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Anthony J. Camp, MBE, BA (Hons), Hon FSG, FUGA, FAGRA [edit | edit source]

Interested in genealogy as a child Anthony Camp was encouraged by the late Sir Anthony Wagner (subsequently Garter King of Arms) to become a research assistant at the Society of Genealogists in 1957 and in 1961 he organised its fiftieth anniversary exhibition ‘The ancestry of the common man’. Having taken an Honours Degree in Ancient and Medieval History at the University of London he was appointed Director of Research at the Society at the age of twenty-five in 1962 and then Director (and Company Secretary) in 1979.

His popular introduction to genealogy, Tracing Your Ancestors (1964), was followed by Everyone Has Roots (1978) and innumerable articles on the subject. He oversaw the first weekend course in genealogy in England in 1965. An early interest in probate records led to his compilation of Wills and their Whereabouts (1963, 1974) and to his Index to Wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury 1750-1800 (6 vols. 1976-92); the administrations for the same period (some 2,330 pages in 8 volumes) he typed in retirement. His published booklets have included My ancestor was a migrant (1987), My ancestors came with the Conqueror (1988), First Steps in Family History (1993) and Sources for Irish Genealogy in the Library of the Society of Genealogists (1998). The growth in membership of the Society of Genealogists, which rose from 1,500 to 14,000 in the period in which he worked there, and its ability to purchase freehold premises in 1968 and then to move to larger premises in 1984, owed much to his work. He oversaw the development of regular publishing and of a bookshop at the Society. His popular ‘Diary of a Genealogist’ appeared in the monthly Family Tree Magazine (UK) from 1984 to 1998 followed by monthly articles in Family Tree Magazine 1998-2003 and Practical Family History 2002-2003. Revised versions of many of these articles are now being included in the FamilySearch Wiki.

Anthony Camp lectured widely in the British Isles and overseas, speaking at the early Conferences in the States initiated by the National Genealogical Society (from 1981), at the Australasian Congress, Canberra (1986), at the Sesquicentennial Conference, Auckland (1990) and at the First Irish Genealogical Conference, Dublin (1991), and he accompanied ten study tours to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City (1989-2006). He initiated the highly successful series of national Family History Fairs in London in 1993.

He was involved in innumerable committees and campaigns to preserve and gain access to records (notably in connection with the Parochial Registers and Records Measure in 1978, against fees in county record offices, with amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and with the campaign for access to the historical records of the General Register Office) and was the Convener of the British Genealogical Records Users Committee 1979-1997. Concerned for the improvement of technique and scholarship in genealogy and for its uses in biographical and historical studies he took a leading part in the foundation of the Association of Genealogists and Record Agents (AGRA) in 1968 (he was a Vice-President 1980-2011 and was elected a Fellow 2011) and was for many years External Assessor for the University of London courses in Genealogy and the History of the Family organised at Birkbeck College. His use of a wide variety of sources is illustrated in his most recent book Royal Mistresses and Bastards: Fact and Fiction 1714-1937 (2007).

Anthony Camp was a Trustee of the Marc Fitch Fund (1991-2003), a founder member of the Friends of The National Archives, is an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Genealogists (1982, the first elected), a Freeman of the City of London (1984), has the Award of Merit of the National Genealogical Society (1984), is a Fellow of the Utah Genealogical Association (1989), and Honorary Member of the Society of Australian Genealogists (1997), was President of the Federation of Family History Societies 1998-2000, has been President of the Hertfordshire Family History Society since 1982, and was awarded the Membership of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to the Society of Genealogists in 1999, the first genealogist to be so honoured.

Anthony Camp features in Who’s Who (1993 to date) and in Debrett’s People of Today (1990-97).

For his earlier contributions to the FamilySearch Wiki see the User Pages for ‘AnthonyCamp’, the two not having amalgamated in the change-over in 2011.

Anthony Camp has contributed the following articles to the Wiki:

Decline and Chaos at Family Search[edit | edit source]

Anthony Camp, MBE, BAHons, HonFSG, FUGA, FAGRA, &c.

I have never known a time in which I was not interested in genealogy and it is almost sixty years since I learned that the Prophet Joseph Smith said that there was nothing more important than seeking after the dead.

Consequently I used to have every respect for the work of the Genealogical Society of Utah and its dedicated servants and although over the years there were many things that I criticised, I believed that on the whole there was a slow improvement in the quality of the work that was being done, as there was worldwide. Whilst Director of Research (1963-79) and then Director of the Society of Genealogists (1979-1997) in London, I appreciated and promoted the GSU’s valuable microfilming programmes in the UK as these were undoubtedly preserving many records that would otherwise have been used to destruction.

I organised microfilm exchanges between the two Societies in the 1960s and was from 1979 to 1997 the Convenor of the British Genealogical Record Users Committee which was set up to facilitate and promote the work of the GSU in the UK and (with the Federation of Family History Societies) promoted the great 1881 Census Indexing project, the forerunner of many similar indexing schemes.

However, in more recent years, following the advent of computers, I have seen a considerable change in the attitudes and abilities of those in Salt Lake City, to such an extent that in August last year I wrote to the FS Multi Area Manager, Western Europe and Africa, who was anxious to involve me on FamilySearch’s behalf in the talks at WDYTYA, saying that I had to be frank, that I had the gravest concerns about the way in which FamilySearch appeared to be self-destructing, and that I was not altogether sure that I wanted to be perceived as being involved in promoting it.

I said then that the genealogists, and by that I meant those with a practical knowledge of research in the field, needed to get control from the computer geeks who knew nothing of what the researcher actually needed. Changes to the Library Catalogue also had shaken my confidence in the abilities of those in the Library.

I had contributed about thirty articles to the Wiki and I continued to make some contributions to genealogical queries on the Forum but seeing the number and increasingly disparaging comments about the absurd Project Instructions, I wrote to the FS Managing Director in May and had a polite reply but because it seemed to me clear that he intended to do nothing, I have also withdrawn from the Forum, determining to have nothing further to do with such an incompetent organisation. The Managing Director (or perhaps it was mere coincidence) did at least amend the gobbledegook on the opening page of the Forum, which everyone was making fun of and was itself a perfect example of the general lack of oversight or supervision on the FS web site; its survival for several years despite severe criticism on the Forum reinforces my point.

Bring in Outsiders. I gather that everyone employed in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City is a member of the Church and that consequently those with professional expertise in genealogy and the library sciences are in very short supply, but the pretence that FS is operated by competent genealogists is now little more than a joke. No doubt the staff are under pressure but their bunker mentality, their need to continually reassure each other with flattery (sometimes at irritating lengths), and their inability to bring in others with wider practical experience in the library and genealogy fields, even in simple advisory roles, is severely limiting the credibility of the organisation.

Library Catalogue. My anger and frustrations with the FHL Catalogue arose when checking the bibliographic details of books mentioned in the articles that I was contributing to the Wiki. For example, anyone who has done any work in the British Isles will be aware of the many books on different groups of indexes and records compiled by Jeremy Gibson, and yet if one looks at the FHL Catalogue it will tell one that there is nothing written by such a man. One has to look under “J. S. W. Gibson” else nothing is found, even though his full name “Jeremy Sumner Wycherley Gibson” appears in every catalogue entry! It is absurd that such a system should have been developed by people entirely ignorant of basic cataloguing principles.

My incredulity was further increased when I found that the year of publication is not shown in the basic display, and that one has to look at each and every full Catalogue entry in turn to discover the most recent edition of any guide which has gone through several editions. That is surely a very basic need. Is there nobody in the entire Family History Library who recognises the absurdity of this situation? Cannot FamilySearch afford to employ even one qualified librarian?

Historical Collections. I remember some fifty-five years ago when a lady came into the library of the Society of Genealogists in London and said that she had found an entry there on a previous visit which she now wanted to see again. She couldn’t remember where she had found it but she would know it when she saw it.

The creation of the truly wretched ‘Historical Collections’, their grossly inadequate indexing on FamilySearch and the unbelievably foolish citations that are recommended for them (which do not include the name of the parish to which they refer), has placed the whole of the Family History Library collections into exactly the same situation as that lady’s memory. One is already seeing queries from people who have found references to these ‘Collections’ who know not what they are, where they are, or what they contain.

Outside Salt Lake City it is this division of the material in the Family History Library into “Historical Collections”, as though Salt Lake City were the only repository in the world, which has rightly received most criticism. I find it unbelievably foolish and yearn for the days when the simple MS DOS version of the IGI gave a basic display of what one needed to see. The pretence also that the IGI is ‘now complete’, as recent articles have stated, is again beyond belief.

Accept Criticism. Not only that, but in this over-staffed ivory tower there is clearly nobody in charge. The children with their computers do exactly what they please. Nobody dare say that such and such a thing is not helpful, good practice or correct. Every form of criticism is blocked, sometimes in a quite deceitful and dishonest way. One of my harsher comments about projects needing to be done again because of the stupidity of the project instructions was itself amended by Lector so that I should not be aware of his action.

Gadgetry on Forum. The emailing of responses to those posts to which one has contributed, as is frequently mentioned, is broken and rarely works. The Forum itself is surrounded with quite unnecessary gadgetry. The ‘thumbs up: thumbs down’ facility should certainly go; the knowledge of the majority of users is not sufficiently developed to make such judgments. To know that a contributor “is notorious around these parts”, as one of the buttons tells us, may be some sort of internal joke but the words are open to different interpretations and have no place on the Forum. It would help if the identities of paid employees of FS were shown. They should not hide behind assumed names. Indeed their hierarchy and exact responsibilities should be set out in detail in some easily accessible place.

Gold Stars on Wiki. I have several times criticised the little group of unqualified people who plaster the Wiki articles with Gold Stars. In other fields this would suggest that the articles were of particular value but (in spite of what lolalynne says!) they are often (when the links work) extremely superficial and show little grasp of the overall subject, and they often contain quite incorrect or out-dated information. A recent ‘Gold Star’ article on London, for instance starts with a list of the parishes in the City, but makes no attempt to define the area known as London over the centuries. Another recent article referred to the Family Records Centre which has been closed for several years. Yet another entitled ‘Ireland Land and Property’ makes no mention of the Return of Owners of Land! Why are these articles not referred to experts before they are given Gold Stars, as any person coming new to them would expect? If there is nobody in FS with such abilities, then it would be best to stop such a useless and meaningless procedure and the funds used elsewhere.

Clear Guidance on Forum. The publication of the old Research Outlines has, I understand, been abandoned and the information contained in them absorbed into the Wiki, often in a fragmented way. Persons coming new to FS to ask questions often need reference to a basic rounded statement such as was formerly provided by these Outlines, and so some direct link needs to be provided for each country or subject stream on the Forum to some such basic article on the Wiki.

The old notes at the head of each thread of the Forum need revision to include a suggestion that some such text should be read before any enquiry is made. These notes should also include a request for basic information about the occupations of those mentioned. They also need some reminder that information that cannot be referenced is worthless and that the authority for all statements made in genealogy needs recording, and that no statement as to relationship should be made until it can be proved by reference to contemporary records. A reminder is also needed that FS is an international site and that dates expressed solely in numbers may mean different things in different countries.

Some comment that not everything can be found on the website or indeed online would also be helpful, as would another saying that because some entry is indexed on the website it does not mean that the person mentioned was or has since been baptised into the Church. A little more candour on such matters would go a long way.

Dates. On the point about dating, instead of sending the computer geeks to GenTech conferences or to WDYTYA, perhaps FS could be persuaded to turn its attention to the latter problem generally in the website and banish forever the dating system on the Forum that tells me every time I look at it, that here is a genealogical organisation that does not know one of the most basic lessons of genealogical research and writing! No date should ever be expressed wholly in numbers.

Proof. There is and always has been, of course, far too little said in FS generally about the need to prove the relationships stated. Everyone knows that the majority of the pedigrees on FS leave a great deal to be desired – I have described them elsewhere as one of the world’s greatest works of fiction! Of course the pedigrees are rivalled now by the pedigrees on Ancestry where the citation of sources is sometimes encouraged but where the proof of relationships (e.g. that a person baptised is the same as a person married) in the pedigrees as a whole is rarely if ever stated (beyond the census returns). Much greater emphasis needs to be placed on proof. I think it was J*... T*... who recently wrote on FS that proof was a ‘recent concept’ in family history. That in itself is a shocking statement. Is he not aware of the standards of genealogical proof that have developed since the seventeenth century! There was a time in the nineteenth century when genealogists went out from Salt Lake City to the New England Society in Boston to learn about best practice in record keeping and genealogy; that time has undoubtedly come again.

Guesswork. I was deeply disturbed in this connection to see several suggestions on the Forum that genealogy is at best a series of informed guesses and I was absolutely appalled to see a series of articles on the Wiki by D*... D*... about his discovery of the wonderful world of guessing which he promotes as though he had discovered a new religion and which unfortunately, it appears, despite adverse criticism no one has the authority to amend or delete.

Labyrinthine FamilySearch. There are in FamilySearch, as has been said on the Forum only in the last few days, “layers and layers of bureaucracy and walls to block communication”. The labyrinthine FamilySearch web site is designed to hide half its features and the opening pages do little or nothing to direct the beginner. They desperately need revamping to give clear direction to users. If several versions of the IGI can be found in different places it needs to say so or link them together in some clear way and to state exactly who has access to them

FS was, it seems to many users, designed to make any adverse comment difficult. As I have said, it is very clear that in spite of continual mention of ‘those in charge’ on the Forum that nobody takes any notice of what is said there or indeed anywhere else on the FS related blogs, etc. The addition of further Forums/Fora on the social websites compounds all these comments and is far from helpful. The continual suggestion that one could get sound or better advice through them is a delusion.

Indexing Projects. My main reason for writing to the Managing Director was my great concern with the Instructions for some of the indexing projects currently being undertaken by FamilySearch. Anyone looking daily at the Forum would be struck by the arguments about them which appear there. Those who devised them clearly had no knowledge of the wording of English sources or of what genealogists require from them.

I could hardly believe the utter stupidity, for instance, in the Irish Wills Project that someone appearing in a record as “Arthur, Duke of Wellington” should, because his surname did not appear, be indexed merely as “Arthur” - the name “Wellington” was not to appear. Someone else pointed out that a similar rule had applied in the Cheshire Land Tax Project and that as a result the various properties of any titled landowner (between which a family might move) could not be collectively identified.

My disbelief increased when I saw that because “Mary” and “John” in entries such as “Mary child of John & Sarah Smith” had no surname, only the name “Sarah Smith” was to be indexed. In an entry such as “Mary child of John Smith and Sarah” only “John Smith” was to be indexed. Nothing was to be assumed. Of course, in large numbers of instances in English records the surname can be confidently assumed; not to do so is sheer madness. However, common sense had gone out of the window. I asked the Managing Director to look at some of the posts that I had listed in the course of a few weeks and to discuss them with a competent genealogist with knowledge of English records. I received no indication that there was even the slightest intention of doing any such thing. The root of the problem seems to derive from attempts to provide similar indexing guidelines across quite different countries with quite different record arrangements and wordings, whereas each country needs to be considered separately (as would have been the case by indexers in the past).

My suggestion that these projects needed to be done again seems to have been greeted with horror by Lector who said in April that it was “too late to change” the instructions with regard to the Irish will indexes. I have no time for those who can’t bear to admit that they are ever wrong. I very much doubt that, if the project has been done on computer, that it is too late. It would presumably be the easiest thing to list out those entries which do not include a surname and to insert one where appropriate. Why cannot this be done? Those who developed such garbage Project Instructions need to be weeded out, and the sooner the better. That seems to me particularly true in the case of the registers where surnames of children, wives and fathers were not to be assumed. All that work needs to be done again. Of course Lector is terrified that people will see how much work was wasted but FS needs to admit that mistakes were made and get a grip of the situation. I asked on the Forum for a list of projects that had been done with similar instructions but, of course, no one would dare to provide that.

The patronising way in which criticism is dealt with on the Forum, the unwillingness to relay even the slightest criticism to the so-called “powers that be”, the slavish adherence to the project instructions, which any tyro can see are absurd, has lost all my respect. To be told that one does not need to interpret a record in order to index it is ignorant garbage of the worst kind, yet has been trotted out daily for months. The valued assistance of the indexers has in many cases taken a severe strain and some I see from the Forum, have withdrawn their help. There needs to be a much greater willingness to reconsider incompetent indexing guidelines and the indexers need to know that their comments will be passed on and considered by experienced genealogists.

Unfortunately there is a quite unseemly haste and pressure to get the indexing done, regardless of the value of the finished product, and to standardise everything in ways that are not appropriate for every country. Those in the Church but outside FS, however senior they are, need to be told in no uncertain terms that their demands are unreasonable and that the basic abilities and expertise needed are not there. It is idle also to think that the necessary expertise can be furnished from within the Church alone, however desirable that may appear. At the moment every incompetent person and child, without knowledge or critical ability, is encouraged to make their contribution.

I hesitate to put words into the mouth of the Prophet but I very much doubt that this extraordinarily amateurish shambles which has developed in recent years is quite what he had in mind when he wrote that “the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead”.

November 2012.