Thursday, July 9, 2015

They're here!!

The Catholic parish records database at is barely 24 hours old, and already I’ve been binge-searching it!  I have to say I’m quite impressed overall.  In 20 years of genealogy research, I’ve had basic exposure to Irish Catholic parish records that probably mirrors the experience of many of us doing family history from here in the states.  Starting with dealing with the county heritage centers in the 1990’s, moving to ordering films from the LDS when they were available, to more recently using the RootsIreland and Irish Genealogy databases online, I feel I’ve got a fairly good handle on the limitations, availability and condition of the records, especially those in the parishes I am most familiar with from Counties Laois, Wicklow, Clare and Galway.  This familiarity, along with the knowledge that these records were going to be searchable page by page only, prepared me fairly well for today’s debut.
Still I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised.  The records are pretty much as I expected, but the website itself and its search features are a definite positive.  It’s obvious that the National Library took great pains to make the database as user-friendly as possible.  This is something I greatly appreciate, knowing the hours of eyestrain that it can take to find a single record on microfilm. 
The search is fairly straight forward if one knows the parish and an approximate date.  Clear details are given as to the holdings of each parish- the years covered for baptisms and marriages, the number of images.  You can click on whichever roll within the parish contains the year you are interested in.  The image quality is also very good- I was able to navigate, and zoom in and out and maintain a clear image.  One function I love is the ease of searching page to page- no need to click a forward arrow to advance to the next image like on Ancestry or Family Search’s databases, simply just keep scrolling down to get to the next page.  Downloading the images was also easy and I was able to import into Picasa to enhance them for better readability.
Traditionally, we are lead to believe that the parishes around Dublin kept better and more detailed records than the “wilder”, more far-reaching parishes in the west of Ireland.  I found the records I looked through for counties Clare and Galway to be much easier to read than those from Laois and Wicklow- all from roughly the same time period.  So expect a few challenges to pre-conceived notions you might be holding on to!

Of course we know that not all parish records are created equal- spidery, faded writing is still going to be migraine-inducing even on an oversized monitor.  “Gaps and omissions” are going to remain a serious problem in many of the records.  (I did notice in the Aughrim, County Galway baptism records the priest had made a notation that the records were missing for an 18 month period of time- which could very well explain the absence of my husband’s GG grandfather’s baptism record)  Despite these unavoidable limitations, I can see many researchers making important discoveries using this database, and it is one I will be returning to frequently.  There’s something simply magical about seeing your ancestor’s name leap off a page of records from his or her homeland- it deepens our connection and solidifies our place in our family history.  Kudos to the National Library for providing the opportunity for people around the world to have this experience!