Why can’t we all just get along?
I recently had a long conversation with a veteran member of the Irish Family History Foundation, the umbrella group for the heritage centres behind the biggest Irish genealogy website, rootsireland.ie. The sense of outrage and persecution felt by IFHF members is extraordinary. It is largely directed at the Irish public service –civil servants, National Archives, National Library and others. And I had to tell him that, as far as I knew, the feelings were reciprocated, and just as intensely.
The situation reminds me of nothing so much as a very bad marriage breakup, with each side blaming the other and pouring out tales of monstrous injustice to long-suffering friends. And like a marriage breakup, two simple facts have to be accepted by each side for the situation to change. First, what’s done is done. Nobody has a monopoly on truth or grievance. Or, indeed, genealogical records. And second, without some cooperation, however arms-length, everyone suffers, particularly the innocent. Which is to say, ordinary researchers.
There is no shortage of areas where some collaboration could sow the seeds of tolerance. For example, the IFHF could use some of its surplus to help digitise the records of National schools, or the Valuation Office, or the Registry of Deeds. But one area stands out. The IFHF centres have no images of the church records they have transcribed. And they are currently lobbying hard to stop the National Library making digital images of Catholic parish register microfilms available online. So the centres have transcripts but no images, the Library has images but no transcripts, and researchers are stuck with the dilemma of putting blind faith in the accuracy of the transcripts or manually combing through years of images. A compromise is hardly rocket science.
In the immortal words of Helen Lovejoy, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”
['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/column]