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Subject:

Archives & TV

From:

"Moira K Rankin" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moira K Rankin

Date:

Mon, 3 Apr 2000 09:15:04 GMT

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (98 lines)

I have been asked to forward this response to our debate on 
Archives & Television.
 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
I am the genealogist for the new Channel 4 series, Extraordinary
Ancestors, which will be going out later this year, and my colleague
Steve Thomas here at Achievements Ltd, Canterbury, is the genealogist
for Blood Ties. I have also been involved on the periphery of Breaking
the Seal. 

I can only really speak for myself, not for Achievements and certainly
not for the production companies involved but there are a few
constructive points to make. 

As a genealogist, I dig up/unearth/uncover/reveal and yes, indeed, dust
off the records which archivists have taken such very great pains to
preserve so very well, dust-free. It's a question of metaphor and it's a
good one because it makes the public realise that something exciting is
going on. 

The television networks have spent years deciding not to make programmes
about tracing family history. I helped encourage them to change their
minds on that matter but the primary mandate for a television programme
is to entertain and ensure that people watch what is being broadcast. I
note that some of the people who wrote in to the web-site admitted they
had not actually watched the programmes under discussion! 

I have experienced first-hand the process of turning academic results
into an entertaining story. At first, it was painful- watching the way
details are stripped away to reveal the bare bones of the issue.
However, I then began to realise that the sort of programmes I would
have made, had I been left to my own devises, would have been thoroughly
educational- and very turgid!

Without archivists, there would be very little scope for family history
research. The same goes for all the volunteers in the family history
societies and for the Latter Day Saints' indexing projects. Equally, a
five minute story which ends up on TV will probably include the work of
a host of genealogists and record searchers, and many more production
staff. 

However, the average viewer does not want to be burdened with a lengthy
explanation of the process of bringing the story to the screen, any more
than any of us going to the cinema want to be told how hard the script
writers and researchers have worked. Those experienced in research know
and appreciate your work already, but the average viewer would simply
switch over. 

The aim of these programmes, overall, is to entertain people with
stories which are by their very nature successful ones. If there is a
higher aim (to which I subscribe), it is to encourage more people to
trace their family history, by showing them the sort of thing which can
potentially be achieved. If the programmes get them started, or
encourage people who have tried and given up to try again, then that is
an achievement. 

Once they have decided to get started, there are hosts of books, courses
and societies all eager to inform them of the realities of the process.
Our associated charitable trust The Institute of Heraldic and
Genealogical Studies, Canterbury, runs regular courses, a correspondence
course and the only nationally-recognised system of qualifications in
the subject. People will therefore be educated, but only once the TV
programmes have fired their interest. It is not, however, the aim or
indeed the place of normal TV programmes (Open University excepted) to
provide comprehensive education.

If these programmes are causing an increase in archive use (which I did
not realise until I saw the web-site) then I would say they have done
jolly well. Archivists- please pass on those in need of help to The
Institute, or indeed, if they want professional help, to Achievements!
And as to gaining a more realistic public profile for archivists, I can
only suggest you try as hard as we genealogists have done to encourage
the TV companies to make a series about your work.

To return to "dusty" images- both archivists and genealogists have such
an image anyway. Frankly, without my stylist and make-up artist, I
usually look fairly dusty. I don't know whether it is such a bad thing
for any of us- but please be realistic. The average person in the street
is not buzzing with enthusiasm to trace their ancestors or find out any
information at all from archives. To them the whole issue of the past is
dust- unless the TV starts to show them how fascinating research can be.
That's exactly what's happening now. It's early days, though- results of
research first, explanation of process later. 

Yours sincerely,

Anthony Adolph.  
-- 
-  - -- ------------------------------------------------------------ -- - -
                Anthony R.J.S. Adolph    Research Department
      Achievements Ltd, Centre for Genealogical and Heraldic Research          
 79-82 Northgate, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 1BA  http://www.achievements.co.uk
-  - -- ------------------------------------------------------------ -- - -


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