First Monday

Letters to the Editor

From: Cathy McCartney < cathy [dot] mccartney [at] eneclann [dot] ie >
To: Edward J. Valauskas, Chief Editor, First Monday
Subject: Genealogy and the Economic Drain on Ireland — Emily Heinlen
Date: Thu, 1 Feb 2007 11:16:02 -0600

Dear Sir:

We would like to make a number of comments on Emily Heinlein’s article “Genealogy and the economic drain on Ireland: Unintended consequences” published by First Monday January 2007 [Editor’s note: see]. These points relate in the first instance to Heinlen’s limited and selective use of statistics on Irish visitor numbers on which the main thesis of the article is based; secondly to a clarification of the interests represented by individuals quoted in the article; thirdly to the accuracy of digitised sources for genealogical research.

Visitor numbers

Our first comment concerns Heinlen’s use of a table showing genealogy tourism visitors to Ireland 1999–2004 (Source Bord Failte), and the conclusions she draws from these figures.

This table shows genealogy visitor numbers dropping from 106,000 in 1999 to 45,000 in 2004. Emily Heinlen attributes this drop in visitor numbers to the digitisation of many genealogy sources and their availability online and on CD. “... it has had the unintended consequence on Ireland of decreasing the incoming revenue of the genealogy tourism industry.” “... the trend toward using these services is hurting the mainstay of Irish Tourism.”

The first point to make here is that genealogy tourism is not a mainstay of Irish tourism. The overall number of overseas visitors to Ireland in 1999 was 6,852,000 ( Tourism Ireland, Ireland Facts & Figures 2003 the overall number of genealogy visitor numbers that year was 106,000 (source as quoted in Heinlen Bord Failte the Irish Tourism Bord (see note below)). Therefore, In 1999 Genealogy was cited as the reason for visiting Ireland by a little over 1.5% of overall visitor numbers to Ireland.

The second point to make regarding visitor numbers is that the conclusion reached by Heinlen (that the availability of online and digitised sources of information has adversely affected the Irish Tourism industry) is totally without foundation. Heinlen’s citing of statistics is selective, genealogy visitor numbers should be looked at in the context of overall visitor numbers. There were 6,852,000 total visitor numbers in 1999 and 8,114,000 in 2005 (Tourism Ireland, Facts & Figures 2005 Total Visitor numbers for the period from 1999 to 2005 are therefore up by 1,262,000 or over 18%. If you look at the full story of visitor numbers a more correct statement to make is that visitor numbers are up, the reasons cited for visiting Ireland has changed and genealogy is less often cited as the main reason.

There is another statistic available from Tourism Ireland which is that while in Ireland 39% of visitors in 2005 engaged in cultural and historical activities, the equivalent figure for 2003 is 31%, (I don’t have an equivalent statistic for 1999). The broad conclusion that can be made from these statistics is therefore; that more people are visiting Ireland; more people are engaging in historical and cultural activities while here;a smaller percentage (of an already very small percentage) are actively researching their roots while here probably because, as Heinlen says, they can do that online.

Heinlen has made the mistake of taking a set of statistics in a limited context and constructing her thesis on that basis. Her context is very limited, she makes no reference to the relative importance of genealogy visitor numbers to total visitor numbers or to the major and measurable impact on tourism of factors such as; 9/11, the Iraq war, the outbreak of SARS in 2003, relative currency values, etc. These are the kind of issues that concern Tourism Ireland in their annual overseas visitors reports (e.g. Ireland, Fact & Figures 2003).

Interests of individuals quoted

The article extensively quotes Michael Merrigan of the IGS, and the Ulster Historical Foundation, without attempting to identify whether either of these represent any particular interest groups or any bias within Irish genealogy.

Michael Merrigan is a controversial figure within Irish genealogy. He has continuously and often unfairly criticised the Irish Genealogical Project (IGP) and Irish Genealogy Ltd. (IGL), as well as the free consultancy service for genealogy in the National Library and the National Archives.

The Ulster Historical Foundation is a commercial organisation that digitises data and sells it to paying customers. They have commercial interests to protect, and so their opinions on how Irish genealogy might be developed are not disinterested.

Accuracy of digitised sources

The author has made some comments on the accuracy level of digitised sources for genealogy research, she has listed in a separate paragraph a number of Eneclann publications. We would like to point out the following with regard to Eneclann’s publications:

  1. Accuracy. Eneclann staff are qualified historians and archivists used to dealing with historical documents. All our publications have a legal accuracy level, i.e. 99.95% or over accuracy, and can be presented and accepted in court as legal evidence. Compare this with the average error rate of 1.8% for the Irish Genealogical Project [Comptroller & Auditor General’s Report 2000].
  2. Full citation of sources. All Eneclann’s published sources are fully cited precisely so that anyone using the digital source can verify information found there, against the original document(s).

Yours sincerely,

Fiona Fitzsimons
Cathy McCartney

Eneclann Ltd.
Unit 1 Trinity Enterprise & Technology Campus
Pearse Street, Dublin 2
Tel:+353 1 6710338
Fax:+353 1 6710281

Note: In 2003 Bord Failte was split into two bodies Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, Tourism Ireland is the corporate body that compiles all industry data so we are essentially looking at figures from the same source.

From: Heinlen, Emily Therese <eheinlen [at] indiana [dot] edu>
To: Edward J. Valauskas, Chief Editor, First Monday
Subject: Re: Genealogy and the Economic Drain on Ireland — Emily Heinlen
Date: Sun, 11 Feb 2007 21:19:35 -0500

Dear Mr. Valauskas,

I would like to respond to the Letter to the Editor written by Fiona Fitzsimons and Cathy McCartney of Eneclann Ltd. in response to my article, “Genealogy and the Economic Drain on Ireland: Unintended Consequences,” which was published in First Monday in the January, 2007 issue.

In regard to the first point raised in the letter, I would like to point out that my paper deals only with genealogy tourism and not tourism on a whole for Ireland; therefore, I feel that my numbers and my conclusions do have implications for the genealogical tourism industry of the country.

In regard to the second point, the numbers that I used for my tourism data were provided to me by the government of Ireland and were the only numbers available after several months of research on the subject.

In regard to looking at the genealogy numbers in relation to the overall tourism numbers of the country, that was not the purpose of my paper. The purpose of my paper was the show the affect of digitizing genealogical records on genealogy tourism in Ireland, not the tourism of the country overall. Therefore, such an analysis falls outside of the scope of my study.

In regard to the numbers available from Tourism Ireland that focus on cultural and historical activities, while these numbers do show an increase in visitors in that specific tourism area, these numbers cannot be defined in such a way to show specific growth in those tourists traveling to Ireland to specifically focus on researching genealogical information, which is the basis of my paper. Therefore, these numbers fall outside of the scope of my study.

In regard to the issue of other events that may have be responsible, at least in part, for the decrease in Irish genealogical tourism, I must point out that the numbers that I used show that genealogical tourism began to decrease before 9/11, the Iraq war or SARS. I am afraid that I cannot comment on the relative currency values as I am not an economist and am not knowledgeable enough in this area to show such a relationship between currency values and tourism.

I would like to point out that while Fitzsimons and McCartney’s conclusions may be correct in regard to the overall impact of digitalization on the overall tourism in Ireland, this was not the purpose of my paper. My paper specially focused on only the portion of tourism that specially dealt with genealogical tourism. To this end, I invite Fitzsimons and McCartney to conduct their own study into what affect digitalization may or may not have had on overall tourism in Ireland.

In regard to the quotations used, I used quotations from individuals supporting my thesis. The politics of these individuals did not play a role in my choosing to use the quotations. Instead, I used those quotations available to me through my research.

In regard to the accuracy levels of the digitized sources, I would like to point out that I was not stating that any particular organization’s accuracy standards were lax. I was merely pointing out a widely known fact that genealogical records on the Internet, which include family trees, digitized obituaries and news articles, family history books written by amateur genealogists, census records that came from handwritten documents, etc., have a tendency to hold within them inaccuracies that can only be detected when the original documents are examined.

Thank you for your time.


Emily Heinlen
eheinlen [at] indiana [dot] edu

Contents Index

Copyright ©2007, First Monday.

Copyright ©2007, Fiona Fitzsimons and Cathy McCartney.

Copyright ©2007, Emily Heinlen.

Letter to the Editor
First Monday, volume 12, number 3 (March 2007),