Interview with Simon Fowler
SF: I am mainly a freelance professional researcher, writer and historian.
Although if the opportunity arises I’d like to find out about my great-great-
grandfather John Osbertus Fowler who captained emigrant ships to Australia
and New Zealand in the 1850s and 1860s. I have a telescope given to him by
grateful passengers for averting a disaster at sea.
JB: I wonder if you could tell us a little about your background?
SF: I worked at the Public Record Office in London and then The National
Archives (TNA) on and off for over thirty years. Latterly I edited the Archives’
Ancestors Magazine. I’ve also edited Family History Monthly and was the first archivist at the Society of Genealogists. After I left TNA in 2011 it seemed a
natural progression to become a professional researcher. I also teach online
courses on military genealogy for Pharos and at Dundee University and write
regularly for the UK family history magazines. But I particularly like doing talks
and lectures before a live audience.
JB: How has genealogy improved or changed your life?
SF: My life over the past thirty years has been bound up with genealogy. I’ve
gained so much from studying, teaching and researching family history, and
made many friends. Of course over that time genealogy has been
transformed by technology. We can do now do research and, even better,
make links between ancestors, that either would have been impossible even
fifteen years ago or at least taken decades to achieve.
JB: What do you love most about genealogy?
SF: Genealogists are more than willing to share their research and will go to
extraordinary lengths to help if they can. This amazes academic historians
who tend to keep what they are working on, as close to their chests as
possible, which I think is a very sterile approach. Mind you family historians
can sometimes be too helpful …
JB: Have you previously attended Congress?
SF: No – this is the first time, but I hope not the last. I have heard good things
about previous Congresses.
JB: What are your key topics for Congress?
SF: I am covering four very different subjects: deserters from the British Army;
local records for assisted immigrants from the UK; hidden gems at local
archives in England and Wales; and, how to write about family history ‘for
pleasure and profit’.
JB: How do you think your topics will help the family historians at Congress
SF: 1. to encourage them to use records which tend to be little used by family
historians. The temptation is to just to stick to material that is already online,
but this is only the tip of the archival iceberg. There are just so many more
documents that might shed light on their British ancestors.
2. to share their researches with fellow enthusiasts and hopefully with a wider
JB: What do you think are the benefits of attending a large conference like
this for you personally and for others attending?
SF: What is said on the podium can be very useful, but the real benefits come
from talking to fellow attendees and hobnobbing with the speakers.
JB: Do you have a favourite piece of advice or a tip or trick you can share
with conference attendees?
SF: This is very boring, but can save many frustrating hours. In search engines
put your query in double quotes “”. Type in Don Bradman you may come up
with all the Dons and all the Bradmans, type in the phrase “Don Bradman” will
just produce results for Don Bradman. Simples!