An opportunity missed?
The announcement that the Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht will be able to make General Register Office indexes available on irishgenealogy.ie 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 irishgenealogy.ie. Fine, you say, at least it will simplify that first part of research. But the indexes are already digitised and free, on familysearch.org, and FindMyPast.ie, and ancestry.com, 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?