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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Entries in Britain (5)

    Sunday
    Feb242013

    WDYTYA Report 1: This Genealogy Event is BIG!

    Arriving at Olympia for Who Do You Think You Are LIVE

    Americans tend to think we do things in a "big" way at times, but U.S. family conferences have some keen competition in this weekend's Who Do You Think You Are LIVE event in London, billed as "The Biggest Family History Event in the World."

    Sponsored by ancestry.co.uk, WDYTYA LIVE is held in the Olympia exhibition center in West Kensington. I arrived at the conference center from Kensington High Street and caught a view of the hall from the train overpass.

     

    The historic venue opened 26 December 1886 with seating for 9000 people under a huge barrel vaulted roof, 115 feet high. The great hall covers more than one acre, and was the largest roofed arena in England when it was built. Olympia has played host to an wide assortment of events including: P.T. Barnum's Circus; dog, horse, home, and auto shows; a temporary civil prison camp during World War I; a transport center during World War II; and now WDYTYAL Genealogy and Family History Show (Wikipedia).

    The entrance opens directly into the center of the great hall where the hum of conversation and lectures compete for attention. The central booths (or stands) are large, beautifully designed productions. 

    Looking down on the findmypast.com stall featuring the new release of UK criminal records.

     

    A wide gallery runs around the second level offering a wonderful view of the show below, and access to private meeting rooms. I found a staircase at the corner of the hall and made my way to the gallery for an overview of the action.

     

    The huge barrel vaulted hall at Olympia covers more than an acre of exhibit area.

    Like any savvy conference attendee, one of the first things I noted was the location of the restrooms and food stands. In one corner of the gallery, a cafe/bar offered wine and beer with standard drinks and food, and on the main floor food booths from three popular restaurant chains offered a variety of selections. There was even an independent sausage-maker selling delicious sausage sandwiches on the main floor!

    A look around the main floor showed that many of the stands were set up as mini-lecture spaces with chairs, projector screen, and microphone. Posted schedules at each space displayed the frequent lectures on using specific software, search strategies, and other topics

     

    Alastair MacDonald presented on using DNA with genealogy.

    Exhibitors offered a huge variety of genealogy services and products. I saw everything from local histories and parish cemetery transcriptions to memorial stones. One of the biggest draws appeared to be the local society booths where regional publications and look-ups were available. In fact, everywhere I looked, visitors were engaged in look-ups, consultations, and searches with the help of knowledgeable staff or society members. 

     

    Visitors queued up to talk with The Photo Detective, Maureen Taylor in the upstairs Gallery.

    The WDYTYA website advises attendees to bring old photos for the photo experts, family heirlooms to show the heirloom experts, and documents and family tree for consultations. Although I didn't bring my research to show the experts, I found plenty of new ideas and products to investigate. Stay tuned for Part 2 of my report from Who Do You Think You Are LIVE, London 2013.


    Saturday
    Feb232013

    Meeting the Metropolitan Police at Who Do You Think You Are LIVE

    At Olympia, London for WDYTYA I stopped To chat with two former constables now patrolling the "Friends if the Metropolitan Police" beat. They gave me a lesson in the correct way to wear one's helmet -- low on your forehead-- with chin strap, of course.

    This organization would be a helpful resource for anyone with ancestors who served in the London Metropolitan Police.

    Monday
    Feb182013

    Keeping Cozy in the Cotswolds

     

    Snowy Cotswold country road.

    If you're a fan of English "cozies" you probably know about the Cotswolds. They are the picture perfect little towns in the rolling English countryside where evil hides in plain sight and only Miss Marple is sharp enough to spot the culprit. But I digress. . .

     

    Approaching Burford

    The Cotswolds in winter can be c-o-l-d.

    We drove across the hills through Bibury and then to Burford, a little village Mr. Curator and I visited several years ago with a London Walks tour. These guided tours are a fabulous way to see the sights without being tied to a formal long-term tour. Of course, we visited on a warm and sunny day in June, not a snowy winter February afternoon.

    Our tour that day stopped in the picturesque village of Burford where we visited a tiny stone church and walked around crooked gravestones. As we left the churchyard and walked along the lane I tripped on the cobblestones and my camera went skidding across the bumpy road. That was the end of my trusty Kodak and my pictures for that trip.

    This time, we barely slowed down as we drove through Burford. I saw the same quaint shops and the church steeple peeking over the wall from it's hidden location set back from the main street. Everything was quiet and still on this sleepy, and snowy weekday morning. 

    As we drove back to our hotel near Tetford the snow flurries faded and then stopped and the lightly dusted fields gave way to green hills dotted with grazing sheep and occasional patches of the first signs of spring in blooming snowdrops.

     

    Look closely toward the far field and you'll see the sheep grazing in the hills.

    This lovely garden and blooming snowdrops were right outside my room.

    Sunday
    Feb172013

    Stained Glass, Stone Coffins and Blind Corners

    Where Do You Think I Am?

     

    Malmesbury Abbey

    I can't hear the bells of Westminster Abbey from my room, but I do hear the local Ding Ding Church as my grandson calls St. Luke's only a few blocks away. I am here in London for next week's big genealogy show, Who Do You Think You Are LIVE, billed as "The Biggest Family History Event in the World." Lucky me, I also have a chance to visit with my son and family who live in London, not far from Olympia where WDYTYA LIVE will be held.

    And. . . we've had a chance to do a little greater London sightseeing. I arrived with plenty of time to get over jet-lag, and join the family on a trip to the Cotswolds west of London. If you've seen "The Hobbit" film or read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, you've had a wonderful introduciton to the Cotswolds. When Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were friends and fellow instructors (dons) at Oxford, they belonged to a group of literary friends called the Inklings. Their wonderful fantasy worlds grew out of their friendship, and in some ways, both men gave the Cotswold countryside a place in their tales.

    It's a beautiful landscape of rolling hills, narrow roads borded by close hedgerows, and fields dotted with woolly sheep. It was the Shire for Tolkien, the English countryside that was being threatened by world events larger than anyone knew at the time.

    Tucked in among the stone farm houses and villages are old castles, churches, and ruins. In midwinter, many of the sites are closed, but with a talkative three-and-a-half year old who wanted to see knights and castles, we were motivated to find something that might inspire and impress. We didn't have to look far.

    Malmesbury Abbey, dating from the 12th century, was the center of life in Malmesbury, thought to be the first capital of England and home of the first King of England, Athelstan.

      

    Note the huge reflective mirrow in the corner to give drivers a view of what's coming their way.

    We arrived at the Abbey by winding through narrow cobbled streets and blind corners on a grey midweek afternoon. Snow flurries made us walk quickly through the churchyard, but I did notice the stone coffin outside the beautiful carved Norman porch. Evidenty, the coffin had been excavated when a car park was renovated (sound familiar?) and placed at the front of the church. The helpful docent inside the church explained that the holes in the coffin were indeed drainage holes, left to help remove bodily fluids from the stone tomb. I had another theory, but will have to do more research on the subject.

     

    The tomb of King Athelstan, crowned King of Wessex in 925, stands in the north aisle of the Abbey. It's really only a memorial, however, as his remains were buried under a church tower, and the location is now lost. (Sounds a bit like the Richard III story, doesn't it?) Beautiful stained glass windows are espeically noticable. The windows from William Morris' shop made in 1901, are saturated with color and fabulous examples of early 20th century style.

     

    Luce Memorial Window, crafted in William Morris' workshops 1901

    Outside, we braved the snow flurries to stand and look up at the abbey walls and ruins where a great spire once stood higher than that of Salisbury Cathedral. I may not have ancestors buried in the churchyard at Malmesbury Abbey, but it was a very worthwhile afternoon.

     

     Malmesbury Abbey Churchyard

     

    Wednesday
    Dec052012

    Chasing Descendants and Finding Family History

    We've just returned from a trip to London and France and It's no surprise that our two-week itinerary looked a lot like a genealogy research plan. Priority #1 was to meet the newest leaf on our family tree and spend time with the big brother and parents. And like any careful plan, we discovered unexpected surprises and new adventures along the way.

    It's been a very long time since Mr. Curator and I traveled without a genealogy research agenda. Last year at this time, after a New England research trip, I was writing 10-12 hours every day on my new book and nursing a fractured elbow. It seems like one thing rolled into another and now here it is December once again and finally time to step back and take a breath. I do remember a time when a vacation included a break from mail, phones, and daily routine, and I miss it sometimes. 

    For this trip we decided to forgo the wonderful travel apps on our iPhones and use the devices in wireless mode to retrieve email and as handy unobtrusive cameras. Limited cell-phone coverage also meant limited blogging, and and days filled with playing firefighter, snuggling baby, and exploring the neighborhood shops and parks gave new meaning to "social" network. 

    "Unplugging" technology, even minimally to wireless-only, sounded a little scary, but it added so much freedom to our travels that I'm thinking it would be worth doing more often. Instead of shooting out a quick tweet or status post as an instant reaction to sights, and events, pocketing your cell phone gives you time to sit back and reflect on an experience and spend some time thinking about what's going on around you.

     

    St. Luke's Church, London

    As it was, it took about a week for that "aha" moment to occur when I realized a particularly unique feature of our itinerary. Each night we went to sleep within earshot of church bells, whether we were in a London neighborhood, a Paris hotel, or the Cathedral square of Strasbourg. What a treat to begin and end each day hearing chimes and bells calling out the hour. That doesn't happen at home, but it did make me think of how so many of our ancestors' lived within a parish where everyday life was directed by the sound of church bells. (I think there is a post for The Catholic Gene in here, too.)

    We also experienced a taste of ex-pat life as we celebrated a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in the midst of London's Christmas preparations. I was surprised to see that the local grocery store sold turkeys and all the fixins from fresh cranberries to Libby's canned pumpkin pie mix. Turkey is a more traditional Christmas dish in England, so there weren't too many to choose from and they were rather small. Size was vital, we discovered, because the range oven was smaller than American ovens. 

    Mr. C carefully measured the oven and went back on the streets out to stalk our Thanksgiving bird. He didn't have to go far, just around the corner to the local butcher who took the order for the next day -- 5.44 kilos (12 lbs) "dressed" to roast. When I unwrapped that bird I knew it was going to be delicious. Unlike our U.S. grocery store turkeys that arrive in plastic and emerge gooey and messy, this bird was wrapped in white waxed butcher paper, trimmed of excess fat, cleaned of bit of gore, washed, dried, and tied with twine. The "innards" were neatly wrapped in a separate package for the stockpot.

    Behold: The Bird! Why doesn't my U.S. supermarket prep poultry like this?

    We didn't need to do more than season the turkey and slip a little butter under the skin. Our daughter-in-law mixed up her grandmother's special dressing using local sausage in place of Italian, and we made another grandmother's signature sweet potato and apple dish. The only thing we missed was Auntie's Cranberry Jello dish (that hardly anyone eats anyway). In her honor, we made orange finger jello (brought from the U.S.) which was a huge hit with the pre-schooler. It was a wonderful meal. When family members can't be present at a holiday table, food is the next-best way to savor a memory of the past. 

    Ex-Patriot Thanksgiving founded on family recipes.

    Thanksgiving isn't exactly much of a holiday in Britain, and we emerged from our turkey coma to see that the countdown to Christmas was in full swing along the streets of London. Twinkle lights cascaded down storefronts, illuminated trees decorated lampposts and starry banners crossed the streets.

    London Holiday Decorations

    The Story of Dick Whittington and His Cat,
    as told in Fortum & Mason's Chrismas window displays

    We trekked to the local tree lot and brought home a tall fir to decorate. Grand-boy was more interested in the salesman's hatchet than the tree, and decided that every fireman needs a yellow hatchet in his pack.

    Grocery shopping, cooking family recipes, celebrating traditional holidays with a new generation was an early Christmas gift. We had time in Paris and Strasbourg for our own adventures, but it doesn't get much better than chasing descendants around the walls of the Ding Ding Church.

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