhem of Olympia! But that didn't stop a steady stream of people coming up to tell me their family stories and ask for help. Hedley Sutton and a colleague of his were there from the India Office Library, so we could share the more obviously 'British-in-India' topics. I met a gentleman who was Indian, yet who was descended from an attorney-at-law surnamed McLeod, from one of the many branches of the great McLeod clan of north-west Scotland - so a descendant, ultimately, of Leod, who was a Viking. Another lady who was also mixed-race, Indian and Scottish: she had discovered she was a 14th cousin once removed of the Duke of Argyll. She said that she met him a year ago, and gave him a big hug!

She was waiting politely for me to finish talking to another family, when she overheard them telling me that they had some relatives called Adolphus, who had lived in Calcutta. She leaned over and said 'did you say Adolphus?'. It turned out that her aunt had lived next door to the very same Adolphuses - and she even remembered some of the other people's family herself.

But the highlight of the day came when I was able to show an artist and his young son the 1911 census entry for their family, on Genes Reunited. Unlike the earlier censuses, the 1911 images are of the actual forms that were filled in by the families concerned. There were the family, father, mother and eighteen year-old son, and it was the son who had signed the form in his very neat, ink-pen handwriting. The little boy who was his great grandson saw the image, and for the first time in his life had a sense of finding and learning about an ancestor. Maybe he will develop a love of family history as a result: I do hope so!