Irish Roots

John Grenham


March 9th

As I mentioned last week, the Mormon Church is digitising all 2.3 million of its microfilms as part of its extraordinary ambition to, in its own words, Ďidentify the ancestry of mankindí. The prototype is live online at http://pilot.familysearch.org, and even if you have no interest in German baptisms or the Mexican census of 1930, itís worth browsing just to see what can be done.

One very large item of Irish interest included there is the transcript of the Mormonsí complete set of General Register Office indexes: marriages 1845-1958; births 1864-1958; deaths 1864-1958. Be clear. These are the indexes, not the full registers, but having them fully available and instantly searchable online is a huge leap forward. For one thing, it eliminates the tedium of browsing the physical indexes quarter by quarter, year by year, to reconstruct a family. For another, it eliminates the need to pay General Register Office search fees, currently Ä20 a day per search.

But how accurate is it? Online copies of Mormon microfilms, generally produced by volunteers, have often been piecemeal and inconsistent. The partial transcript of the first 12 years of Irish birth registers on the main site, www.familysearch.org, is a testament to this. So whatís different about this? The new project really does seem to have cracked the problem of quality. Anyone, not just Church members, can volunteer online, and the resulting huge number of transcribers means that everything can be transcribed to index twice, by separate volunteers. Any clashes are then flagged digitally and resolved by the intervention of a third, more experienced arbitrator.

The site is still a little wobbly, with occasional crashes and puzzling blank screens, but itís already a superb resource. When it works perfectly it will be indispensable. The pity is that we couldnít do it ourselves

Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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