Irish Roots

October 25th, 2010

John Grenham

The National Library has recently put out a request for tender for the digitisation of all of its Roman Catholic parish register microfilms. These microfilms cover 98% of the pre-1880 baptism, marriage and burial records kept by local parishes on the entire island, and are the single most important source of family history information for the vast majority of researchers. Indeed, in most cases they are the only source of family information before the start of state registration in 1864. They cover almost 1200 parishes on 520 reels and represent one of the most enduring achievements of the National Library between the 1950s and the 1970s. Having them available on-line will revolutionise Irish research.

Be clear: these are images of the registers, not transcripts. The end result will allow users from anywhere in the world to search the records as if they were in the microfilm room of the National Library. But the effects of even this basic availability will be huge. For one thing, it will be possible to remedy the lack of record-images in the transcripts done by local heritage centres. For another, volunteer transcription groups will surely spring up around the world: within a few years there will be free copies of most of the Catholic records currently behind pay-walls.

The continuing expansion of Irish records on-line is extraordinary. One explanation might be the snowball effect, as record-keeping institutions wake up to the incontrovertible benefits of making their holdings available on-line: a vast increase in the number of users, savings in staff costs, and much improved conservation of the originals.

Or perhaps the powers that be have decided that the descendants of the diaspora are our best hope and that genealogy will save us all. In which case we're in even worse trouble than we thought.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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