Irish Roots

November 14th, 2011

John Grenham


When findmypast.ie was launched last May, there was a widespread welcome for the first purely Irish records-subscription website. However, a large majority of its records were duplicates from the old irishorigins.com or, as with Griffith's Valuation, were freely available elsewhere. The only real novelty was the Landed Estate Court Rentals collection, the files of a 19th-century NAMA for distressed landed gentry. The tenants' lists included in these LEC records can be very informative, but only in particular cases: they lack the broad coverage required to make a real difference for most researchers. So the site had more promise than substance to start with.

Now some of that promise has materialised. Three weeks ago, the complete transcription of the National Archives prison registers was launched and it is an object lesson in the way digitisation can transform the relative importance of a set of records. Everyone involved in Irish research has known for years of the wealth of detail in these registers - charges, sentences, physical descriptions, addresses, next of kin, transportation details - covering more than 130 years up to 1924. But the originals are purely chronological and have no indexes. Without knowing a specific date and place of committal, research was virtually impossible. The Findmypast transcription covers every single name in the records, prisoners, relatives and victims, and links the names to digital images of the originals.

More than 2.7 million individual records are included, covering 3.5 million individuals, and the information in them really puts flesh on the bones of a bare family history: can that really be my great-grand-uncle Matthew in prison in Tullamore in 1900 for stealing three bullocks? I look forward with bated breath to the addition of the court report of his trial, due on the site next year.


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