Finding out about your Church of Ireland ancestors is about to become significantly easier, as their library has been awarded a €100,000 Government grant to digitise their records.
The grant will allow the Representative Church Body (RCB) Library to digitise a huge number of records that span several centuries, in a move that will be welcomed by families in Ireland and abroad who are interested in genealogy. Most of the institution's records are currently only available in the Braemor Park library in Churchtown, Co Dublin.
The new Government grant - which came from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht - will see volumes as old as 400 years being digitised so the masses can access them from anywhere in the world.
IrishGenealogy.ie currently holds both civil and church records, which can be accessed by the public for free.
The church records that are currently available contain a selection of Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic records from diocese across Ireland. They include both Catholic and Church of Ireland baptism, marriage and burial records from Kerry, parts of Cork and Dublin City, as well as Church of Ireland records for Carlow.
The vast majority of Church of Ireland records have not yet been digitised, and the library estimates that the process will likely take several years.
The RCB Library holds parish registers from the Church of Ireland for baptism, marriage and burial, and includes approximately 1,110 sets of parish records. Around 840 of these contain quantities of records that have not yet been digitised.
The completed digitised records will be particularly useful to Irish people both at home and abroad, as well as historians, who want to find out more about their family’s past.
Speaking about the funding, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, said the records represent "an important body of evidence about the Church's history".
“Digitisation of this type also provides a vital channel to connect with our diaspora - which is estimated to be up to 70 million people worldwide - and in turn encourages cultural tourism,” she added.
Speaking to The Irish Times about the funding, Susan Hood, librarian and archivist at the RCB Library, said that the number one reason that they need to digitise the files is to safeguard them.
“These records have received huge wear and tear down through the generations, with the passion for genealogy and finding roots,” she says.
“In the case of the earliest one, it will actually be 400 years old in February next year. It is made out of sheep’s hide and is still fully legible. But we have to think of the next 400 years. People who will still need to refer back to the originals for whatever legal, social or other purposes will still be able to do so.”
Dr Hood claims the collection is “arguably the last big set of personal data information that has not yet been fully digitised” in Ireland. She says the funding will now allow them to buy the necessary equipment, and that when completed, it will open the records up to more people than ever before.
“For a family living in deepest South America who haven’t a clue where in Ireland they came from, hopefully this opens up the possibility of finding out.”
However, she also cautions that the digitisation process is slow, and asks the genealogical community and the wider public to be patient while they work to complete the project.
“Hopefully, in a few years’ time, we will all be celebrating that they’re imaged, they’re all indexed, and we can move from there,” she adds.