Irish Roots

March 14th, 2011

John Grenham


One of the consequences of the mass destruction of original records in the burning of the Public Record Office in 1922 is that many out-of-the-way sources have acquired an unnatural importance for researchers, simply because they survive. Few are more out of the way that the early memorials of the Registry of Deeds in Dublin. Most people know of the Registry only as a body where current property transactions may be registered, but it has a long past. It was set up in 1708 as part of the copper fastening of legal title to the huge land confiscations of the 17th century, and its records have continued unbroken since then.

Given its origins, the social and ethnic range of people covered by the Registry is surprisingly broad and the events recorded go well beyond simple sales and leases, including large numbers of marriage agreements and wills. And the number of records is huge: there are around of a million from the first 150 years alone. Research remains emphatically non-digital, complete with manuscript books the size of gravestones and pages that spray 250-year-old dust.

The family history library of the Latter-Day Saints, the Mormons, has microfilm copies of all the indexes and memorial books up to 1948, which at least means that the existence of the records is widely known, though the sheer mechanical clumsiness of trying to get from microfilm indexes to microfilm memorials demands extraordinary patience. These films will eventually be available online as part of the LDS Library promise to digitise all of its microfilm holdings, and at that point the true value of the records will become more widely apparent. For the moment, the microfilms are the basis of the only online indexing attempt, a volunteer project at tinyurl.ie/3ns. It is well worth investigating, and indeed joining, though without digital images it can feel like emptying the sea with a teaspoon.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.


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