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  • Chris Paton (Scotland)
  • Mia Bennett (England)
  • Hilary Blanford (England)
  • Maggie Gaffney (New Zealand)
  • Shauna Hicks (Queensland)
  • Eric Kopittke (Queensland)
  • Rosemary Kopittke (Queensland)
  • Michelle Patient (New Zealand)
  • Helen Smith (Queensland)

Lead presenter

Chris Paton (Scotland) – Scottish & Irish expert

Originally from Northern Ireland, Chris Paton is a Scottish based professional genealogist, running the Scotland’s Greatest Story ancestral research service (

Chris has lectured extensively across Britain, Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. A regular contributor to several UK based family history publications, and author of many books and guides, he also writes the daily Scottish GENES (Genealogy News and Events) blog at, and edits the monthly eNews publication for members of the Association of Professional Genealogists (

A holder of a Postgraduate Diploma in Genealogical Studies, Chris has also tutored for the University of Strathclyde’s postgraduate genealogical studies program (, and teaches online Scottish and Irish genealogy courses through Pharos Teaching and Tutoring Ltd (

Laphroaig and Connemara are his whiskies of choice!

Other presenters

Mia Bennett (England)

Mia has researched her family history for over 25 years and is a professional genealogist specialising in solving family history mysteries using DNA.

She is an Associate of AGRA and is studying at the IHGS. She gives talks and runs workshops internationally. She has a strong connection with the Society of Genealogists in London having been a trustee.

With two Unlock the Past cruises and several trips to events around the world, she loves to meet others who share her passion.

Her website features blogs about her family as well as a gradually expanding ‘Information’ page.

Hilary Blanford (England)

Hilary is a retired occupational therapist. Her last teaching post was as senior lecturer and course leader at the University of Westminster before returning to a clinical role in a research post.

She first became interested in her family’s history as a teenager when finding her great grandparents’ marriage certificate and discovered that they had been married by one of the Baden Powell family. This interest was fuelled by another family member showing her how to record family history.

Post retirement she has enjoyed unravelling family relationships, especially using DNA tools. She is currently the Chairman of the East Surrey Family History Society and enjoys teaching and helping others in their genealogical research.

Maggie Gaffney (New Zealand)

Maggie Gaffney is a professional genealogist and speaker living in Wellington. A fourth-generation New Zealander, she has traced her ancestors back to Ireland, England and Scotland. She became interested in family history through a school project in her teens, and then was totally hooked while living overseas, visiting archives and ancestral villages across the UK and Ireland (usually with her three children in tow).

Since moving back to New Zealand in 2016, Maggie has been involved with the Irish and Scottish Interest Groups of the NZ Society of Genealogists and is currently Convenor of the Lower North Island Irish Interest Group. Her current obsessions are combining DNA analysis with genealogical research, and transcribing a 19th century shipboard diary as part of a One Place Study on the clipper ship Mermaid.

Maggie is a tutor with the Institute of Heraldic & Genealogical Studies and holds their Diploma in Genealogy as well as an Advanced Diploma in Local History from the University of Oxford. She is an Associate of the UK’s Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA) and a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG).

Shauna Hicks (Queensland)

Shauna Hicks has been tracing her own family history since 1977 and worked in government for over 35 years in Australian libraries and archives including Queensland State Archives, State Library of Queensland, National Archives of Australia in Canberra, and Public Record Office Victoria in Melbourne.

Shauna has tertiary qualifications from Queensland universities including a Master of Arts in AustralianStudies, a Graduate Diploma in Library Science, and a Diploma in Family Historical Studies from the Society of Australian Genealogists. She is a Fellow of the Queensland Family History Society; a recipient of the Australian Society of Archivists Distinguished Achievement Award and the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations’ Services to Family History Award.

Since retiring from full time work, Shauna has written 13 family history guides including the popular Australian genealogy online and Where Do I Start? and is the author of the blog, Diary of an Australian Genealogist. A well-known speaker at conferences, seminars, and genealogy cruises, Shauna has a wide range of knowledge on records held in archives and libraries. She now manages her own genealogy research business Shauna Hicks History Enterprises at and tutors at U3A Bribie Island on Advanced Family History.

Eric Kopittke (Queensland)

Eric is a family historian, presenter and author with a strong interest in Germany and the former German Empire. He has been actively researching his family since 1985 – in Australia, England, Germany and former parts of Germany that now lie in Poland. For over 20 years he has convened the Queensland Family History Society’s Central European Interest Group and is part of the German-Australian Genealogy and History Alliance.

Now retired, Eric studied at the University of Queensland and was awarded a B.Sc., B.A. and a Diploma of Education. He retired in 2014 after teaching Physics and Mathematics at St Peters Lutheran College, Indooroopilly for over 40 years. He completed certificates in German and English genealogy with the National Institute for Genealogical Studies in Toronto, Canada. Eric has spoken in New Zealand and most Australian states and on 10 Unlock the Past cruises.

Probably best known for the series Emigrants from Hamburg to Australasia: 1850-1879 which was completed with his wife Rosemary, Eric received the Queensland FHS Award for Services to Family History (1990); was made a Fellow of the Queensland FHS (2000); and in 2006 was awarded the AFFHO Award for Meritorious Services to Family History.

Rosemary Kopittke (Queensland)

Rosemary has been researching family history in Australia, England, Scotland and Ireland since 1985 … venturing, at times, into German, Canadian and US research. She has spoken at events in all Australian states and in New Zealand as well as on 16 genealogy cruises.

A statistician by training, Rosemary is an alumnus of the ProGen Study Groups, has received the Diploma of Family History (University of Tasmania) and has completed seven certificates with distinction through the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. In November 2022, she was awarded the degree of Master of Science in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies with Distinction by the University of Strathclyde.

Rosemary has represented Queensland on the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations (AFFHO) Council, held management positions at the Queensland Family History Society, and has been part of their Publications Committee for over 25 years during which time they have published over 11 million records. She and her husband Eric are probably best known for their work on the Emigrants from Hamburg to Australasia 1850-1879.

In recognition of her contributions to family history, she was appointed a Fellow of the Queensland FHS in 2000 and in 2006 received the AFFHO Award for Meritorious Service to Family History.

When not doing family history Rosemary enjoys participating in Masters Athletics – in shot put, discus, javelin, hammer and weight throw.

Michelle Patient (New Zealand)

Michelle Patient is a genealogist, computer geek, and DNA enthusiast, with qualifications in Chemistry, Geology and Family History. Growing up with a grandmother whose family stories, photographs, and memorabilia sparked her life-long interest in genealogy. In 1987 Michelle began  searching for her English half-sister, and in 2005 she reconnected her mother with her birth family.

With ancestry ranging from Deep English on her paternal side, with early Australian military and convicts, Australian & New Zealand early colonists on her maternal side, through to post-WWII British Royal Naval Support, her personal research covers a wide range of British Isles Diasporas and early Down Under research. She has separated facts from fiction, uncovering stories of will disputes, adoptions, children being given away, bankruptcies, and murder-suicides.

Adding DNA research to her genealogy tool kit has increased the range of Michelle’s methods,revealing skeletons, and breaking down many brick walls. Michelle volunteers for several genealogical societies, is a member of APG and is one of the DNA consultants behind the Australian SBS TV series Every Family has a Secret and co-hosts Talking Family History with Fiona Brooker.

Helen Smith (Queensland)

Helen is a speaker, researcher, author with a strong interest in medical and social history. She is a DNA specialist with experience in autosomal, YDNA and mtDNA and is convenor of the Genealogical Society of Queensland’s DNA SIG.

She has been researching family history since 1986 in Australia, England, Ireland and Wales with forays into other areas of the world chasing after mobile family members.

She has spoken in every state and territory in Australia, and internationally in New Zealand, Canada, USA, England and aboard 13 Unlock the Past cruises. She is the author of Death Certificates and Archaic Medical TermsGoogle the Genealogists Friend, many articles for family history journals and contributing author to Brisbane Diseased. She is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and Genealogical Speakers Guild.

She is researching the surname Quested anywhere, anytime and has registered the name with the Guild of One-Name Studies.

She is also a Molecular Epidemiologist specialising in Public Health Microbiology and has a strong interest in infectious diseases and Public Health through the ages with a Graduate Diploma in Public Health, Bachelor Applied Science: Medical Laboratory Science and Associate Diploma in Clinical Laboratory Techniques.

Contact details:

Speaker invitation

If you are interested in doing this cruise – and presenting – please register your interest –

We have a small number of extra speaker places for those with recognised expertise and presentation skills who come on the cruise as fully paid cruisers. Most will only do one or perhaps two talks, but these often add great variety and value to the program, sometimes dealing with subjects that would not normally be part of a conference program.

Unless the topic is of wide appeal, payment is not normally made for these talks, but we do offer payment for talks of good general interest that offer variety to our program.

Click here for information for prospective speakers.