Irish Roots

The General Register Office indexes online


First the good news. The copy of the General Register Office’s birth, marriage and death indexes, live on the website since last Thursday, is simply astonishing.

Coming right up to 2013, it is a researcher’s (and snooper’s) nirvana. The death indexes from 1966 record marital status as well as reported age at death, the marriage indexes from 1903 show both parties’ names, and the birth indexes from 1900 give the mother’s maiden name. By default, searches use variant surname spelling, but the site also allows tremendous flexibility. You can browse by period, registration district and event, reconstruct entire families and deduce possible legions of third and fourth cousins from the death indexes.

In all there are more than 27 million records, meaning this subsection of the website is, on its own, probably the single largest online Irish genealogy resource.

The less good news is that the way the records are presented will cause deep bewilderment to people unfamiliar with the registration system. The main problem is that most of these newly-available index records don’t supply the information needed to extract a full register entry or order a certificate, unlike the copies of the indexes up to 1958 already available on (and Ancestry and FindMyPast). Instead they give an internal GRO reference number. So in most cases no clear route exists from the online index entry to the full information in the register. I suspect a tsunami of puzzlement and frustration is about to break over the heads of the poor civil servants responsible for handling public feedback.

But the best news only emerged at the website launch. Joan Burton, the minister with responsibility for the GRO, announced a “Civil Registration Amendment Bill 2014”, which will remove all legal obstacles to public access to the full records, not just the indexes.

So here they come at last, full records of all Irish births over 100 years old, all marriages over 75 and all deaths over 50. Seventh heaven approaches.