Irish Roots

August 30th, 2010

John Grenham

Here’s a cautionary tale. A few years ago, an Irish professional genealogical research outfit carried out some market research. To try to gauge the level of satisfaction with their services, and come up with ways of improving them, they commissioned a survey of their recent US customers. To ensure objectivity, the survey was to be carried out by a third party, without the customers knowing who had commissioned it. So, 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 for them, 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 the ongoing after effects of the Farmleigh meeting last year, when descendants of the Irish diaspora managed to convince Irish officialdom of the immense economic potential for the country of those with Irish ancestry, it is very 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.

Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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