Irish Roots


April 23rd 2012

State records in unexpected places

John Grenham

The transcripts of state records of births, marriages and deaths on rootsireland.ie are seriously underappreciated. They are not identical to the records so horribly familiar to anyone forced to play Blind Man's Buff in the General Register Office Research Room. Until less than a decade ago, the registration system actually produced two copies of the paper registers, one held locally and the other sent to Dublin for indexing. The heritage centres behind rootsireland got the local copies from individual Superintendent Registrars, created database transcripts from them, and these are what is now searchable on rootsireland.

Or at least some of them are. Old Nick is down there in the nitty-gritty yet again. Burrow down into the site's "sources list for each centre" and extraordinary anomalies emerge. Clare, Donegal, west Galway (but not east Galway), Mayo, Roscommon, and Tipperary have full transcripts, some to 1900, some to 1921. But not all of them are actually online. Armagh, Derry, Kilkenny, Limerick and Waterford have almost full transcripts. But they don't cover all events and again not all are online.

For the years and areas covered, though, the site is very useful indeed - every single item in each record is transcribed. If they were freely searchable, they could be extraordinary. Just imagine being able to pick out every birth in a townland over twenty years, or every marriage recording a particular father's name, or every death from consumption on one street over decades. Ah well, at least rootsireland's blindfold is semi-transparent. And of course, this is all completely illegal. The 2004 law governing civil registration explicitly specifies that the only way these records can be made publicly searchable is via the knit-while-wearing-boxing-gloves system in the GRO Research Room. Tell that to rootsireland, to the Mormons, to the volunteer transcribers, to ancestry.com, to Waterford County Library ...

As so often in Ireland, the law is for hiding behind, not enforcing.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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