Whilst working as Director of Research at the Society of Genealogists in the early 1960s Philip Haslewood Blake (1907-1994) disovered the frustrations of limiting research for clients to sources in London and had begun to employ a number of genealogists and record agents in the provinces, but he was often critical of the results. In talks with other professionals he began to see the need for some form of association which might improve their standards and represent their collective interests. His attempt to involve the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Society of Genealogists (SoG), Malcolm Pinhorn, in the creation of some formal body in 1962 failed because the latter was newly involved as Executive Director of the publishers Phillimore & Co Ltd and too busy, but Blake began to put together a list of practising searchers by area and subject of expertise which was further developed and refined when I took over the Society’s research department from him later that year, we gaining practical experience of their ability (or lack of it!) by employing many of the people mentioned.
The growing interest in the subject, as a note in the Genealogists’ Magazine said in 1969, had encouraged many persons to put themselves forward as genealogists and to solicit work in all branches of genealogy and record searching. Although some were doing excellent work, others had little general ability and did not recognize their limitations, lacking the breadth of experience needed to cope with the enquiries received. Complaints about the quality of their work and charges were not uncommon. The SoG received a fair number of these and it seemed imperative that some organisation be formed to provide a list of competent people.
Philip Blake did not let the idea drop and persuaded Brian Brooks (1928-2018), Managing Director of Brooks and Simpson Ltd, genealogists, to call a meeting of the proposed ‘Society of Professional Genealogists’ at his office in Fenchurch Street on 6 July 1967. Brian Brooks was a qualified notary and the son of a Hong Kong solicitor but he had largely given up his work to become a professional genealogist in 1961. Blake, a controversial and disruptive figure, had worked for the SoG from June 1961 until his dismissal in September 1962. Others present at that meeting with Philip Blake, Brian Brooks, Malcolm Pinhorn and myself were Noel Currer-Briggs, who specialised in settlers in Virginia, and Terrick Fitzhugh, the founding editor of the Local Historian. We agreed that our aims were to establish standards of competence and ethics, to be a representative body and to set minimum hourly search fees.
Blake volunteered to draft a suitable constitution which Brooks would discuss with his solicitor, R.J.V. Robinson, but at a meeting on 17 August 1967 Blake, who was never short of grandiose ideas, suggested that we use the constitution of a company limited by guarantee. It was agreed that the new organisation would not concern itself with heraldry and, as Blake suggested, that its name should be ‘The Association of Genealogists and Record Agents’. However, the solicitor thought that the proposed constitution was unnecessarily complicated and advised us to form a simple unincorporated association. He circulated a draft which made provision for the gradual retirement of the first Council members and of those who attended the least sumber of its meetings. This we approved in November when Pinhorn suggested that we approach Sir Gyles Isham to be our President, Noel Currer-Briggs was appointed Secretary and Malcolm Pinhorn appointed Treasurer. We also agreed that there should be an annual subscription of five guineas for both genealogists and record agents, the first draft of a letter of invitation to likely members being agreed. These early meetings were held at 69 Wigmore Street. At a meeting in February the proposed annual subscription was further discussed and reduced to a more realistic two guineas. We also agreed that the question of minimum fees should be discussed at the inaugural meeting, a guinea an hour for genealogists and 10s 6d for record agents being suggested.
In May 1968 I sent the lists of active record searchers which we were then using in the research department at the SoG to Currer-Briggs. There was an alphabetical list of names and addressses, a list of the London agents who worked anywhere, a list by county, further lists for Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales, and another showing expertise by periods, subjects and languages. I had marked some 37 that I could recommend from personal experience and ten about whom I had reservations because of their age or poor work, the remainder I knew little about. He had organised the Association’s inaugural meeting for 24 June 1968 at Stationers’ Hall and it went off well with 21 people present; the founding officers being elected to Council and Dr Patrick Smythe-Wood added to their number.
Blake kept up the pressure to promote the Association at every opportunity and already in March 1969 he thought it dying of inertia, complaining to me that it was 'really disgraceful the way in which this new venture is being piloted'. When the Council met on 9 April 1969 the Secretary, Noel Currer-Briggs, despondently reported that his 75 letters to further potential members had not met with any response and he resigned. Malcolm Pinhorn then agreed to send the names of members already elected to the various county and city archivists asking for additional names. He also agreed to procure some draft designs for a logo with AGRA’s initials (one of which was approved at the AGM) and to prepare the first brief Newsletter. Mr G.B. Greenwood, of Walton on Thames, was appointed Secretary. We owed Mr Robinson £60 for his services. At this meeting it was agreed to write to the Clerk of Hampshire County Council about the amenities for the staff and users at the county record office. Currer-Briggs would represent us at the World Conference on Records in Salt Lake City. In May Bernard Pardoe agreed to be auditor and it was agreed that ‘as far as practicable admission to the Association should be limited to full time professionals who were available for private commissions’. The Secretary was asked to contact the British Travel Association about a mention of AGRA’s name in its leaflet Tracing Your Ancestors.
Our first AGM, a lengthy one of three hours, was held on 19 July 1969 at the Ivanhoe Hotel, Bloomsbury, where tea was available at 5s 6d per head. Of the Association’s 37 members, fourteen were present, some having travelled considerable distances. Blake submitted a draft scale of minimum fees based on one used by the Institute at Canterbury which ranged from £2.50 an hour for work before 1500 to 40p or 60p an hour for work after 1840, with a minimum charge of £2, suggesting that members give a 25% discount when working for other AGRA members. However, the meeting thought that the scale by date was impractical, that the charges of genealogists and record agents should be the same and that the minimum charge per hour should be £1, fees and expenses being charged at cost, with travelling time (not including normal office journeys) charged at the minimum hourly rate.
Council Meetings from October 1969 to 1972 took place at my lodgings in Ebury Street where there was a conveniently large dining room, but Dr Smyth-Wood, who lived in Northern Ireland, resigned from the Council owing to the difficulty of regular attendance. A note about the foundation of AGRA had appeared in the Journal of the Society of Archivists and with another in the Genealogists’ Magazine was producing enquiries for the membership list and Pinhorn undertook to have the list ‘multi-lithed’. On 13 December 1969 I had much to say about AGRA when I spoke to the SoG about ‘The professional genealogist and his client’.
There were, however, several applications for membership in which Council thought that insufficient detail had been given about the candidate’s expertise and experience and at its meeting in January 1970 when ten applications were considered (four being elected and seven deferred), it was agreed that the form should ask for greater detail. I had myself declined to be a referee for three applicants, one of whom was Cecil Humphery-Smith. There was an urgent need for a Newsletter and Blake agreed to compile a draft. I wrote a summary of the SoG’s memorandum to the Standing Committee of the House of Clergy on the deposit and access to parish registers which could be submitted in AGRA’s name.
The meetings were lengthy and there was discussion on methods to deal with unwanted commissions (perhaps by passing them to the AGRA Secretary or to another professional) and the wording of a memorandum on professional services, but the slender finances did not allow for paid advertising. At its meeting in February 1970 Council amended and approved a Memorandum on Professional Services prepared by Pinhorn and Blake, without reference to a minimum charge, it saying ‘members are entitled to expect as a minimum a remuneration commensurate with that of other professions’. Philip Blake, who was unable to type, read aloud his draft Newsletter and this was approved. It aroused interest and in June it was agreed that it be used to get over matters of policy and if necessary to ‘draw attention to undesirable practises which the Association hoped to remedy’. A member had expressed concern that there would be progressive loss of earnings as a result of Mormon microfilming of national records but it was agreed that although this was a risk that had to be faced, Council saw no way of diminishing it. Information on the lunch-time closing of record offices and on any shortage of record agents in particular areas would be sought through the Newsletter. A complaint had been received about the faulty work of one member. Malcolm Pinhorn resigned as Treasurer in June and was replaced in September by Bernard Pardoe when John Flower was appointed auditor. A further Newsletter was read by Blake and agreed.
The second AGM was held at the Ivanhoe Hotel on 17 October 1970 with Brooks in the chair. There were then 49 members. Denis Burton was elected to the Council to replace Dr Smythe-Wood. Some members thought that the subscription year had begun with the inaugural meeting in June but it was agreed that it commenced on 1 January 1969, the year’s accounts being amended. There was discussion about a geographical arrangement of the membership list but it was left to Council to devise one which would give more guidance to potential clients. The forthcoming removal of the Public Record Office to Kew was discussed as much inconvenience would be caused by the removal of short-term records like the census. Fees for searches in deposited parish registers were discussed but opinion varied and it was felt that ‘something in the region of one to three guineas would not be amiss’.
The need for publicity and the possibility of paid advertisements was discussed in January 1971 when Pinhorn proposed that an ad hoc committee consisting of the Chairman and two others deal with any complaints that required immediate attention, its actions being reported to the next meeting of Council. Council agreed to recommend that members’ accounts to clients should be submitted on separate sheets and Brian Brooks, having steered the Association since its foundation, decided to resign as Chairman and Noel Currer-Briggs was elected in his stead.
A draft membership list approved in April 1971 suggested that £5 or $15 be sent with any initial enquiry in order for the genealogist to assess the work likely to be involved but it was agreed that it be sent to members for their approval before use. Denis Burton agreed to draft a letter to the Registrar General about the worsening conditions in the public search room at Somerset House and suggested to Council that a fee of ten pence be charged for access to the galaries, this being deducted from the cost of any certificate obtained. In July it was reported that Mr Greenwood had resigned as Secretary and that Peter Dewar, an accountant, had volunteered to undertake the role. This was approved in October. Noel Currer-Briggs chaired the third AGM that year at the Society of Genealogists when the Hon. Guy Strutt was elected to Council, Malcom Pinhorn having resigned. There were 50 members.
In these early days, with Council finding its way, much time was spent on AGRA’s relationship with the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies which had been founded at Canterbury in 1961. Blake was particularly keen that our fledgling organisation should be quite separate from the Institute and many of us had considerable unease at the Institute’s exaggerated claims and the misleading manner in which it represented itself. Some at that time had serious reservations about its methods of work and examinations, the retention of certificates and documents paid for by the client and its very limited representation. Brian Brooks had told the first AGM in 1969 that he had been approached by Cecil Humphery-Smith, Director of the Institute, to discuss matters of mutual interest but that the suggestion had been courteously declined, the intension being, as Brooks said, that membership of AGRA ‘should itself stand as an officially recognised professional qualification’. In February 1970 Humphery-Smith had discussed with Blake the possibility of including the names of AGRA members in a ‘Register of Genealogists’ and Peter Dewar, as an AGRA member, had applied for registration with the Institute, but Council felt that the application should be considered on its own merits and agreed that it ‘had no wish to influence its members in matters of this sort’. Humphery-Smith was elected a member of AGRA in June 1970. However, Council again agreed in January 1971 that no action be taken on a communication received from the Institute and in April 1971 it agreed that the Institute’s ‘degrees’ should not appear after Members’ names in AGRA’s Membership List until such time as they became recognised by a university or other official academic body. However, after the third AGM in 1971 the new Chairman welcomed the Institute’s Director to speak about its work and role. Humphery-Smith said that Achievements Ltd had been formed to work on actual cases and provided an income to support the Institute which was constituted as an educational trust and a registered charity. He thought that ‘within the next five years or so I am sure that some post-graduate degree course in genealogy will be available’ and said that ‘AGRA has no stated standards for membership’. He believed that the diploma of the Institute should be a sufficient qualification for entry on a register maintained by a jointly appointed board of scrutineers, the Institute being ‘the only body available for the protection of the public’. In the frequently hostile discussion which followed Brian Brooks questioned the value and recognition said to be given to the Institute’s diploma. A draft minute of the meeting, in which Noel Currer-Briggs said that ‘he felt sure that it could only help towards establishing a closer co-operation and liaison between the Association and the Institute in their common aim of furthering the cause of genealogists and genealogy’, was struck out. In March 1972 copies of the talk were received for distribution to the members and after further discussion Council agreed in May that it be distributed without AGRA’s emblem and with a note that ‘Council did not necessarily associate itself or agree with the views expressed’. In August 1972 it was noted that only those members with an annual fee income from UK clients exceeding £5,000 would be required to register for VAT and the Institute then reported ‘that it would be closely collaborating with AGRA to make life as easy as possible for the professional in respect of this tax’, adding ‘It is therefore to advantage to all practising gemealogists and record agents to qualify and register with the Institute so that they may join the Association and have their interests mutually protected’ a statement that implied that membership of AGRA was conditional upon registration with the Institute which it was not and had to be rejected in the Newsletter.
In July 1971 it was reported that there had been correspondence with Philip Harris the Managing Director of Phillimore & Co Ltd about a statement in the firm’s A Simple Guide to Ancestry Tracing that ‘The House of Phillimore’ had a team of ‘more than ninety professional record searchers, archivists and genealogists throughout Great Britain’, a claim which on legal advice probably infringed Section 14 of the Trades Description Act, all its research inquiries being passed to one part-time worker who rarely visited the firm. In 1972 Council asked for a specific assurance about the discontinuance of the claim but Philip Harris took no notice of AGRA’s protests and circulated the offending pamphlet with The Genealogists’ Magazine. In May Denis Burton reported that on behalf of the SoG he had lodged a formal complaint with the Department of Trade and Industry at the widespread distribution of the pamphlet but in August he reported that the Department had interviewed Philip Harris but did not propose to take any further action. A year later on the insistence of Philip Blake I wrote again to Philip Harris, but received no reply.
In January 1972 Bernard Pardoe resigned as Treasurer and Peter Dewar agreed to take on the extra work for the remainder of the year. A Membership List had been printed and circulated but had a number of errors and omissions resulting from alterations made by Blake.
In June 1972, with 58 members, we agreed to take four half-page advertisements in consecutive issues of the Genealogists’ Magazine for £24, but in August we decided instead to take four full-pages for £60 commencing in December and members were urged to indicate AGRA membership in their own advertisements. No apology had been received from Blake for the lack of progress with the Membership List and Newsletter.
Blake’s draft Newsletter was amended and approved for printing in November 1972 ‘as a matter of urgency’. Two people in Australia had applied for membership but Council agreed that it would be outside the terms of the constitution to elect members practising abroad, though a form of associate membership was being considered, but the AGM decided not to introduce a new category of associate membership for those working overseas and it was agreed to restrict membership to those practising within the UK and Republic of Ireland. Also in November Blake reported on the legal standing of AGRA that his solicitor had advised ‘Whilst the Association cannot themselves [sic] bring legal proceedings, I see no reason at all why it should not make representations in the normal way through its duly elected officers; there is equally, in my opinion, no reason why these representations should not command respect and attention from the Department of Tade and Industry or any other statutory authority, particularly if the representations result from a resolution passed at a duly convened and well attended meeting of members’.
The formal third AGM took place on 20 Dec 1972, with only eleven members present when it was reported that all the inaugural expenses had now been paid and there was a small surplus. Seventy-five per cent of members had completed banker’s orders. Guy Strutt retired by rotation but being eligible was re-elected to Council. The meeting agreed a change to the constitution so that the Secretary and Treasurer were additional and ex-officio members of Council provided they were members. At this small meeting without discussion in Council and without notice on the agenda Cecil Humphery-Smith, proposed by Noel Currer-Briggs and seconded by Peter Dewar, was elected to Council in place of FitzHugh who had retired by rotation and was not eligible for re-election, but he immediately caused great offence by writing in the Genealogists’ Magazine for December 1972 of the ‘backbiting jealousy between competitive genealogists and none of the co-operation and collaboration which one would expect in this field of scholarship and literary research. This immaturity is surely a direct sign of the lack of experience and qualifications of the charlatans who have entered the field’. In February 1973 I wrote to Currer-Briggs about the election saying that I deplored the fact that ‘so controversial a figure should have been elected to the Council in so underhand a manner’. I said that the reactions of some members to his talk had been ‘openly hostile’ and that until the Institute obtained some formal recognition I did not think that AGRA should be associated with it. Until then, I wrote, ‘an entirely separate existence would be to both our advantages’, and I said that Humphery-Smith, to whom I had sent a copy of the letter, should be asked to resign. The majority of the Council members agreed with me and Philip Blake wrote to Currer-Briggs saying that he had never considered that AGRA’s and the Institute’s interests were ‘so coincidental as to warrant Humphery-Smith a place on our Council’. He thought it ‘most undesirable that the Director, or even a senior member, of the Institute should be a party to the inside counsels of AGRA’. However, Humphery-Smith’s resignation from Council was not pressed and he did not resign.
At the Council meeting in April 1973, as its Minutes say, ‘a long and acrimonious discussion took place’ between the new Secretary, Peter Dewar, and Philip Blake about the delay in the production of the membership list. Blake found unacceptable a background note prepared by the Chairman and Secretary but he now undertook to provide proofs for a new list by 9 May. The Chairman mentioned his reply to my letter about the Institute and said that the issue reflected a lack of confidence in him as Chairman by some members of Council and that he would resign the Chair after the next AGM. The Secretary also gave notice of his intention to resign following his move to Scotland, but in view of Blake’s comments he offered his immediate resignation and was asked to continue until the AGM.
Brian Brooks had asked Isobel Mordy, B.Sc. (1905-1993) if she would take on the Secretaryship and she agreed in June 1973 to accept the additional role of Treasurer and was appointed to both positions by Council prior to the AGM on 10 July 1973. Isobel Mordy, who lived at Ruislip, had retired after a lifetime in social work which had culminated in her appointment as Children’s Officer for Bournemouth. She was a most diligent and painstaking Secretary who took great interest in the work of the Association and was rightly anxious to get the basic administration into her own hands but Philip Blake, who had moved to a large eighteenth century mansion, Beechwood Park in County Tipperary, took an almost immediate dislike to her and subjected her to a stream of carping criticism. Blake was ‘The Founder’ of the Association and believed that he should be consulted on all significant matters. He told me that the SoG was ‘entirely amateur’ and AGRA was ‘the only body consisting and existing of and for genealogists’. In July 1973 he asked me to help with research on Lord Clifford’s pedigree ‘in the interests of AGRA’, but I declined and chided him for using the Association’s writing paper for his private correspondence. I received four closely written foolscap pages in reply. My ‘tongue of discretion’, he told me, ‘had slipped out of the cheek of propriety’.
At the fifth AGM on 10 July 1973 with Sir Gyles Isham in the Chair, Mrs Pinches was elected to the Council and immediately afterwards I unwisely agreed to be Chairman. In September 1973 the Council (which met at the SoG from now on) agreed that membership cards should be printed for the lowest estimate in England and that the production of the membership lists should henceforth be in the hands of the Chairman and Secretary who would be the only persons to use AGRA’s headed writing paper. Members’ proposed entries in the published Lists would in future be agreed by Council at the time of their application. Blake read a draft of the next Newsletter and this was approved but it was agreed that its printing and distribution should be left to the Secretary. It was also agreed that the Bank Account should be moved from Coutts & Co to the National Westminster Bank at Ruislip.
The appointment of a Registrar to whom all members would report the cases upon which they were working to avoid duplication, an idea proposed by Malcom Pinhorn, had been discussed at length at the AGM in July 1973 and was later discussed in Council, but found little support. There was further discussion on a proposed ‘National Register of Pedigrees’ in January 1974 and Pinhorn’s memorandum on the subject was circulated to members in 1975 but after detailed consideration of the comments received Council agreed in March 1975 that this was not a project with which the profession should be actively involved, but one which could be recommended to the Federation of Family History Societies. However, the matter came up again in October 1975 when Stella Colwell convened a meeting to discuss such a Register and Brian Brooks agreed to act as observer on AGRA’s behalf.
In late 1973 I was able to say in reply to a strong complaint from Canada about an unnamed next-of-kin agent in England working on a commission basis that, so far as I was aware, no AGRA member did that kind of work; there were many genealogists who would work at an hourly rate and the solicitors were at fault for employing someone on a 25% basis. However, Blake’s delays in the production of the Newsletter and his tinkering with the Membership List had caused frequent complaints and the responsibility for the Newsletter was at last retrieved and given to Miss Mordy in November 1974, she having found that it could be printed more cheaply in England. One of her Newsletters was, however, returned to me by Blake with nearly forty hand-written criticisms.
From 1974 onwards there was regular correspondence and discussion about AGRA’s possible involvement or representation at one or other of the various congresses which formed such a marked feature of the next few years. Early that year Jo-Ann Buck volunteered to help man a stand at the ‘Heritage ’74’ exhibition at Brighton in August. Stands there were £150 each and way beyond AGRA’s means, but Rosemary Pinches made available the AGRA leaflets and membership lists on her stand for Heraldry Today. Isobel Mordy and I attended throughout at the exhibition at the Metropole Hotel, Brighton, sharing a table, the cost of which had been met by a private donation. Two display stands were also provided by Mrs Buck. Several AGRA members were then involved with the planning of the English Genealogical Congress at Cambridge in August 1975 and there was much argument about the Association’s relationship to the Federation and its role in the International Congress.
Council had agreed in May 1972 that a Genealogists’ Code adopted by the Board for the Certification of Genealogists in the USA should be copied to Council members and the then Chairman drafted a Code based upon it. When in May 1974 the foreword or introduction to the Membership List was approved it referred to the rigid Code of Practice with which members undertook to comply and it was then again circulated to all Members.
By the time of the AGM on 22 July 1974, with Sir Gyles Isham in the Chair, there were 63 members. I said then that I thought that the Association was fairly representative of the professon but that there were still some areas of the country which were poorly covered or not covered at all by locally resident searchers; curiously there were few in London. Three Newsletters had been published and the new membership list produced in October 1973 had been widely distributed, as a list of the many organisations circulated, sent with the Newsletter, had showed. I had advocated its use when addressing the Annual Meeting of the Society of Archivists in 1973 and it had obtained much publicity through the BTA’s pamphlet Tracing Your Ancestors of which some 60,000 copies had been distributed. I had represented AGRA at various meetings called by the Standing Conference for Local History in connection with the deliberations of the Church Assembly about the fees charged for searches in parish registers and I had contributed a lengthy article on the subject to the Newsletter. AGRA had also taken an interest in developments at the General Register Office and its move to St Catherine’s House in January, making representations about the opening hours, the Miscellanous Returns, the typing of the indexes and their possible distribution to other centres.
Brian Brooks a valuable member of Council since its inception retired by rotation in 1974 and was not eligible for re-election and Guy Strutt also retired. Three members were nominated for the two vacancies when Robert Massey was elected and Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd received an equal number of votes with Mrs Molly Tatchell and withdrew in her favour. It was agreed that future elections should be by secret postal ballot. After the AGM Dr Emmison spoke about lesser known sources for the genealogist.
Cecil Humphery-Smith had suggested in a memorandum, 25 June 1974, that AGRA affiliate itself to the proposed Federation of Family History Societies but Council agreed to defer any decision until its functions and aims had been fully formulated and its constitution agreed. Having seen the latter, Council agreed in November that ‘as a professional body AGRA would have no place in such a Federation and would not, therefore, be applying for affiliation’.
The annual subscription had been held at the same rate since AGRA’s foundation but it was now agreed that it be increased to £5 p.a. from 1 January 1975. In the event the increase had little effect on the membership. Printing blocks of the Association’s logo with the word ‘member’ were provided and Council agreed to recommend that their minimum rate be increased from £1 to £2 an hour, but no recommendation was made on agency discounts between one member and another.
Miss Mordy having received no reply to her letters to Blake about the Newsletter had compiled one herself, but he said that it should not have been sent to members without prior approval. Council agreed in November 1974 that this was not necessary and I then had to dissuade her from circulating the headings of the projected articles as ‘anticipating all sorts of difficulties where none may arise’. No member had placed a query in the Newsletter and it was agreed in January 1975 that the charge be waived. A meeting that month about the proposed removal of the GRO records to Southport and about a proposed Standing Committee of Users of Public Records had been attended by Miss Mordy on behalf of AGRA and we were able to report to Council on 11 March 1975 that the GRO search room would remain in London. Blake, of course, told me that the meetings should have been convened by AGRA.
Miss Mordy was now duplicating from stencils to save AGRA money. Humphery-Smith offered to write an article about AGRA for the Institute’s journal Family History, but Blake agreed to write one on the topic ‘Helping the amateur genealogist’. He wanted the secretary to circulate confidential details of the candidates for membership prior to Council meetings but this was declined. I circulated a draft letter to the Pastoral Secretary of the Church Commissioners giving the Association’s views on the proposed revision of the Table of Parochial Fees and this was approved.
At the start of a memorable meeting of Council on 6 May 1975, Blake took exception to Miss Mordy’s inclusion in the Minute Book of the formal letter to the Pastoral Secretary. With me in the Chair, she reached across the table, deftly tore the pasted letter from the book, and left the meeting! At the end of the meeting Blake was asked to apologise to her ‘for his continual carping criticism’ but this he refued to do and I was asked to convey to Miss Mordy the Council’s sincere appreciation of the work which she did for the Association. Blake dissociated himself from this saying that the office would be better filled by a person of different calibre and more professional ability. Molly Tatchell reported that she had attended a meeting at which a possible Standing Committee of Users of the Public Records had been discussed but it had been agreed that the Standing Conference for Local History would call meetings on any subject that any one of the represented societies wished to raise, and a meeting was held on 18 July to discuss possible amendments to the Public Records Act.
At the AGM on 22 July 1975 it was noted that membership stood at 61. A Newsletter was being published three times in year. John Flower resigned as auditor and Charles Neat was elected in his place, the rules having been altered to allow for ‘a qualified accountant’. Lots had been drawn at an earlier meeting and Blake (and Denis Burton) retired at this meeting, I then being the only member of the original Council remaining. Brian Brooks, Terrick FitzHugh and Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd were elected to Council.There was a sherry party after the AGM provided by members of Council.
The Secretary’s letters to county record ofices enclosing AGRA membership lists asked for additional recommendations and some eighty names had been received. Individual Council members then approached those known to them but none applied for membership. I believed that the support of the local searchers in the provinces was critical and in that we were, however, very fortunate, a large proportion of all the best searchers with whom we were in regular contact having joined.
The years 1974-75 were particularly stressful and the onslaughts from Blake, the hours given up to him when he arrived early for meetings and carried out his habitual tirades against all and sundry, took their toll. Isobel Mordy, carefully trying to work within AGRA’s tiny income, sought to anticipate problems but her lengthy memoranda attempting to summarise the histories of recent discussions, seemed only to add flames to old controversies. Blake thought her every action ‘unprofessional’. Cecil Humphery-Smith once wrote of Blake’s lengthy epistles ‘while seeing the importance and sense in a lot of what he says – otherwise it would be intolerable! – I do believe that there are other ways in going about saying it!’. However, Blake’s foolscap pages of sneering sarcasm had indeed become quite intolerable.
Our President, Sir Gyles Isham, died on 29 January 1976 and at the meeting of Council on 3 February I asked to be relieved of the duty of chairman as my other commitments for the SoG were so heavy. Brian Brooks was duly elected in my place and took the chair at the AGM on 1 June 1976 when 19 members were present and Arthur Fawcett (1912-1988), MBE, and Terrick FitzHugh were elected to the Council. Currer-Briggs proposed that candidates for membership should in 1977 be subject to short interviews and ‘undergo a brief test or examination in the subjects of their choice’ with Council appointing a panel of examiners and Blake suggested that some recognition should now be given to the sessional certificates issued by extra-mural departments and to the examinations offered by the Institute. It was agreed by 11 to 5 to refer these questions to Council.
In view of Miss Mordy’s growing workload Council asked its newly elected member, Arthur Fawcett, ‘to examine and report on the administration’, and on 4 January 1977 there was a special meeting chaired by Brian Brooks to which former Chairmen were invited. Applicants for membership were then providing three referees and a sample of work and Fawcett said that the task of collation was considerable and assessment not easy, he floated the idea of a separate membership secretary. He thought the greatly improved Newsletter gave more work than anything and suggested that AGRA spend a limited amount on secretarial help. This was agreed as was the suggestion that new applicants (not as record agents) should be asked for a sample of their work including a tabular pedigree, not using fictitious names, the applicant being assured of confidentiality. It was also agreed that AGRA’s object was to maintain a high standard of expertise in its members, not to increase the commissions they received.
Twenty seven of the 72 members were present at the AGM chaired by Dr Emmison in July 1977. Herbert Chadband had audited the accounts in place of Charles Neat who had sadly died. There had been 252 enquiries in the first six months of 1977 as against 289 in the whole of 1976. Council recommended an increase in the annual subscription from £5 to £8 and this was agreed, there being ‘no alternative’. The List of Members had been mailed to more than 400 organisations and large numbers were being sold at the SoG. William Fenton, Hilary Marshall and Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd were elected to Council. Mrs Buck proposed that AGRA apply for associate membership of the FFHS but the majority opposed the idea. The President said that he had been impressed by the Code of Practice and spoke of the work carried out by archivists in classifying and indexing and Mrs Pinches organised a sherry party afterwards. Arising from Fawcett’s report it was agreed that there should be a special meeting about the admission of members, Donald Whyte having proposed that the Licentiate awarded by the Institute ‘should be accepted as one of the qualifications for admission’.
That meeting was held on 1 November 1977 but only 12 members and the President attended and there was no quorum. An informal discussion recommended that samples of work be provided by all applicants for membership but that the distinction between genealogists and record agents should remain. I was not able to attend the AGM on 27 June 1978 when membership stood at 76 and there had been 445 general enquiries that year. However, there was something of a crisis in October 1978 when Miss Mordy resigned as Secretary on health grounds. The Chairman, Brian Brooks, also resigned and William Fenton (1908-1990) was elected in his stead. There seemed no alternative but to have a major increase in the subscriptions to pay for the salary of a part-time Secretary and this was agreed at £20 as from 1 January 1979. Mrs Mary Gandy was appointed Secretary, she being supported by her husband Michael.
In January 1979 Arthur Fawcett resigned from the Council and I, having served for ten years, declined to seek re-election. Council meetings continued to take place in the SoG's rooms and the Society gave the new organisation every possible support, selling the List of Members and eventually only accepting advertisements for professional services from AGRA members in the Genealogists’ Magazine, at the same time as phasing out the SoG's own list of searchers recommended by two members and introduced in 1939.
This text compiled July 2017; placed here April 2019.