Monday, May 11, 2015

Mark your calendars!

July 8 is a day family historians with Irish roots worldwide are eagerly anticipating.  That’s the day many of us will have the opportunity to get closer to our ancestors than we ever have before.  The National Library collection of Catholic parish records is scheduled to go online-bringing to the comfort of our own homes what we formerly had to travel all the way to Dublin to see.  I’m not knocking a trip to Dublin, of course, but wouldn’t that trip to Ireland be that much more meaningful if you could actually SEE your ancestor’s baptism record before you arrived?
Many of us have discovered the origins of our Irish ancestors courtesy of the County Heritage Center system, set up in the 1980’s to accommodate the growing numbers of descendants of Irish immigrants who wished to discover their roots.  Still more have used the transcription-only database of the Irish Family History Foundation, the unified organization of the heritage centers, at RootsIreland.  And some of us have even gone so far as to order films of parish records from the Family History Library, just to see for ourselves the handwritten records that show our ancestors.  The July 8 unveiling will bring all of this to us, for free!
Be prepared!  These images are not going to be accessible via search engine.  You will not be able to put your ancestor’s name into a little box, hit a button, and poof!  Instead you will have to know the county, parish, and an approximate year in order to get started searching.  In an era where a lot of internet-trained genealogists are used to nearly instant gratification, the concept of wading through page after page of spidery, smudged, faded, scribbled and all-too-often illegible handwriting is truly a foreign one.  Many of us will be transported back to a time before some census records had indexes (remember 1870?) and we would have to search whole towns and counties to find our ancestors, a not terribly happy memory!
John Grenham has recently blogged that the image quality is outstanding, but this doesn’t mean you aren’t going to have to do some work.  Having viewed  a few of these records in my day, I can tell you the form and quality varies widely from parish to parish.  Two examples I have in my personal collection are shown below.  
Baptism record of James Walsh, Agahaboe Parish, Queen's County, 1834 (sure glad I knew the date and his parents' names before I started looking!)
Baptism record of Thomas Doherty, Aughrim Parish, County Galway, 1843

You can see there is a vast difference in the above two baptism records.  In general, it will be best to have an idea of the exact parish, date and names of parents before attempting to search page by page.  The transcribed records available at can be used as a sort of "index" to locating the record of your choice in the National Library database.  Now, the countdown begins!  Only 58 days!