Friday, 21 September 2012

Even better than a shop full of sweets!

When is  sweetshop like
a family history open day?
You may wonder how this photograph could possibly have anything to do with my blog, but there is a connection - albeit metaphorical. Let me explain.

Last weekend, in my search for First World War letters, I decided to go to an Open Day being held at my local leisure centre by the Bristol and Avon Family History Society. I'd seen it advertised and there would be plenty of stands manned by local family history societies whom I could ask for help in spreading the word about my appeal for letters.

Never having been to anything like this before I was expecting a small 'fayre' type of event, but it was acually more like a huge convention! The sports hall was absolutely packed with genealogical 'goodies'. There were local FHS stands, stalls groaning with books about local, social, and family history, a table laid out with neat regiments of old postcards, experts offering to restore old family photographs, a lady with piles of old family history magazines that she was giving away ... it was enough to make any family history buff feel like a child in a sweetshop!

Family history societies are a marvellous source of information for anyone interested in the First World War. Many members have spent years researching their own wartime connections and are keen to keen to pass on their knowledge and expertise. Some of the correspondence I have received from family historians has been absolutely gripping in its detail, not only about the war, but also the personal lives of the correspondents, and Edwardian life in general.

Some societies are already preparing to mark the Great War's centenary in 2014 with their own exhibitions, and other organisations are thinking along the same lines; one lady from Herefordshire FHS told me that her local library had begun digitising copies of the local paper from 1914-18 in anticipation of the surge in interest.

This is history at its most vivid, using primary documents which haven't been interpreted or edited (except perhaps by a wartime censor), which can be difficult to understand, are sometimes tedious and boring ... but are also amusing, shocking, englightening and moving.

History at its most rewarding.

  • For more information about UK Family History Societies, click on the Useful Links tab above

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