Irish Roots

The General Register Office and

Mon, Jul 28, 2014, 01:00

In case you hadn’t heard, the General Register Office birth, marriage and death indexes launched on just three weeks ago have been (temporarily?) withdrawn after the Data Protection Commissioner threatened enforcement proceedings against the site. Much public wailing and gnashing and huffing and puffing has followed.

What exactly was the problem? First, keep in mind that these are indexes, and most emphatically not the full records. Second, the public has a statutory right to see the printed indexes in the GRO Research Room in Dublin, and these contain most of the information that appeared on IrishGenealogy. And full transcripts of these printed indexes up to 1958 have been freely available online for more than five years, on, and

My own birth index entry is still there on these sites, with my mother’s maiden name. The Commissioner’s index entry is still there, with his mother’s maiden name. The Registrar General’s entry is there … And the sky hasn’t fallen in.

So why the fuss? Do people born after 1958 have a right to more privacy than those born before? Or perhaps IrishGenealogy is a nice home-grown target, with some easy scapegoats, whereas the others are global corporations? Perish the thought.

There were certainly problems with the IrishGenealogy database, but these stemmed from what they were given. Rather than a digital version of the printed indexes, they got the GRO’s own internal finding aid, amounting to a substantial expansion on the indexes. I suspect the accompanying explanatory note read simply: “Here you are, little Princess. Take a nice big bite.”

Of course someone should have spotted the difference, and a whole series of other flaws as well, but the civil servants involved are generalists, not specialists. They should have got advice. Next time, I imagine they will.

In any case, even if the indexes never reappear, the loss will be painful, but not insurmountable. The real worry is that being bitten like this makes civil servants hyper-cautious about future record releases.