Irish Roots

February 22nd, 2010

John Grenham


Last week I tried to explain why the potential market for Irish genealogy is so much smaller than the figure of 40 million Irish-Americans customarily used. To repeat: I would be surprised if the number of those willing to pay for Irish genealogical services isnít closer to 50,000 than 100,000.

There are two main reasons, I think, for the general reluctance to pay for services related to genealogy. The first is a vague feeling that, because itís so personal, genealogy should be free. Very few lawyers are pestered by people they donít know seeking free advice; every professional genealogist is. This feeling is particularly acute in America because of the way research evolved there. Thousands of small, local genealogical societies came into existence, offering to do free look-ups on their local records, on the basis that when they needed research done thousands of miles away, another volunteer group would be willing to do it. This is a wonderfully communal way to do research, but it is closer to Karl Marx than Adam Smith and not an environment where commissioned researchers will flourish.

The second reason for the reluctance to pay is, of course, the Mormon Church. Their dedication to family history as a religious duty, and their generosity with the records acquired in the course of that duty, made the business of charging for access to or research on genealogical records problematic, to say the least.

So is genealogy of its nature a small-scale business, somewhere around the level of jarveying, with all attempts to use it to create jobs and wealth in Ireland inevitably pointless? Yes and no, in that order. As a commercial enterprise, genealogy will always be small-scale. Its real value to Ireland is indirect, as a stimulus to tourism. Of which more next week.

Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.


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