This year’s Annual Conference of the Sussex Family History Group happened to be on the first Saturday of my Easter holidays, meaning that for once I was free to attend. Haywards Heath is over an hour’s drive away, but it was a beautiful morning for driving through the Sussex countryside and therefore a pleasurable journey. Unfortunately the local Park Runners had done a take-over of the car park adjacent to Clair Hall, which meant getting my head around the rather hi-tec car park machine across the road. However, that hurdle over, I made it in plenty of time for a coffee before proceedings commenced.
Well I can tell you that it was worth the long drive just to experience Andrew Thatham’s presentation. If you ever get the chance to hear him or to see his exhibition, then grab the opportunity with both hands! (You can find his website at www.groupphoto.co.uk). His talk, entitled ‘A Group Photograph – Before, Now and In-Between’ was definitely more of an experience than a standard talk. Basically he has spent over 20 years researching the lives of the 46 men depicted in one particular WW1 photograph. The photo of officers of the 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment was taken while they were training on Salisbury Plain in 1915, and included Andrew’s great-grandfather, their commanding officer. The material he collected resulted in an exhibition at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres in 2015, a book of his research and an extremely moving animated film.
We viewed the half hour film, which, without words, conveys the lives of the 46 men. The concept is extremely clever. There is a continually changing visual representation of the birth and death of the men and the growth of their families, with music clips throughout the period and photographs of them, their parents and then their children and grandchildren, together with constantly changing images of iconic news and happenings of each year. It felt an immersive experience and I could feel myself relating the constantly rolling date counter to the lives of my own ancestors, hearing the music they heard, and wondering at the inventions that were news for them. It was truly moving. An extaordinary achievement.
Later in the day we heard very good and comprehensive talks from Sue Reid on the British Newspaper Archive and from Chris Heather of TNA on records for Railway Ancestors.
I patronised the book stall and sought advice on the best way to conserve our various WW1 family documents. I also found out about the SFHG My Tree project, where members are being encouraged to send in their trees, ideally in GEDCOM format. This will definitely be added to my ‘to do’ list as it is another way of preserving for posterity the research I have undertaken.
Altogether a very worthwhile day out and well done to SFHG for their excellent organisation. http://sfhg.org.uk/