Irish Roots


July 27 2015

Reactions to the National Library's parish registers site

John Grenham

Now that the dust has settled on the launch of the National Library's Catholic parish registers site (registers.nli.ie), it's worth reflecting on what just happened.

First, reaction abroad is universally positive: "When Ireland gets something right in the genealogy world, it really gets it right." (britishgenes.blogspot.ie). "Many thanks to the National Library of Ireland and the government of Ireland for making these records accessible and free to all. (blog.eogn.com) "Tracing your Irish family tree just got easier" (@irishinbritain).

The way people are approaching the records also seems to be changing. The perennial problems of crabbed handwriting and dog Latin and over-exposed microfilm are being crowd-solved. Just post a link to the offending image online (e.g. bit.ly/1L9281J) and ask for suggestions. For someone used to solitary squinting, it's a revelation. And some extraordinarily vivid history is being picked up in the process. In Moycullen marriage registers, a curate writes in October 1845 about the state of the potato crop just before the Famine: "black spots appearing on the surface and the probability of its affecting the interior". Knowing what we do of the Famine horror that was just about to unfold, the note is intensely poignant, all the more so for appearing in the middle of routine marriage records (bit.ly/1K9m7NJ).

Among the heritage centres, some fear and anger remain. I suspect much of this will turn out to be groundless: already, my own use of the centres' transcription website (rootsireland.ie) has mushroomed, now that I can check back and forth between image and transcript. One corrects the other. In the medium term at least, the effect on rootsireland's income can only be positive.

In the longer term, though, they may be right to be nervous. Ancestry.com and findmypast.ie have probably already begun the process of transcribing the NLI images. Within a couple of years, a set of competing transcripts will almost certainly be online. The centres have a decent head start but they need to make full use of it to improve their offering. They're in for a dogfight.

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