I recently asked the innocent question from our Twitter followers, what one thing would you change about the genealogy sector today. Well – it certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons, and there has been a wide range of very interesting responses. One of the best ones was the invention of a time machine so that we could prevent the catastrophic fire at the Four Courts, Dublin, which destroyed so many Irish records. A good idea – though I did wonder whether it would just be easier to go back and ask your ancestor your questions anyway… or would that change the course of history, risking a ‘Back to the Future’ scenario? So let’s rule out time travel and focus on things that perhaps might be achievable.

Open Genealogy Alliance

A constant theme was the reduction in the cost of ordering birth, marriage and death certificates – or at least the provision of an online image for a fee, as with Scotland, so that we could cut out wastage and speed up the research process. This seems an eminently sensible suggestion, and it does appear that the General Register Office, now part of the Identity and Passport Service, is talking about looking into this issue again. However, don’t hold your breath, we have heard this before. Also, and perhaps more alarmingly, there is also talk about reviving legislation that would impact on our ability to view information on more recent certificates, with large chunks of crucial information potentially redacted to prevent identity theft. The argument will be keenly followed by representatives of the family history world, in particular the Federation of Family History Societies and the Society of Genealogists – both of whom gave evidence at the Parliamentary Select Committee when this issue was last discussed. It will hinge on whether the chosen route is determined by the Data Protection Act, which may hinder access to personal information on certificates, or the Freedom of Information Act that encourages requests and openness to data. Let us know what you think about the topic.

Alongside a desire for cheaper and more effective access to core records, were various pleas for better quality transcriptions. May I draw your attention to the FreeBMD www.freebmd.org.uk suite of websites, including FreeREG www.freereg.org.uk and FreeCEN www.freecen.org.uk? Perhaps the work of many family history societies appearing online in increasing numbers? And let’s not forget the Online Parish Clerks www.onlineparishclerks.org.uk? So plenty of organisations out there to get involved with!

I’ll be filming for the forthcoming BBC series ‘The Story of Britain’ tomorrow, as part of the West Midlands regional show – so doubtless I’ll have a few words to say about the importance of local and family history collaboration by the end of the week!



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