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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 2, 2012 @ 9:55 am

    Twenty-year stocktaking

    John Grenham

    The fourth edition of my Tracing Your Irish Ancestors is published this week, providing a chance to stand back and take stock.

    The book was first published twenty years ago, at a time when genealogy in Ireland was barely respectable, and the world was a much bigger place. The changes have been extraordinary. Family history now figures on the agendas of Government departments in a way that was scarcely imaginable then. All Irish record-holding institutions—local and national archives, libraries and private institutions—have now recognised that genealogists are one of their largest constituencies, and they are providing dedicated research rooms, personalised consultations, expanded finding aids and, above all, digitised records. Such websites as the National Archives census site, the Library Council’s Griffith’s Valuation site, the church records sites rootsireland and irishgenealogy, and the newspaper archives at irishnewsarchive.com, irishtimes.com and britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk are slowly but surely broadening the everyday relationship that people in Ireland, and people of Irish heritage outside the island, have with their family’s past, and with their country’s past. This can only be a good thing.

    The first edition reflected the Ireland of its time. It was painfully parochial, heavily focused on Dublin libraries and archives, and blithely ignored records of the Irish held in overseas locations. Even Belfast was seriously under-represented. The extent of the opening of Ireland to the world since then is breathtaking, and the transformation includes genealogy. It is now simply unthinkable to research an Irish family without taking into account its inevitable connections with Britain, Europe, and North America.

    The reason for the transformation is clear. Even in the last four years, profound changes have taken place in the link between Irish research and the internet. Before then, any online transcripts of records were piecemeal and amateur—very welcome, but afterthoughts to the main business of hands-on research in Irish repositories. Now the internet is at the heart of any Irish family history.

    • JOD says:

      I found my grand-dad online in 2001. 59 years after he’d disappeared into the War without a trace behind. Or so we thought. Only took 15 years and a day – after I began searching in earnest – to track him down to an ancient passenger list on a doomed ship and lay to rest old ghosts for my mum her brother myself and our extended family. Thank God for the Internet eh?
      Which I suppose we wouldn’t even have had WW2 not kickstarted silicon valley.

      Still. On reflection, I’d rather have had no internet; no WW2 and thus still have had me granddad alive to see me. Them’s the breaks. Suppose every cloud has a silver lining.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Remarkable how you still have to manually check a book in the records office in Dublin and then ask a member of staff to get you the cert you need – why can’t you identify the cert on a computer and use a prepaid card to be able to print it off – similar to how it works in a uni library where you find your book and if you need to copy pages you have a card you prepay and can add to and swipe it in the copier and away you go.

      There is still a very long way to go to centralise all the available records as it seems a bit of a waste that you have to go county by county still or at least make the different search systems homogenous.