Why you can’t mass produce genealogical research

The main reason, of course, is that our ancestors are too cursedly various to be mass-researched.  So we’re doomed/blessed by our raw material to remain a cottage industry.

But there are other reasons as well. Here’s a cautionary tale. A few years back, an Irish professional genealogical research outfit (Who Shall Remain Nameless) wanted to expand their market by carrying out research on their customer base. This was before the plague of online customer-satisfaction surveys.

To gauge the level of satisfaction with their services, and come up with ways of improving them, they commissioned an analysis of recent US customers. The survey was to be carried out by a third party, without the customers knowing who had commissioned it. The first stage of the process was the simple question “Have you ever paid for someone to research your ancestors?” Without exception, every single respondent, all of whom, remember, were recent clients of this research group, answered “No.” The survey had to be abandoned.

Both the survey company and the Irish researchers were perplexed. But this was not large-scale forgetfulness or dishonesty. The reason for the outcome was, I think, a basic mismatch between the perceptions of the professional researchers and their customers. In the researchers’ minds, they were providing a professional service researching people’s ancestors, analogous to an accountant doing someone’s accounts or an architect designing someone’s home. The customers, on the other hand, thought of themselves as researching their own ancestors, with help purchased only whenever necessary. Nobody was doing it for them.

In the context of Irish officialdom’s recently-acquired enthusiasm for genealogy (with one eye on the immense economic potential for the country of those with Irish ancestry), it is important to keep this in mind. God knows the growing official support for Irish genealogy in all its guises is more than welcome. But people research their own ancestors. All professionals (or tourism bodies, or repositories, or research websites) can do is help them.

Or at least not get in the way.

11 thoughts on “Why you can’t mass produce genealogical research”

    1. I fully agree. Using the Accountant analogy, they are My ancestors, just like the books are mine! I made the money for the accountant to examine, My ancestors made me!

  1. Well, I did pay the ladies at Rothe House in Kilkenny to obtain information regarding the Fennellys
    and was given my husband’s Gr. Gr grandparents history. We were asked “where did they go”?
    I have since found them in Waterford City and New York. I might still be looking in Kilkenny if not for the ladies at Rothe House 🙂 Irene

    1. I have loved having Rothe House in Kilkenny City, help with my family research over the years. Mary Flood, is knowledgeable and well informed on the local surnames and family connections.

  2. Agreed! For the most part, professional genealogists only have access to the same records that family genealogists do. Not only that, professional genealogists don’t have access to the tidbits of family lore that a hobbyist has. For that reason, it’s more difficult for them to determine if they’re on the right track or not. Last, but not least, they charge a lot of money for things that we can find can find for free! I would be willing to pay someone to look up records that aren’t available online such as those in the Valuation Office, the National Archives, the National Library, etc. However, I’ve looked into a few professional services and they don’t seem to offer this kind of service.

  3. I have been doing my family tree since 2013. I have gone through My Heritage. They have found quite a lot of information for me , but I have found some of the information a lot faster myself. Though I do need help in finding information on my mother’s side. Dad’s side I have found over 1000 ancestors. I thought it was going to be reversed.

  4. Spot on John! A few years back, I was extremely busy and trying to do my family history off the corner of my desk, but managed to make a short tour to a certain Munster county (which shall remain nameless) where I fell for the advertising being done by the County Heritage and Genealogy Centre , which offered its Professional Genealogy Research Service for people like me. I duly commissioned a Family History Report, paid the quoted fee (which was reasonable) and waited the promised ‘couple months or so’ for the Report. Almost a year later, after many intermediate promises that the report was almost ready, I got 8 pages of report plus 9 scans of records that I had already provided to the researcher as a starting point for the Report! The only work that seemed to have been done was a scan of an obviously hand-coloured parish map of the county showing where the family name I was interested in occurred and a typed out summary of what was on the already-known and easily available records. The whole experience reminded me of Percy French’s song “Are Ye Right There Michael, are ye right?”

  5. A digression but in justification I refer to your blog coming up to its fifth birthday this month – ‘Why are Irish records so weird?’ You listed the loss of documents arising from the destruction in 1922. I have a recollection of examining a book, possibly on genealogy, describing the material lodged in the PRO. Obviously, the work was published before 1922. Unhappily, I have now forgotton almost everything about this publication except that it was intended for a general readership. Compared to the sober guides compiled by Herbert Wood and Robert Murray [SPCK (1919] I do recall that the book in question treated its subject matter with a certain levity. Perhaps the unknown author/title might reveal itself in a subject index in a good research library. I haven’t yet undertaken a careful search of the Beyond 2022 reconstruction project website but I doubt if it features a bibliography.

  6. I have tried to research my Irish Grand parents from my fathers side but it seems that some records going back after 1700 time line are hard to find .
    I.am hitting a brick wall trying to find my grand mother Catherine mc Keon who married my grand father Patrick Cavanagh in St Paul’s Cathedral Dublin
    I am finding it impossible to find any ancestors of Catherine mc Keone

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