Irish Roots

October 3rd, 2011

John Grenham


On September 22nd last, as reported in this newspaper and elsewhere, Ancestry.co.uk announced the addition of more than 40 million Irish records to its subscription service. Initial reports suggested that these consisted of transcripts of Roman Catholic parish registers taken from National Library of Ireland microfilms. However, it turns out that 95% of the "new" records are actually copies of the transcripts of General Register Office records already available for free on the Mormon site, FamilySearch.org. It is not at all clear how Ancestry arrived at their total. On FamilySearch, the figures are 21 million GRO index records and 5.3 million birth/baptism transcripts, well short of 40 million. To their credit though, Ancestry have implemented a reverse marriage search on the marriage indexes: it is now possible to see all names that appear on the same page of any civil marriage register, identifying all possible marriage partners.

But of course the real star is the 433,560 Catholic parish records included. These are indeed fresh transcriptions from National Library microfilms, though Ancestry don't specify what parishes are included. Some brutally persistent querying with common surnames reveals that 47 parishes are covered. Thirty-eight of these are in the diocese of Meath, five in Ferns and four in Achonry. In percentage terms, these constitute perhaps 5% of the total pre-1880 records on NLI microfilm. The transcripts are a little quick and dirty but the range of search options is excellent. Strangely, although the database description states that it "contains indexed images of parish registers", there are no images online. Is there some nervousness, given that the transcripts were made without permission from either the Catholic Church or the National Library?

We've recently had some High-Infants-style squabbling about Catholic records between heritage centres, the National Library, the Catholic bishops and the government. A 300-pound gorilla has just come along and taken our lollipop. It should concentrate minds.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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