Thursday, December 30, 2004

The family tree industry

We are prompted to comment on Mick Hume's article in The Times of 17 December 2004.

Mr. Hume expresses strong views on one of the country's most popular hobbies, family history, asking family historians to get a life. It is highly unusual for journalists to take a line so opposed to family history, a subject largely applauded by journalists, no doubt mindful of their readers' preferences.

We enquired with several county archivists as to views within local government.

First we spoke to the beleaguered Garth Bland of Loamshire Record Office. Family historians are our bread and butter, he said. Without the continuing trend for family history research, our facilities would not have developed to the extent they have. Back in the 1950s, the original county record office in Bloggsbridge had 50 visitors per year and it was possible for staff to work almost uninterrupted. Now we have 13,000 visitors annually, nearly all of them family historians, with good facilities at the disposal of all users including students. These facilities could not have been obtained without public demand.

Next we spoke to Filbert Winkle, County Archivist of Blankshire, and clearly an ally of Mr. Hume. Winkle is noted as an enemy of family historians, whom he regards as latter day ancestor worshippers.

They start with little base information, tend not to make bookings and place excessive demands on staff. The situation is aggravated by government initiatives and TV programmes which generate sudden and large influxes of enthusiastic but poorly prepared novice family historians with which we can barely cope.

We are rarely consulted about these initiatives when they are proposed or planned and the government and BBC seem to expect our over-stretched resources will cope.

We would like to see more encouragement of students, businessmen and academics who have all but dried up, perhaps put-off by so much media coverage of family history. We feel we are now routinely regarded as a family history research institute.


It seems the matter will continue to cause debate.

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