Irish Roots

Upcoming NLI parish record microfilm site is 90 per cent squint-free


I recently had a hands-on trial of the prototype of the promised National Library of Ireland Roman Catholic parish register microfilm website. It was extraordinary.

The Library’s official line sensibly underplays expectations, presenting the project as a form of outreach that merely expands access to the NLI microfilm room onto the web. And it certainly does that. Page-images from the microfilms leap to the screen at the click of a button (at least with a decent broadband connection), all instantly scrollable, zoomable, printable, adjustable.

But the site has the potential to be much more than the sum of these parts. The navigation by map and parish-name is utterly intuitive, permitting Ireland-wide overviews, easy movement between adjoining parishes and a comprehensive search of variant parish names. And the way the microfilms have been imaged allows you to skip directly to a particular month in any register. If you want to start looking at Kilfenora baptisms for 1840, you can go straight to the page image where January 1840 begins: 90 per cent squint-free.

Opposition to the project still exists, with some heritage centres lobbying local TDs to jog the Minister’s elbow. Understandable, up to a point. There is no doubt that the project will have an impact on the centres’ income from their transcript-only site, or that some centres are storehouses of invaluable local knowledge which it would be a shame to lose. But the new site will also be a wonderful opportunity for them. One of the first things I did was to find a transcript on rootsireland and go to the corresponding microfilm page. It was a revelation: seeing the actual entry had an immediate punch, a vivid immediacy that was much greater than the transcript. But finding the entry in the first place was only possible with the transcript. Marry the two – it’s not rocket science – and the centres would have a world-beater.