Irish Roots »

  • Not the 1926 news

    June 17, 2013 @ 1:08 pm | by John Grenham

    After 1911, the next census in Ireland was not until 1926. Those fifteen years were the most tumultuous decade-and-a-half in Irish history – with upheavals in industry and labour, the Easter Rising, a world war, the war of independence, the civil war, Partition … The Ireland recorded in 1926 had been utterly transformed. For that reason the 1926 census occupies a very special position for historians and genealogists of every stripe.

    Or rather it should occupy a special position. The Programme for Government promised “to enable publication of the 1926 census” and as recently as last month, the Minister for Arts, Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan confirmed that a working group, comprising officials from his department, the National Archives and the Central Statistics Office, was meeting to consider “how best to enable the publication”.

    The minister and the Archives would dearly love to publish. The CSO has a very different position. Its public relations website,, states unequivocally, “The 1926 Census Returns will be released to public inspection, under the 100 year rule, in January 2027″. The junior minister in charge, the Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe, put it a little more emolliently recently: “the confidentiality of all statistical returns from individuals, households and business is guaranteed by law […] I am satisfied, therefore, that the 100 years period […] strikes the right balance”.

    That’s that, then. The working group can consider till the cows come home, but the cows will not come home until January 1st 2027. It is hard to know the correct response. On the one hand, more intense lobbying would provide ammunition for this bureaucratic trench war. On the other, the CSO really seems to be battening down the hatches.

    Loath though I am to step away from a good fight, perhaps we need something more winnable. If the Minister wants to unveil something in 2016, there are other, less contested battlefields. The Registry of Deeds? The Valuation Office revision books? The Archives’ collection of 1920s voters’ lists?

  • Irish Genealogy News

    June 10, 2013 @ 11:01 am | by John Grenham

    The pervasive hysteria about the internet killing off newspapers comes mainly from the internet, whose native language is hysteria. Even so, writing a newspaper column praising a competing online blog seems uncomfortably like a turkey voting for Christmas.

    But the column has to be written. Claire Santry’s Irish Genealogy News ( is now absolutely essential for anyone who wants to know what’s happening in Irish genealogy.

    Claire is a professional journalist specialising in heritage, history and architecture, and her approach to the blog is consummately professional, though it remains a labour of love rather than a job. That same professionalism is also evident in the clarity and objectivity she brings to the writing and organising her material.

    Begun what seems like a moment ago, in 2010, it was initially an offshoot of her “Irish genealogy toolkit”, an attempt to help others avoid the frustration she experienced when first doing her own research. But the number of posts to the blog grew steadily and regularly. Over the last eighteen months, there has been an average of almost two posts a day, along with matching tweets, an extraordinary number for a family history blog. Consistency, reliability and sheer stamina have made it the outlet of choice for any announcement of a publication or a record release or a conference. And the traffic to the site reflects that: in the Genealogy in Time listings, the blog is just outside the top 100 worldwide.

    Genealogical emergencies are thankfully rare, and fast-breaking Irish family history news sounds like the ultimate oxymoron, but Claire has managed both to create and corner the market. She has even beaten me to the punch in announcing projects I was personally involved in.

    For a while, this column was called a blog. It wasn’t really. Irish Genealogy News, now that’s a blog.

  • An opportunity missed?

    June 3, 2013 @ 2:48 pm | by John Grenham

    The announcement that the Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht will be able to make General Register Office indexes available on has been greeted with public rejoicing. The gift horse’s mouth needs some examining.

    Under the current system, the only direct public access to historic birth, marriage and death records is via printed annual index volumes, alphabetically listing a name and a registration district. The indexes contain no other identifying information. To uncover such basic details as dates, parents’ names, addresses or occupations, you have to close your eyes, stick a pin in an index entry, pray it’s the right one and buy a print-out of the full original register record. If the individual you want is a John Brady from Cavan or a Patrick Murphy from Kanturk, think novenas.

    These are the indexes now proposed for Fine, you say, at least it will simplify that first part of research. But the indexes are already digitised and free, on, and, and, and …. Since 2009, you can close your eyes and stick your pins in index entries from home (or Peoria or Woolongong). Before, again, praying they’re the right entries and sending off for print-outs.

    To be fair, a second copy is always welcome, and will certainly improve the quality of pin-sticking: the familysearch database has flaws and the GRO’s own database should correct these. But it’s a very small step.

    Just think. Northern Ireland and Scotland have already made their register information searchable, not just the indexes. Their births over 100 years old, marriages over 75 and deaths over 50 are transparent. And our GRO already has a full set of digital images of all its registers, linked to the index database, but only available to its own staff.

    Imagine the revolution if these historic images became available. Not just for Irish genealogy, but for social and economic history, genetic medicine, local studies, migration studies, tourism … What an extraordinary opportunity. Has it been missed?