Irish Roots


March 31st 2014

Rootsireland must evolve

John Grenham

Like it or not, Rootsireland.ie is the single most important Irish records website. Almost everyone researching their ancestors in nineteenth-century Ireland will have to use the site's database of record transcripts -parish and local civil registration transcripts in particular. It can be expensive, certainly (I have personally paid at least two kings' ransoms), but there is no doubt that the site has opened up Irish research to many for whom it used to be a closed book.

But it is also cumbersome, customer-unfriendly to the point of brutality and embarrassingly old-fashioned.

All these problems stem from the peculiar nature of the organisation behind it, the Irish Family History Foundation. The IFHF was set up to provide an umbrella body for the centres carrying out the transcriptions. These centres are extremely diverse, their only common feature a fierce independence. So the IFHF has become a very, very loose federation.

As a result, the website design revolves around the centres' need for independence, in particular the need to pay each centre for every view of a transcript from that centre. The needs of researchers come a very, very distant second.

There are no fore-name variants - if you search for a "Patrick" and the record was transcribed as "Patt", tough luck. Details of the records transcribed, vital in understanding search results, are sometimes pure gibberish: the listing for Co. Down marriages includes " Belfast (hm) 1906-1900". What?

Above all, though, the entire site still consists entirely of transcripts. Being content with a transcript alone really means accepting someone else's word on trust: "Honest Gov., this is what I saw in the register. Give us a fiver".

Rootsireland can survive the coming onslaught of competition from the likes of Ancestry, and I hope it does. But it has to modernise, to add record images - why not the National Library's ready-made microfilm images? -and above all it has to stop being a gatekeeper, and become a provider of access.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishroots(at)irishtimes.com.

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