National Library inquiry into legality of records release by UK ancestry firm

 

THE NATIONAL Library of Ireland is investigating whether a tranche of more than 400,000 records released by a UK-based genealogy company yesterday infringes on its legal rights to the microfilms behind the records.

Yesterday ancestry.co.uk, the world’s largest genealogy site, published more than 40 million Irish birth, marriage and death records.

Among the files are transcriptions of 433,560 historical Irish Catholic parish records, dating from between 1742 and 1884, which were part of a collection assembled by a private company on behalf of the National Library of Ireland.

Director of the library Fiona Ross said yesterday the records were published “without our permission or knowledge” and that the library was investigating if it held legal protections relating to the microfilms.

“We are currently investigating our precise legal position in relation to this issue,” she said.

However, a spokesman for ancestry.co.uk said there was no dispute over the files, which it acquired as part of a wider tranche of microfilm records last year.

The records that appear on the site are a transcription of church records which are now available in a machine-readable database which users of ancestry.co.uk can access by paying a subscription fee. The company provides a free 14-day trial of its services.

In addition to the 400,000 parish records, the site has posted more than 40 million birth, marriage and death records dating from 1845 to 1958, and Irish births and baptisms recorded between 1620 and 1911.

“These new collections will not only be of huge relevance to anyone living in Ireland, but also the millions of people worldwide with Gaelic heritage who from today will be able to delve as far back as the 1740s,” the website’s global content director Dan Jones said.

Ms Ross said the library was keen to digitalise its collection of parish records which is currently available in microfilm format. However, she said the library did not have the resources to do so and was awaiting further Government direction on the matter.

Earlier this year Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan said his approach to genealogical services was to assist the National Archives and the National Library to make publicly available records of genealogical interest in their collections, “online and free of charge, to gain the highest usage domestically and around the world”.

A spokesman for the department said yesterday that this was a matter for the National Library.

Brian Donovan of Irish genealogy company findmypast.ie and the Trinity-based history and heritage company Eneclann, said it was “deeply regrettable” that ancestry.co.uk had published the records “without the agreement of the Irish cultural institutions”.

“An opportunity has been missed here for this work to be carried out in Ireland to facilitate the development of culture, heritage and roots tourism,” he said.