New genealogy resource will boost tourism, Taoiseach says

Kenny commends National Library’s website for parish records from 18th-19th centuries

  Ciara Kerrigan,  project manager of the National Library’s digitisation of parish registers, showing the new website to  Enda Kenny and Heather Humphreys. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Ciara Kerrigan, project manager of the National Library’s digitisation of parish registers, showing the new website to Enda Kenny and Heather Humphreys. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

An online resource for researching family history from the 18th and 19th centuries will prompt a wave of genealogical tourists to visit Ireland in the coming years, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

Mr Kenny was speaking at the announcement of the National Library of Ireland’s parish records website, which contains digitised details of births, deaths and marriages in almost every Catholic parish during the 1700s and 1800s.

The three-year project saw researchers create 370,000 digital images from microfilms of parish records, which were initially collated in the 1950s and 1960s.

Previously, anyone seeking to find information on their Irish ancestry had to go to the National Library on Dublin’s Kildare Street and physically access the microfilms.

The website allows the free perusal of the records from anywhere in the world.

“What you’re doing here in the National Library, I absolutely applaud it because you are giving a facility to the Irish diaspora all over the world to connect, and in a world that is changing so rapidly isn’t it important to have a sense of place, a sense of who we are,” Mr Kenny said.

“It is about ourselves, about our Irishness, and I think that’s so important.”

Tourism boost

Former taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and US ambassador Kevin O’Malley were present for the event, as was Minister for Arts and Heritage Heather Humphreys, who spoke of a potential boost for genealogy tourism as a result of the website.

She said a concerted effort was being made to digitise as much historical material as possible ahead of the 1916 centenary.

Out of more than 1,000 parishes nationwide, 56 were omitted from the original microfilms.

People searching for information on relatives are advised to have prior knowledge of the parish and year in which their family member was born for optimum results.

Handwriting and Latin insertions can also make some of the records hard to decipher.

Project manager Ciara Kerrigan said the details available through the website provide an invaluable stepping stone for anyone attempting to complete a family tree, given the destruction of all census records predating 1901 during the Four Courts fire in 1922.

“If you’re looking for records of Irish people in the 18th and 19th centuries, no other records for them exist apart from these church records.

“It provides an absolutely critical step in the road because unless you can pinpoint when and where people were baptised, you’re not going to be able to build up a very comprehensive family tree.

“It can lead on to other records like valuations of property in Ireland from the 1840s to 1860s. You could look at estate records, records relating to how local communities lived, such as land and property records, which would give a flavour of the kind of lives people had.”

HOW IT WORKS

While very intuitive to navigate, prospective users should note that the search mechanism on the new registers.nli.ie website is subject to some legacy limitations.

Rather than look for their ancestors solely by name, family history enthusiasts must first identify the parish in which their relative was born/married/died in, along with the year of the event. Without this basic prior knowledge, it can be a bit of a ‘needle in a hay stack’ exercise.

If you do happen to isolate the place, year and month in question, inconsistent methods of data input – i.e. a priest’s unintelligible handwriting or sporadic insertions of Latin – can sometimes make the task more difficult.

Around 95 per cent of parishes submitted their registries for microfilming during the 1950s and 1960s, however, 56 parishes were either omitted from the process or did not come into existence until after the cut-off point for records in 1880. Where this is the case, users are advised to contact the parish in question directly for missing information.

Finally, while families with Dublin origins have the best of it with records extending back to the early 18th century, lists of events from counties including Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny cover a shorter period from around the 1780s to the 1880s, while records from areas along the western seaboard generally don’t begin until the latter half of the 19th century.