Irish Roots


June 11th 2012

The very model of a modern Registrar-General

John Grenham

The split personality of the General Register Office continues to cause problems. On the one hand, it provides spectacularly efficient registration of births, death and marriages to the public, and a superb identity verification service to other parts of the public service. On the other, it offers ludicrously inefficient research arrangements for historic civil records.

In the research room, researchers spend weeks struggling with Victorian printed indexes to carry out searches that the staff computer system behind the counter can do in minutes. The frustration of being repeatedly forced to play Blind Man's Buff grows with every visit. It feels like a different planet to the contemporary service.

There are of course genuine obstacles to more open access, not least the legal restrictions. But a line in one of the twice-yearly Social Welfare Acts could remove them instantly: "Section 61 of the 2004 Civil Registration Act is hereby amended..." Even a little willingness to change could make a huge difference. These records are a unique part of our inheritance, and keeping them locked up like this is just plain wrong.

The official attitude is well summed up by a sign at the lift that takes visitors up to the GRO research room: "NOTICE. Due to an unprecedented increase in customers accessing the genealogy services it may be necessary to close the office at times. This is done in the best interest of heatlh [sic] and safety for all who use the facility."

It's those pesky genealogists again. They're everywhere. They just won't go away. They want to buy so much of what we're selling, it's positively unheatlhy. Why won't they just leave us alone?


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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