Irish Roots

May 16th, 2011

John Grenham


Outside Ireland the marriage of genealogy and technology has generated some big businesses. Ancestry.com, the biggest, has 1.6 million subscribers and is projecting a turnover of $400 million this year. It has the advantages of the biggest home market in the world and the most voracious venture capitalists, and has used them very well, buying databases to pile high and sell cheap, and either absorbing smaller companies or competing them into oblivion. For some reason, Ancestry has never been very useful for Irish records. The reasons are not clear, given the potential market in Irish-America, but probably have to do with our fractured records and our fractious record-transcribers.

After Ancestry comes FindMyPast, a subsidiary of the Dundee-based D.C.Thomson company, best-known as publishers of the Beano and Dandy, but also responsible for the treasure-trove that is scotlandspeople.gov.uk, as well as findmypast.co.uk, one half of an extremely successful public-private partnership with the English National Archives. FindMyPast has now joined up with Irish company Eneclann and last week launched a specifically Irish site, findmypast.ie. Continuing the collaborative model used in the UK, the site focuses on co-operation with record repositories under agreements which allow the company to exploit the records commercially for a limited period, usually five years, in return for funding their computerisation. The focus is also on what might be called ‘second-line’ records, material that can appear of doubtful relevance until digitisation makes it transparent. For instance, the site already covers the Landed Estate Court, the 19th-century insolvency administrator for the landed gentry, whose records contain many tenants’ lists. And among the sources lined up for the near future are 19th-century petty session records, which include my personal favourite, dog-licence prosecutions.

For the moment, most of what’s on findmypast.ie duplicates information Eneclann already has available via origins.net. But it will eventually be an essential part of the toolkit of every Irish researcher.

Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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