Irish Roots

February 21st, 2011

John Grenham


Itís exactly two years since this column began, and from the very start, there is one topic Iíve been biting my tongue over, and thatís the General Register Office. With all of the official records of births, marriages and deaths from 1864, and non-Catholic marriages from 1845, the GRO rivals the National Library as a repository of national memory. The destruction of all of the 19th century censuses has made it even more precious.

Yet as anyone who has used the GRO Research Room in Abbey Street in Dublin can attest, access to these historic records is a disgrace. The front-line staff struggle heroically to cope with public demand, but are forced to implement ludicrous restrictions to manage that demand: the Room regularly reaches its physical capacity and has to close early; researchers face an artificial limit of five register entries per day; it is necessary to queue even to use the indexes; the computerised transcripts available internally for almost a decade can still not be used by the public. The persistent under-resourcing and unending institutional neglect point to only one conclusion. The Office regards its only serious function as the provision of certificates for use in official transactions. These historic records are a nuisance, a perennial irritant complicating its smooth interaction with other parts of the public service.

While other arms of government have finally recognised the importance of strengthening the links between this country and those whose ancestors had to emigrate, the GRO is still treating genealogical research as an irritating afterthought. While equivalent institutions everywhere else in the world, in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, the US, Australia, are opening up their historic records, making them accessible on-line and often deriving considerable profits from that access, the GRO here is continuing to impose Dickensian restrictions on research. It has to change.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.


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