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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 6, 2012 @ 10:58 am

    The new National Archives website

    John Grenham

    The National Archives have just given their website, nationalarchives.ie, a welcome facelift. The new design is a model of clarity: easier to read, more intuitive to navigate, and with expanded guides to collections, digital resources and genealogy.

    However, the real meat and potatoes of any archival website is the online catalogue. Even where entries consist only of record descriptions and titles, rather than actual records, a database catalogue gives users the power to search much more widely and more precisely. Here too, the new version is orders of magnitude more powerful than the old one. It is now possible to do a full-text search for any word in the catalogue record and to juggle by virtually any criterion.

    The introduction to the catalogue points out that the majority  of the records covered relate to 20th century Government departments and  warns sternly that the contents “are not especially relevant for genealogical research”. A serious underestimate of just how  omnivorous family historians can be. My first query in the catalogue was, of course, the word “Grenham”. And there was a file on my grandfather’s application to the fledging Dept of Finance in 1923 for compensation for a car confiscated during the Civil War. The moral is:  ignore stern warnings, search everything.

    The old catalogue search included one anomaly, a copy of the Ireland-Australia transportation database created from the Archives’ records in 1988 as part of the Australian Bicentennial. To make it fit the archival records format, a great deal of shoehorning had to happen, with the result that it was very peculiar indeed to search. This time, the Archives have very sensibly not even tried to incorporate it directly. Instead, the entire database is now downloadable as a single 7 MB file, at tinyurl.ie/61u .

    • Claire Bradley says:

      Glad to hear about the revamp – it was desperate.

      Also great to be able to comment on your posts – many times before I’ve wanted to comment and couldn’t. Keep up the good work!

    • Simon Oliver says:

      Hmm, your link to the archives shouldn’t include the comma. When you do finally get there it is certainly clean and fairly clear. But a random search (Belfast) threw up but eight items – all of them from the past 15 years. It’s a start I suppose but the words ‘national archives’ promises something a bit more substantial I would have thought.


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