After some three years of work the Society of Genealogists is delighted to publish its history. From the very beginning it was hoped that the work would reflect not only the history of the Society of Genealogists over the last century as seen by the personal recollections of the various authors, but also the community in which the Society found itself; social and genealogical. The Society has been at the forefront of changing family history in the United Kingdom. It has been a vocal advocate of the family historian and has pioneered a very democratic revolution in the study of ancestry. Everyone has roots and it became the Society’s ambition that everyone has the same opportunity and ability to discover their ancestors.
At the time of the Society of Genealogists’ foundation J. Horace Round had just published his masterly work Peerage and Pedigree: Studies in Peerage Law and Family History (1910) and would shortly finish his work on The King’s Serjeants and Officers of State, with their Coronation Services (1911). The series of genealogical pocket guides written by Charles Bernau included a small volume entitled Some Special Studies in Genealogy, published in 1908, in which the chapter on poor law records is called The Genealogy of the Submerged. This was the genealogical world into which the Society of Genealogists was born. But, by championing the genealogy of the common man and fighting for the preservation of and access to records that included everyone, the Society has overseen a century in which millions now enjoy tracing their family history. The Google Generation of armchair genealogists may be surprised at what their predecessors managed to achieve before the computer age.
This history gives an account of the Society’s campaigns written by Else Churchill. Michael Sharp assesses the influence of the media on family history. It contains personal memories of former chairmen and members who remember with affection monumental decisions as well as the little everyday struggles. Nicholas Newington-Irving tells tales from the members’ room. Peter Spufford relates the inside story of a group of “young Turks” who took the Society by the scruff of the neck in the middle of the century and changed its whole outlook. Sue Gibbons covers the people and the collections that are the backbone of the Society’s remarkable library and many of the Library’s treasures are shown for the first time in colour illustrations. Our Chief Executive, June Perrin tells of the period of change in the last ten years. The book explains the background to the foundation of the Society in 1911. The gripping tale of how the Heralds tried to contain what they saw as the threat from the “irresponsible” new Society of Genealogists is outlined for the first time by Patric Dickinson. Of course any genealogical book needs names and there are indexed lists of Officers, Senior Staff, Trustees, Fellows and Founding Members along with an up to date list of all the obituaries covered in the Genealogists’ Magazine.
Naturally, the editors of the work are immensely grateful to contributors for their individual chapters. They did indeed volunteer to celebrate the achievements of the Society and this history is the story they wanted to tell. However, it must also be said that the book could not have been made without the considerable effort of the designers Graham Collet and Sybil Spence and the photographs of many of the SoG treasures taken by Ed Templeman. If, in the rush to print we didn’t thank them formally, then I must take this opportunity to do so now. It was great fun exploring the history of the Society of Genealogists and the people who influenced the century of family history. Many care passionately about the Society. I’m grateful to Roy Stockdill for his editorial guidance and sub-editing. It was a delight to check facts with Nicholas Newington Irving, though some still eluded us till the bitter end and if we have missed more than I apologise. I still wish we knew the names of the two lady typists who were engaged in the 1920s to create the Apprentices of Great Britain index. Any errors, omissions or oversights will no doubt be brought to our attention. I leave it to others to review. However in working on the book we became immensely proud of the Society of Genealogists and look forward to the next century of family history.
The Society of Genealogists 1911-2011: A century of family history, 2011, 216pp is published by the Society and available from our bookshop at £25 (£22.50 for members). It may be possible to arrange for a special hard-bound presentation copy to be ordered according to demand. If anyone is interested in this then they should contact the bookshop on firstname.lastname@example.org