I woke up with an ‘interesting’ voice but we arrived at the conference venue in good time for the ecumenical church service. The first presentation of the day was Julie Goucher, looking at the benefits of Guild membership and challenging us not only to make full use of what was on offer but also to make a contribution to the various projects, or to the running of the Guild, ourselves.
The next session was Dr Simon Wills, speaking on ‘Your Ancestors’ Travels by Sea’. This was packed with interesting information. Simon began by looking at the evolution of passenger-carrying ships from the 100 foot long Mayflower to the Queen Mary II, at over 1200 foot long. In 1620, the Mayflower took 66 days to cross the Atlantic, passengers were each allocated a five foot square space. In 1936, the Queen Mary I made the same journey in just four days. The game-changer was the advent of steam. In 1838 The Great Western’s journey time was two weeks. He even mentioned the Red Jacket, which was a ship that carried members of the Braund family to Australia. I wish I knew more about my great grandfather’s trip to Asia in the late nineteenth century. Simon outlined some useful sources for tracing passengers. He said that the ages on the Passenger Lists (BT26 & BT27 at The National Archives) were often merely the purser’s estimate, particularly for women, as you wouldn’t ask her age.
A buffet lunch was followed by Debbie Kennett, who was discussing genetic genealogy, past, present and future. She ran through the history of the uses of DNA for genealogical purposes and highlighted the early involvement of Guild members in this field. Debbie considered the ethical issues; for example sperm donors, who were promised anonymity in the past may now be discoverable through DNA. She also pointed out the problems that might arise when DNA results were not what the testee might expect. Debbie made several predictions for the future. She believes that there is really nowhere further to go with mitrochondrial DNA however we will probably see a drastic reduction in the costs of tests such as BigY700. She believes that the tests will become more precise, making it easier to identify common ancestors. This too may apply to autosomal tests and we can expect to see fewer false positive matches. There are also likely to be opportunities for genealogists to make use of tests that extract DNA from objects, such as licked postage stamps, or from hair. Indeed, some companies are already offering this but Debbie recommended patience, as this is an inexact science at the moment and in the future, more accurate tests may be developed. Debbie spoke about moves to create a single composite family tree, so that we can see how we relate to any other person. Given the wild assertions on online trees, the mind boggles. I can’t help thinking that this will be some kind of Frankenstein’s monster! In the more distant future, we may see universal DNA testing and we will all be able to confirm precisely how we relate to another person; then genealogy as a hobby might be redundant!
The conference finished with Paul Howes outlining the Ruby project, which is a collaborative one-name study that 35 people have been working on for over a year, in order to celebrate the Guild’s 40th birthday (I’ve been a member for 38 of them!). It is certainly a good advertisement for what can be achieved by working together. Then all was over, until next year.