For several years I have been pleased to be invited to talk and participate as a “military expert” at family history shows organised by the company S&N Genealogy and its associated services “Discover your Ancestors” Magazine and TheGenealogist. The shows are excellent, with hundreds of visitors, dozens of exhibitors, talks, and so on. This year’s shows have been cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 virus pandemic.
With incredible speed and expertise, the organisers produced a virtual show. People paid a modest fee to enter, and could do online exactly what they would at a physical show: hear the programme of talks; see the exhibitors, obtain advice and buy their wares; and consult the expert panel for specialist advice. If anything, the online version gave them more as they could see all of the talks over a couple of days if they wished as well as seeing more exhibitors.
From a technical viewpoint, I found it superb. Heavy visitor traffic in the first few minutes (more than 500 visitors logged on the very minute it opened) presented some problems of load on the servers, but it soon settled.
Acting as “military expert” has been incredibly demanding at every show I have attended. There is a constant stream of visitors wanting to ask things, and you never know what subject they wish to cover. I have taken questions on matters to do with researching British military topics from the 17th Century through to the present day; some non-British ones, such as how to research an Italian soldier of the Great War; many people bring along photographs with badges or other features they would like to identify. It is, for me, brilliant stuff. I learn a lot myself and in many cases undertake to do some follow-up work if I can’t give a complete answer on the spot.
At this show, visitors booked a timed 15-minute slot with me in advance, and submitted their queries. So I had a day before the show to do as much background work as I could. The last slots filled up on the day, so that was just like handling the visitors turning up at my desk at the physical shows.
Technically, the meeting with each visitor took place using Zoom and I was able to do it from my desk at home. It was terrific: visitors from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and various parts of the UK. Everyone really friendly and enjoying the experience. My talk had been been filmed about two weeks ago, using some professional-quality technology that the organisers sent to us of us for the purpose – and they had done a great job of editing the video, sound and slides.
Really well done; really well worth doing and very enjoyable. And on to the next one, scheduled for 26 September 2020! It will take the place of a physical one that would have been held at Kempton Park racecourse.