Have you ever worked on archival documents – and seen the original writers out of of the corner of your eye?  Traces of real people from the past are one of the things that archive users get the thrills about when they touch and turn the pages.

Coming back from an intensive FoI/DP session in London yesterday I read Robert Harris’ The Ghost on the train.  Got a kick out of seeing the traces of a relative – as themself too! – in the pages.  The book’s a thriller.  But it’s also about research, traces of evidence, accountability.   So the reason for this blog post is not to review the book but to share a few quotations that amused or provoked me.

If you want a family tree, go to a garden centre – that’s what I [the ghostwriter] advise my clients.  Nobody else is interested.

There’d definitely be letters if archivists said that to our clients!  And I think we might take issue with Ruth Lang, the (fictional!) ex-prime minister’s wife:

“..those archives!  They’ve got everything, from his infant school reports to our laundry bills.  Typical Mike, to ruin a good story by too much research.”

Don’t write in, people, but there’s definitely an FoI point in there somewhere…

And finally, who could argue with:

This is the trouble with internet research, in my experience.  The proportion of what’s useful to what’s dross dwindles very quickly and suddenly it’s like searching for something dropped down the back of a sofa and coming up with handfuls of old coins, buttons, fluff and sucked sweets.  What’s important is to ask the right question…


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