The genealogical generosity of the Mormon Church is remarkable.
Most researchers will know that its flagship website familysearch.org offers free access to transcripts of all of the Irish civil registration indexes up to 1958, as well as transcripts of the family information in civil birth registers up to 1881. And most will be aware of the relentless, decades-long microfilming of original sources that has formed the basis of most of the great online expansion of Irish records over the past five years – the 1901 and 1911 censuses, tithe books and will calendars at genealogy.nationalarchives.ie, the landed estate and prison records at FindMyPast.ie.
And the free access the site gives to the records of many other countries is making it easier and easier to piece together families separated by migration.
But they have even larger ambitions. The site is continuously (and sometimes irritatingly) under development. Now, on top of the free records, it offers free family tree software, a photo-sharing and searching section, searches of user-submitted family trees, a blog, a wiki and an online library.
The library alone is extraordinary, with more than 100,000 pdf copies of books taken from almost a dozen specialised genealogical libraries across the US. A quick-and-dirty search for books with “Irish” in the title turns up 18,468. “Ireland” matches 29, 506. Almost every out-of-copyright book of genealogical interest is here, including all seven volumes of John Lodge’s fawning 1774 The Peerage of Ireland and a full run of the Burke family’s astute exploitation of growing snobbery in the nineteenth century: Landed Gentry, Commoners, Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies, and much more.
Why so generous? The answer is simple: enlightened self-interest. One of the central aims of the Church is to reconstruct the family tree of the entire human race, right back to Adam and Eve, reuniting everyone who has ever lived. And the more people out there finding their ancestors, inside or outside the Church, the quicker it’ll happen.