Federation Of Family History Societies

Archives, Digitisation and Heritage Tourism Workshop

On 22 February Marian French and I attended the workshop at the Centre for the Historical Record at Kingston University.  The purpose was to facilitate discussion and disseminate information with a view to increase public awareness and use of historic records, and to encourage more people to visit local repositories and sites of historic interest.

There were four excellent speakers – Dr Nick Barratt (FFHS President and well known among other things as lead consultant for the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?; Geoff Browell (King’s College Archive); Phil Cooper (Surrey History Centre); and Mark Dorrington (Nottinghamshire Archives).  Nick outlined the thinking behind ancestral tourism; Mark told us about the project in the East Midlands, and the Nottinghamshire network in particular; Phil spoke about online access to archives based on the Exploring Surrey’s Past website; and Geoff gave us an insight into the iPhone app ‘Navigating Nightingale’s London’.

Nick spoke about the opportunity to personalise the past by visiting the places where our ancestors lived and worked; maybe even having a go at the trades or professions they had followed.  Part of the emphasis behind recent projects has been the growing extent to which digital access to archives has been made possible.  Census data and parish records are an obvious source of information.  Other name/place-rich data is being sought.

A new model is being developed using collaborative partnerships, crowd sourcing transcribers, and cheaper digitisation.  Archives are being presented as places of discovery, interpretation, and expertise.

Ireland and Scotland have for some time seen the benefit of ancestral tourism.  Free access to the Ireland census material for 1901 and 1911 has stimulated this.  In England it is more likely to progress on a regional basis.

Online networks are being used to promote offline activity, with a fusion of public and private sector networks promoting Museum, Library, and Archive sector resources; culture and heritage sectors; products and services; and commercial partnerships.  Events and festivals are good ways to reach the public.  Networks may be town or city based; county based; regional; or national. 

The following points were also noted:

  • Footfall to the town, city, region etc increases
  • Data capture is important to assist in marketing and product development
  • Community archives should be involved
  • Off-season economic boosts are possible
  • Academic links can demonstrate arts and humanities economic activity
  • Opportunity for co-ordinated symbiotic strategy for regional higher education and archive sector.


There is scope for engaging with mainstream education:

  • Making history projects – who am I?, where am I?
  • Generating support for history at university
  • Connecting with ancestral tourism through extra-curricular trips.

The next speaker was Mark Dorrington speaking from his own experience in Nottinghamshire.  He brought out the fact that the economic benefits of ancestral tourism (AT) are important for local authority archives, and AT helps diversify tourism in the county beyond the usual tourist areas.  The East Midlands project decided to focus on three counties – Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, and Lincolnshire.  The result of the Nottinghamshire project can be seen at

Mark said it soon became clear that many collections were not market ready, eg they were poorly catalogued or not catalogued at all.

During a Q&A session the point was made that title deeds are being destroyed, and perhaps AT will raise awareness of the value of these leading to many being saved.

Phil Cooper told us about the website established by Surrey History Centre.  This is an interactive site where visitors can leave comments to add to knowledge or post corrections.  It has been found that since the creation of the website, visits to the centre have been more in-depth than before.  By advertising online documents that are offline, there is an increase in footfall at the centre.

Geoff Browell spoke about the Navigating Nightingale app.  This free app guides users along the banks of the River Thames to learn more about the life of Florence Nightingale a century after her death.  Along the route, important features and buildings are highlighted that retell the story of her pioneering work in sanitation, nursing and hospital reform.  More about this app can be seen at

It is hoped that the slides from the presentations will be posted shortly on the website of the Centre for the Historical Record at and also a recording of the event.

Ancestral tourism is a very good example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  We are likely to hear much more about this in the coming months and years.  I would encourage all family history societies to get involved wherever possible.


Roger Lewry
FFHS Archives Liaison

28 February 2012

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