Value for Money Examination 14;  The Irish Genealogical Project    Summary

A Government task force review of trends in tourism traffic in the late 1980s concluded that there was considerable scope to generate extra tourism business into Ireland by developing `genealogy tourism'. The level of travel to Europe from countries where there are large numbers of people of Irish ancestry (e.g. the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) was growing and was considered to have potential for further growth. By emphasising familial connections with Ireland, it was hoped to encourage more tourists to add Ireland to their itineraries. A range of initiatives to encourage genealogy-based tourism was identified. This included the development of existing family history research services.

The Irish Genealogical Project

Research into individual family histories in Ireland draws on a number of record sources compiled for other purposes e.g. church and civil registers of births, marriages and deaths, completed Census of Population forms and a range of registers of property holders. Because the original records are stored in a variety of locations and formats, carrying out family history research by traditional methods is very time-consuming.

The Irish Genealogical Project (IGP) commenced in 1988 with the aim of developing a computerised database of information relevant to family history research in Ireland. It was planned that, once the database was completed, a comprehensive family history research service would be provided based on a country-wide network of centres and independent professional genealogists.

It was envisaged that the database would be compiled in the network of centres by groups of workers on publicly-funded training and work experience programmes. The data compiled would be stored locally on computer systems linked to a common central system maintained by a central co-ordinating agency.

The IGP involves both Irish and Northern Ireland public sector agencies, locally-based voluntary groups and professional genealogists.

Funding by Irish public sector agencies for the project between 1988 and July 1996 is estimated at ?15 million. Of this, ?12.5 million was provided by An Foras Aiseanna Saothair (FAS) which paid the participants in the training schemes. The rest of the funding was provided by the Department of the Taoiseach (which co-ordinated the project), Bord Failte, the Shannon Free Airport Development Company (SFADCo) and the International Fund for Ireland.

This examination focused on the extent to which the project has succeeded in creating the computer database and in putting in place a system for delivering a family history research service. It also examined the effectiveness of the management of the project.

Creating the Database

TheIGP aims to include relevant details of all records from each of the main sources  of genealogical information in its database. Accuracy in the capture of such data is a vital consideration.

By the end of July 1996, just over 29% of the estimated 29 million target records had been captured on the lGP computer system although in 1990 it was envisaged that work on the database would be completed within three years. None of the 28 centres participating in the project had completed the task of computerising the target records for their own areas.

Progress on inclusion of the target records in the TOP database has been constrained because

  • 13% of the target records relate to geographic areas which are not being served by centres participating in the TOP
  • the TOP's computer system has not been installed in some of the participating centres so almost 4.5% of the target records have been entered on to other computer systems
  • centres have been unable to secure access to 25% of the target records for practical reasons or because agreement could not be reached between the centres and the relevant civil and church custodians of the records.

Examination of a sample of computerised records from six of the centres participating in the TOP revealed that 3.7% of the database records have mistakes which would be likely to prevent a record from being found during research or mislead a researcher. This is over eleven times the rate permitted under the quality control procedures set for the project. In addition, a further 6% of the records sampled omitted details contained in the original records which, according to TOP procedures, should have been captured.

Business Development

Business levels for centres participating in the TOP did not, on average, increase significantly between 1989 and 1995. Some centres are concentrating on the creation of the database and do not yet provide any research service. The majority of centres, the service offered is limited. Large variations in the prices charged were found when the centres were surveyed.

The business planning for the IGP envisaged the establishment of a central agency which would be responsible for market research, marketing and the development of a range of common products and prices across the network of centres. It was also expected to create and operate a central computerised index of the records held in local centres which could be used to direct potential customers to the appropriate local centre (or centres) or to a professional genealogist. The customer could then consider whether or not to commission family history research.

A company called Irish Genealogy Limited was established in 1993 to act as the required central agency but only began to function in August 1996, following the appointment of its Chairman and a Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Irish Genealogy Limited intends to develop a marketing plan for the IGP by June 1997. It has also recently set a target of end-1997 for the establishment of a central index in Dublin. However, formal agreements have not yet been reached with the local centres regarding what information will be supplied by them for the creation of the index or how it will operate.

Management of the Project

The very wide range of interest groups involved in the IGP meant that an independent body was required to co-ordinate the project. The Department of the Taoiseach undertook this co-ordinating role until August 1996 when Irish Genealogy Limited assumed the responsibility.

Although FAS, Bord Faite and SFADCO each provided significant funding for the  project, they did not take a lead role in developing the project and have not committed substantial resources to it in the medium to long-term.

FAS's  primary interest is in vocational training. Its evaluation of effectiveness of the schemes it funds is explicitly concerned with meeting specific training criteria and standards and in getting positive outcomes in terms of trainees' progression and placement in jobs. Although it is the main contributor to the production phase of the project (the computerisation of the genealogical records), it has not set any overall targets in relation to the completion of computerisation.

It was recognised early in the project that the appointment of a CEO reporting to the IGP co-ordinating committee was vital. It was also envisaged that the day-to-day management tasks would be handled by a number of project officers.

Three project officers with responsibility for development of centres, training and standards and information technology were appointed between 1989 and 1991. Unclear reporting relationships and the delay in appointing a CEO, combined with ongoing uncenainty about funding for their jobs, undermined the roles played by the officers. By the time the CEO took up office, two of the three project officers had left the TOP, resulting in a loss of expertise and knowledge.

The monitoring of progress in implementing the project has been ineffective. No budget or measurable targets were set and the gathering of relevant management information was sporadic and generally incomplete.

The Top needs to establish clear targets and periodically to assess progress relative to those targets. Basic information from all local centres regarding progress to date, number of target records computerised, access problems, service and income levels and visitor numbers should allow some estimate to be made of when the planned family history research service will be available, what areas are in need of remedial action and the further investment required to bring the project to completion.

Evaluation of Effectiveness

The TOP was established as a means of stimulating extra tourism business and distributing tourism more widely. No targets have been set for these objectives and no mechanism is in place to measure the tourism impacts attributable to the IGP. Consequently, the likely effectiveness of the project in contributing to tourism growth cannot currently be established.