With a very early start (it had a “5” at the start of the time), I set off from Margate on the High Speed train to St Pancras International yesterday as the first part of a journey to my very first Guild of One-Name Studies seminar. The venue for this session was in Amersham, a part of the world I know very well and I took the Metropolitan Line along a route past my home town of Pinner in Middlesex.
I’m a relatively new member of the Guild, actually joining while watching the 2012 conference online. A few surnames in my family interested me but the one I have most affinity with is FOOK(E)S, the first branch of my tree I researched in any depth; the surname of my maternal 3x great-grandmother Louisa Elizabeth FOOKES. The point of these studies is to research a “realistic” surname, that is one which isn’t too common and, if you wish to register a new study, one that is not already registered with the Guild. That means CARTER is out, or at least you’d be nuts to register it! My maternal grandparents’ name GRAY (they were both born with this name) is already registered and being researched.
From the outset I have been very impressed with the organisation and enthusiasm of the Guild members. There’s equal enthusiasm across many family history societies but often not the manpower to properly service the society. While the Guild is always asking for volunteers, there is a depth of roles actively being undertaken.
Another feature of the Guild is their policy to educating, with many seminars hosted throughout the year and all at remarkably low cost. Such was the case in Amersham; a day of lectures plus a delicious lunch, for just £6!
The venue was a modern church hall close to the shops and train station. I knew a few familiar faces and had the opportunity to chat to several people over the course of the day. The seminar was very well attended, with 85 delegates.
The seminar was entitled The Art of One-Name Studies and the topics covered were very much about the nuts and bolts of storing and manipulating research data. After an introduction from host Chalmers Cursley, the first speaker Rodney Brackstone went through a range of sources for finding 2001 data via the Electoral Register. The point of 2001 is this was the last register before people had the option to opt out, thereby making subsequent registers only a part representation of the population.
Up next was Gerald Cooke who talked about Mapping Techniques and the various options available. These include Google Maps and the Surname Atlas although both he and Rodney were using the Batchgeo software which can take date from Excel (or similar) and plot maps.
I already mentioned the food, but lunch was excellent and plentiful, making the cost of the day such excellent value. Amersham is a lovely market town and the beautiful August weather allowed some time to wonder around and get some air before the afternoon session.
First to speak was Ken Toll who went through some techniques for manipulating data in Excel and some of the pitfalls people may find (date formatting being one). Ken also showed how FamilySearch have a download link to dump data into a spreadsheet.
The final session was the one I really came to see. Debbie Kennett, whose books The Surnames Handbook and DNA and Social Networking, I love and really got me interested in surnames research. Debbie is an extensive user of social media and I was keen to hear her thoughts on how she uses it in a one-name study. She took some time introducing the audience to each of the major social media platforms and how they can be used to connect with people with related surnames.
Overall it was an interesting day and I’m glad I made the trek from East Kent to attend. If I had a word of criticism, for me it was focussed very much on how to collect and store data, which as an IT professional is something I’ve been doing for a long time. At times therefore I did feel I was several steps ahead of the presenters and there was even some incorrect information given out. My expectations for the seminar would have been devoting more time to the sources of one-name information and collecting this data and less to the specifics of organising data in Excel.
However for what it was, the seminar was very smoothly run and without going on about the cost, excellent value for money. I will definitely try further seminars in the future. They are usually open to both members and non-members of the Guild, so if you’ve not been, I do recommend going along to see the Guild in action.