Wednesday, 23 July 2014

More on the UK's archives - international comparison

Yesterday I wrote a blog post comparing the provisions of the three national archives of the United Kingdom (as presently constituted) - the National Archives at Kew, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast, and the National Records of Scotland at Edinburgh. The blog post, available at, was designed to flag up how far behind the National Records of Scotland is falling in terms of providing an acceptable user service, in comparison to its sister sites. Several people have responded with their own experiences - thanks to those who have, and please do keep them coming!

John Reid of the Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections blog, has now taken the same criteria that I used in my comparison to reflect on Canada's national archive provision in Ottawa, at the Library and Archives Canada facility. It's an interesting read, available at I amended my post this morning to add one final category - is it enjoyable to visit? - which is not included in John's assessment, though I think I can guess the result! Canada's facility, which I visited a couple of years ago, has been under quite an assault of its own in recent times, and at the archive conference hosted by CAIS in Dundee that I attended in April 2013 there was much solidarity shown between British archivists and that from the Canadian archive sector.

I'd be interested to know how national archives elsewhere in the world compare - New Zealand, Australia, the Republic of Ireland, Europe, the United States? What makes for best practice from a genealogical user's point of view, what really doesn't work, and what innovations can be made that you think might improve the picture at your national archive, whether here in the UK or elsewhere around the world?

Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa

Search room at LAC

(With thanks to John)


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And FindmyPast - please reinstate the original Scottish census citations on your new site.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Mexican records on Ancestry

This will likely not affect many of us in the British Isles, but there will always be one person for whom it might be a godsend! Mexican civil registration records have been added to Ancestry's world subscription, for many registration districts. The records are in Spanish - a full list of what's available is at


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And FindmyPast - please reinstate the original Scottish census citations on your new site.

Comparing the UK's three national archives

This is something I have considered doing for a while, but after a trip to the NRS in Edinburgh yesterday that just about did my head in (see, here it comes at last. The following is my take on comparing the provisions of the UK's three leading national archives providers - the National Archives at Kew (, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (, and the archive facility at the National Records of Scotland ( It should be noted that the NRS is a recently merged body comprised of the General Register Office for Scotland and the National Archives of Scotland - I am deliberately not including the GROS/ScotlandsPeople side of things in this regard, as TNA and PRONI have no similar provision, only the NRS archive service (i.e. the NAS). In my view there are some positives for the NRS, but just as many, if not more, negatives when compared to its sister institutions in England and Northern Ireland. Here goes:

TNA: Officially the United Kingdom, but predominantly the national archive for England and Wales, with some British collections involving all four nations (and from the former British Empire), and some Irish and Scottish holdings. Recently tasked with providing a strategic lead for the English and Welsh archive sector.
PRONI: Northern Ireland, with some pre-Partition southern Irish holdings also. Northern Ireland does not operate county archive centres as in Britain and the Republic of Ireland, so PRONI is a curious mixture of being both the local archive for the province and its national archive.
NRS: Scotland only. Has no strategic role in leading the Scottish archive sector in the way TNA does down south.

Centralised location?
TNA: No. About as central in London as I am in the west of Scotland! Underground stop is a few minutes walk from the archive, but long trip from central London. On site parking.
PRONI: Nearly. Buses to Titanic Quarter, but an easy 5-10 minute walk from the city centre, basically on the other side of the river. No on site parking, but large car park directly across the road, facing Odyssey.
NRS: Very. On Prince's Street in Edinburgh, hop off the train and be there in a minute. Parking in nearby St James Shopping Centre car park, few minutes walk away, and regular trams and buses in city centre.

Convenient opening hours?
TNA: Yes. TNA recently redesigned its hours so that it is now closed on Mondays, but open Tuesday to Saturdays 9am-5pm, with two late evening sessions to 7pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Saturdays best option for those working Mon-Fri 9-5
PRONI: Yes. Mondays to Wednesdays and Fridays 9am-4.45pm, Thursday 10am-8.45pm for those working a regular Mon-Fri 9-5. Last production orders 30 mins before closing. Occasional weekend opening of search rooms if PRONI is hosting an event.
NRS: Not really. Mondays to Fridays 9.00am-4.30pm, inconvenient for those working Mon-Fri 9-5. No evening opening; no weekend opening. Latest document ordering 3.45pm.

Wifi access?
TNA: Yes, freely available throughout the building.
PRONI: Yes, freely available throughout the building.
NRS: Why-fi? Some limited access to a pre-arranged list of vetted websites on NRS computers only. 3G tablets should pick up a signal in the search room.

Cafe facilities?
TNA: Yes, on site, ground floor.
PRONI: Yes, on site, ground floor.
NRS: Not in General Register House (which houses the archive search room), but a basic cafe facility is located in a separate building, New Register House (also part of NRS), located next door. Shopping centre across road has a food court.

Ordering documents:
TNA: Several search rooms available on site on a few floors. Once in a search room, a range of computers are available to allow you to order up documents using the internal catalogue. Panels can be consulted to see if your production is available to view, allowing you to go off for a coffee, or check emails etc, whilst keeping an eye on progress. Microfilm is now an endangered species at Kew.
PRONI: There are two main search rooms, one has a dedicated collection of computers that can be used to order documents, though worth bearing in mind the on site based catalogue is different in construction to that available online (the on site one is far superior). As with TNA, it is also possible to keep an eye on screens to see when productions are available to consult. There is a also a dedicated microfilm area with several readers available, including two printers.
NRS: Only one main public search room (a separate legal search room is on the same floor, with some microfilm access) with a series of computers at one end hosting digital resources, which although they host the on site catalogue, can not be used to order documents. To order documents, you have to go to the other end of the room to use one of two other computers to make the order - but you are not allowed to use the catalogue on those! Completely ridiculous set up. There are no screens providing progress on order deliveries, you have to just wait, though usually not for long. Unfortunately a substantial and seemingly growing amount of material is held off site on the other side of Edinburgh at Thomas Thomson House – there is no public search room access there or at West Register House (which used to offer such a provision). Only 12 items stored off site can be ordered in advance for a day's visit. Once you've gone through those, it's tough luck.

Digitisation programme?
TNA: Almost messianic in its zeal. Some content digitised and made for sale through TNA website on pay-per-view basis. Some digitised as part of digital microfilms initiative, and made accessible for free. Umpteen number of projects with licensed partners such as Ancestry, FindmyPast and The Genealogist.
PRONI: Yes – as a small archive it tends to try for one 'big' release a year involving its own records, though other smaller releases or enhancements do go online from time to time. All records freely accessible through its own site. Has worked with FamilySearch on recent Valuation Revisions Books project, and its index to post-1858 wills calendars and wills collection is partially available through Ancestry as a free third party web linked database (search via Ancestry, but redirect to PRONI for results).
NRS: Fairly substantial digitisation programme, though access to the collections is available predominantly in its Edinburgh based search room only through its Virtual Volumes facility. Some records content is digitised for provision through its ScotlandsPlaces portal (in partnership with NLS and RCAHMS), a subscription site, at £18 for 3 months access (inc VAT). Has recently successfully adopted a limited crowdsourcing indexing programme. Wills and a few valuation rolls accessible via ScotlandsPeople.

TNA: Online access via Discovery, its relatively new Borg technology based catalogue which will seemingly soon assimilate all known catalogues that have ever been hosted on the TNA website (inc NRA, A2A etc). Takes a bit of getting used to, but does work.
PRONI: There are actually two catalogue systems for the public – the one available online (eCATNI), which is good, but nowhere near as useful as the on site version. Cataloguing is ongoing, though a current historic abuse inquiry in Northern Ireland means some staff resources are currently being redirected into that, and for the foreseeable future.
NRS: Very effective, by far the biggest success I would attribute to NRS. It has its quirks, but usually provides a good level of detail for that which has been catalogued. May be showing its age a bit though, has had a few reported problems last couple of months from online users.

Can you take photos?
TNA: Yes. Go for it! No charge. Rostrum stands available, but usually good results at your desk also, well lit search room.
PRONI: No, not with your own camera. There is a space-age scanner available that can be used, which costs 30p per image, and which saves to USB stick only. Watermarks images with PRONI logo across middle of the page, however, though usually possible to position small documents on either side of area where that would appear, as image base is A3 in size, so lots of room to play with.
NRS: Yes. No charge. Restrictions on copying some material, however, such as most Gifts and Deposits (privately deposited material indexed with GD). Not a bright search room though, so either use the rostrum stand if available, or ask for a table near the window, where you'll get more daylight, which should help with image quality.

Social media use?
TNA: Again, almost messianic in its zeal. Official blogs, Twitter account, podcasts, regular newsletters. TNA has a message that it is an archive that will help you, and it gets that message out, very effectively. Some staff tweet in a personal capacity, and Audrey Collins' unofficial blog The Family Recorder (, although not updated in a while, is a real treat.
PRONI: Very ambitious. Regular news stories on its main site, plus a recently introduced weekly newsletter called the PRONI Express. A keen advocate of using FLICKR to share photographic resources and to gather info on the images interactively from the public, whilst PRONI's YouTube channel is a real success story for those who cannot get to Belfast to attend talks. Document of the month feature on main site. No Twitter account, though some staff tweet unofficially in a personal capacity.
NRS: Very limited use of Twitter. The occasional archive based news story every month or every other month on its own NAS website. No dedicated archive newsletter (there is a ScotlandsPeople newsletter that occasionally mentions archive events). You rarely get to hear about anything happening in the NRS archive. Almost a closed shop.

User base engagement?
TNA: There is a regular stakeholder group, which includes family historians and others, that meets at the archive. Volunteer opportunities with some programmes are also available, for example with the current war diaries project, whilst a Friends of the National Archives group raises funds to help make TNA collections accessible, as well as involved in indexing collections. Heavy use of social media to communicate archive strategy. There is an active talks and conference based programme at the facility. Disappeared from WDYTYA Live for a few years, but back in the game again. Actively beta tests online developments with users.
PRONI: A stakeholder group meets every three months to hear about developments and discuss progress on key objectives. As with TNA, the archive is almost messianic in providing a strong talks programme on site and across the province, with occasional forays to Britain (mainly WDYTYA Live). No Friends based support group.
NRS: Although there is ScotlandsPeople user group that rarely meets now, if there is a dedicated user group for the archive, I've never heard of it – and if it exists, I have absolutely no idea what it talks about. As with PRONI, there is also no Friends based support group. NRS makes little, if any, attempt to inform its user base about on site developments. It attends WDYTYA Live each year on a joint platform with ScotlandsPeople, and occasional shows in Scotland. The recent crowd sourcing project on ScotlandsPlaces is the only non-show based project I can think of where NRS has attempted to interact with its user base.

If the archive had a motto, what might it be?
TNA: “We may not be amused, but we can certainly help!”
PRONI: “We're not Brazil, we're Northern Ireland! Search room's just through the door love...”
NRS: “Gonnae no dae that. Just... gonnae no.”

Enjoyable to visit?
TNA: The National Archives at Kew is a huge facility, and so on any visit I rarely get a chance to know any staff or talk to them, it's more a huge machine that just happens to work brilliantly for the most part. So I never come away having enjoyed or not enjoyed a day there (unless, for example, I've been at a conference), but I do tend to come away on most occasions with a sense of satisfaction after a good day's work. And that's fine, because that's exactly what I want - it's not a tourist attraction after all!
PRONI: My favourite archive in the UK. Don't get me wrong, at times there are frustrations, some of the online help guides, for example, could do with being a bit more specific. But when you go there and have a good craic with any of the staff, including the security personnel, and achieve what you want, yes, by a long shot it is an enjoyable facility. Like TNA, PRONI knows that to flourish, it needs to deliver what is asked of it.
NRS: In short? No. There is rarely a visit I make these days where something doesn't go wrong, or some bit of insane bureaucratic rule rears its head to tell you off, or when a productive day is cut short by inadequate facilities. NRS just doesn't get it, and is by a long shot my least favourite archive in Scotland, despite having some of the country's best resources. The staff are by and large friendly and informative - but the system itself oppresses everything that can possibly help to achieve a user friendly experience. It's like spending a day out at a civil service department.

Conclusion: As I stated yesterday, I think NRS has some work to do...

Copier at PRONI. If I don't use it, I stand and admire it...

Main documents consultation room at PRONI

Main search room at PRONI - dedicated microfilm area also at far end

Census conference I attended at TNA, organised by Friends of TNA in 2013

TNA - a 21st century institution fit for purpose

NRS General Register House - and that's either Wellington or the daily dispatch rider to Thomas Thomson House...


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And FindmyPast - please reinstate the original Scottish census citations on your new site.

Monday, 21 July 2014

First World War lectures in Belfast - PRONI and Falls Library

From PRONI (, news of a First World War themed series of lectures to be held at the archive, and also PRONI contributed talks to be held at Falls Library in Belfast:

Lecture Series: The Road to War

National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) invite you to ‘The Road to War’ - a joint lecture series exploring the impact and legacy of the First World War in Ireland.

The Outbreak of the First World War by Dr William Mulligan, University College Dublin
Thursday 7 August 2014, Ulster Museum Lecture Theatre, 7pm
William Mulligan is a Senior Lecturer at University College Dublin and a EURIAS Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin in 2013/4. His most recent book is The Great War for Peace, published in 2014 by Yale University Press.

Ireland’s Entry Into War, 1914: Acceptance or Refusal?, Dr Catriona Pennell, University of Exeter
Thursday 25 September, 2014, Ulster Museum Lecture Theatre, 7pm
Dr Catriona Pennell is Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter. Her first book, A Kingdom United: Popular Responses to the Outbreak of the First World War in Britain and Ireland (Oxford University Press , 2012) was nominated for the RHS Whitfield Prize 2012 and the Economic History Society First Monograph Prize 2013.

Militarism in Ireland, 1912–18, Professor David Fitzpatrick, Trinity College, Dublin
Thursday 9 October 2014, PRONI, 7pm
David Fitzpatrick is Professor of Modern History at Trinity College, Dublin. His works include Politics and Irish Life, 1913–1921 (1977, 1998), Oceans of Consolation: Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia (1994), The Two Irelands, 1912–1939 (1998), Harry Boland’s Irish Revolution (2003), ‘Solitary and Wild: Frederick MacNeice and the Salvation of Ireland (2012), and, as editor, Terror in Ireland, 1916–1923 (2012). Descendancy: Irish Protestant Histories since 1795 will be published later this year by Cambridge University Press.

'If the nation is to be saved women must help in the saving’: Women and War in Ireland, 1914-18, Dr Senia Paseta, University of Oxford
Thursday 23 October 2014, PRONI, 7pm
Dr Senia Paseta is a historian of modern Ireland with a particular interest in the history of education, religious identity formation, political movements, and ideas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her current research is in the history of women and political activism in Britain and Ireland. Her new book, Irish Nationalist Women, 1900-1918 (Cambridge, 2013), examines how politically active women worked within broader nationalist and feminist contexts during a volatile period of Irish history.

WHERE: Lectures will take place at PRONI and the Ulster Museum as stated above.
WHEN: All talks will start at 7pm
HOW MUCH: Admission is FREE but booking is essential. Please contact PRONI to secure your place: E: T: (+44) 028 90534800


PRONI will be participating in a series of lectures on the First World War taking place at Falls Library from the 4th to the 8th August. Each lecture will be preceded by a ten minute talk from a member of PRONI on individual experiences of soldiers and civilians during the First World War. Each talk will cover one individual, including men and women at both the Home Front and overseas and will showcase some of the archival resources from PRONI.

Remembering, Forgetting and Commemorating Ireland's Great War: Issues for Belfast by Professor Richard S Grayson
Monday 4 August at 7pm

“The Soul of the Nation”: Irish republicans, war and rebellion by Dr Fearghal McGarry
Tuesday 5 August at 1pm

The Great War and Unionist Memory by Philip Orr
Wednesday 6 August at 1pm

Belfast Women and the Great War by Dr Margaret Ward and Lynda Walker
Thursday 7 August at 1pm

The formation and history of the Three Irish Divisions by Jimmy McDermott
Friday 8th August at 1pm

All lectures will take place at Falls Library. For more information about these events, please visit

(With thanks to the latest edition of PRONI's weekly newsletter, PRONI Express)


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And FindmyPast - please reinstate the original Scottish census citations on your new site.

National Records of Scotland needs to up its game

This morning I set off to Edinburgh to achieve two things at the National Records of Scotland ( The first was to spend a couple of hours carrying out some research for a client. The second was to spend the rest of my time there doing some personal research - with so much happening on the Irish side of my family tree in the last year or so, my Scottish side has been somewhat neglected.

The original plan was to visit last Thursday, but an irritating cold prevented me from making the trip. In preparing for the journey (which is a 5 hour round trip to make from Largs), I had initially consulted the NRS catalogue a week ago, only to find it wasn't working. When I called the NRS, I was told it was offline and in need of a new part, but that it would be fixed within a couple of days. In fact, it was back up again a day later - great stuff. The documents I needed, however, were stored not at New Register House, but in an offsite storage facility on the other side of Edinburgh, and needed to be ordered in advance of my visit. When I had called to ask about the catalogue I was also advised that there had recently been problems with the online ordering system, so I was advised to call back through with any documents references I needed to order in advance, rather than do it online. A quirk of the ordering system is that you can only order up twelve items in advance. For my client's research - the priority - I had to order up ten items, leaving only two slots for me to order documents that might be of use for my own research - any more than that, and the "computer says no". I duly ordered twelve items then, expecting to view them all last Thursday, but of course, that had to be rearranged for today. Helpfully, the NRS staff member held the documents over for me, rather than returning them to Thomas Thomson House, the offsite storage facility.

The material I ordered for my client research thankfully came through, and I was able to successfully resolve an interesting situation using ultimus haeres records (a future blog post!). Another brief look up for a second client took just a few minutes, and then at about 11.30am, I had almost five hours left to play with two series of rental rolls I had ordered - except, when I got the two boxes ordered, it transpired one of them was the wrong box, the archivist having accidentally ordered the wrong accession number, which was out by a single digit. It was an unfortunate error, but I spoke to the archivist and joked it was just their attempts to get me back up on another day. These things happen, and although frustrating I laughed it off and got to work on the other box, which had a series of rentals from the 16th to the 18th centuries from a barony in Perthshire - enough for me to wade through and to keep me occupied for another hour and a half. And then at 1.00pm, I finished - with still three and half hours precious research time available to carry out work. So far, so good, and at this point, I was still a happy bunny.

Now you have to appreciate that I have been researching my Scottish ancestry for some 14 years, and that on most lines I am at least back to the mid 18th century and earlier. So I am not looking for the basics now when I go to the NRS, such as wills, censuses, parish records etc - I do keep going back to them, of course, but only as a result now from other finds made in other less accessible sources. The records that will push me back further are the things like rental rolls, court records and other more obscure, and largely unindexed collections - the fun records written in Klingon (secretary hand, in Scots) that make your hands go filthy black just by opening them. So with three and half hours to go, I took a quick look at my website on which I have recorded all my progress made so far, and decided to try and order up some records for certain situations that have long been awaiting answers.

And here then, was the problem. In consulting the catalogue, nothing I wanted to see was available. Estate papers I was interested in - stored off site. Sheriff court records of interest - stored off site. Exchequer records for certain escheated estates after the Jacobite rebellions - stored off site. At one point I took a quick look at a volume for the indexes to the Services of Heirs (records concerning inheritance of heritable property) that I have regularly consulted in General Register House in the past - the indexes of interest were there, but when I went to order the original volume, I couldn't believe it - they are now also stored off site.

After an hour of trying to come up with options to help me fill my remaining time, not a single thing I wished to consult could be ordered - everything of any possible interest was stored off site. Even if I had prepared a list of what I wanted to see before turning up today, I would not have been able to view anything - the stuff I'm interested in is stored off site, and I can only order 12 items at a time - a day in advance. Unlike the National Library of Scotland, which ferries records from its off site facility during the day, NRS does not do that. In the past, NRS had a second search room facility operational at West Register House, on the other end of Princes Street, which used to hold all the sheriff court records and other useful materials, but it was closed a few years back. When it was shut, a lot of material went to Thomas Thomson House - stored off site - and only some records made it to the main search room at General Register House.

Thoroughly irritated now, I resorted to my usual default - I decided to have a look (again) at the sasines database to pass time, to see if I had missed anything from previous searches - it's called the RAC Search Tool, and was designed by computer programmers in 55BC, not long before the birth of baby Jesus - but when I tried to perform a search it would not work. I called the archivist on duty over who told me that it was apparently working, but that "since the computers had been upgraded you can no longer see progress being indicated". So, assured it actually was working, I watched a screen do literally nothing for several minutes, before deciding that enough was enough - at which point I asked for my readers ticket back, and left, thoroughly pissed off.

Quite frankly, I am beginning to lose the rag with the National Records of Scotland. The staff are by and large helpful and friendly (as with your barber, never argue with your archivist!), but the system and the set up in operation there just does not work. It is antiquated, not fit for purpose, and if it was not for the fact that there are some computers in the Historic Search Room, I would call it jurassic (or at least 19th century). By contrast, I regularly use PRONI in Belfast (, and have on several occasions in recent years travelled to London to use the National Archives based at Kew ( Both institutions - one serving a population much, much bigger than NRS, the other a population a third the size of Scotland's - have purpose built facilities with their collections stored on site, with many innovations, a willingness to engage with their user base and to understand their needs.

I attended an archive conference in Dundee in April 2013, and gave a talk to a room filled with archivists about how professional genealogists, and those doing genealogy for a hobby, use archives to further their work. I discussed some of the great innovations that many archives in Scotland and across the British Isles have been adopting to move with the times, ranging from social media engagement with the user base and initiatives such as talks programmes, user forums, purpose built facilities, digitisation and online access to records (with commercial partnerships etc), wifi access at search rooms, and so, so much more. On just about every one of the criteria I mentioned, NRS fell flat on its face. Fifteen months later, it is still flat on its face. And that is a real tragedy - because it was here in Scotland that we basically kick started the online genealogy provision of records in the UK. ScotlandsPeople, and its precessor, Scots Origins, were ground-breaking upon creation, as indeed was the ScotlandsPeople Centre, itself a modern face to the previous access available at the GRO search room in Edinburgh's New Register House.

But in the newly merged National Records of Scotland - a body in which the General Register Office and the National Archives of Scotland still maintain separate websites years after the event (as if each is standing permanently startled on either side of a room after a shotgun wedding in which they suddenly found themselves as the protagonists), there is certainly no sense of energy at least on the archive side, no sense of willingness to move ahead with the times. ScotlandsPeople is moving slowly, but it is moving forwards. By contrast, with each visit I make to the Historical Search Room, I get the feeling that the opposite is happening - things are going backwards. And it is just not on in the 21st century.

Quite frankly, we need a new national archive facility in Scotland. It will be heresy to some, but I'd be quite happy to see General Register House knocked down to build something more adequate. But it isn't just the building. We need a new facility, new practices, new opening hours and a new attitude with the powers that be to help us to access our personal heritage. Wooden panelled walls in a search room with a wooden panelled bureaucracy just will not cut it any more in today's day and age.

In a separate post tomorrow I will compare and contrast the provisions for genealogists of the three national archives in the UK at present, located at Belfast, Kew and Edinburgh. (UPDATE: Now accessible at

Shiny, fit for purpose TNA at Kew

Shiny, fit for purpose PRONI

NRS. And the Duke of Wellington.


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And FindmyPast - please reinstate the original Scottish census citations on your new site.

RIP: GRO Ireland's credibility (2014-2014)

There's a great phrase often used in life, when a spectacular failure that could be entirely foreseen just wasn't, and all credit is subsequently given for the failure to the organiser.

"He couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery."

To clarify... this is a great piss up, the example being the night before my brother's wedding in Portsmouth last year:

And this, then, would be your average brewery:

With enough beer, participants, and permission to be allowed in the said brewery, it would indeed be entirely possible to organise such an event very easily. You just have to ask the right questions, find some thirsty folk, and then let rip until daybreak... anyone could do it!

Unless you happen to be the General Register Office of Ireland.

For almost a year the GRO from the Republic of Ireland has been promising enhanced indexes online for state issued certificates for births, marriages and deaths from 1845 to the present day, all with added and enhanced information, designed to bring Irish genealogy resources well and truly into the 21st century. Surely not, many cried, such an act would be like finding and then hiring Moses to part the Red Sea again - a tad tricky? And yet, a couple of weeks back, they delivered, and on Irish Genealogy ( the indexes arrived. A grateful nation wept tears of joy.

Except... the GRO forgot to ask if it was OK to put the information online.

The Irish Genealogy site put a note up a few days ago to say that the database was currently unavailable. The Information Commissioner in Ireland, Billy Hawkes, has since been quoted in today's Irish Times as saying that “it will stay down until we sort out what exactly has gone wrong", for although "a lot of the stuff on the site is harmless – it’s about dead people", it's quite a different issue when putting info online about those still alive. His judgement is apparently that someone has “missed the plot” in doing so. The article is at, with a follow up at discussing the fears of identity theft that the database would apparently be open to abuse for.

Such fears have prevented the ScotlandsPeople site ( from issuing detailed indexes for recent records that do not fall within certain closure periods (100 years for births, 75 for marriages, 50 for deaths) - it only provides basic indexes that have enough information to order the relevant certificate for those already in the know. The Northern Irish GENI site (, launched recently, just does not provide any recent indexes at all, only records older than the same employed closure periods. The English and Welsh GRO however, does provide indexes up to 2005 online (via various third parties), but provides no further indexes online beyond that date for privacy reasons. All these bodies have at least considered what is acceptable online. Not GRO Ireland it seems...

In summary, the GRO in Ireland, and its government partners at Irish Genealogy, have screwed up in unbelievable proportions. As such, they should probably not be contacted to organise parties in establishments that produce booze - just in case you were thinking of asking them to do so.

(With thanks to Nicola Elsom and Colin Gronow via comments on my last story on this a few days back, but in particular to Claire Santry's Irish Genealogy News blog - see Claire's take on the situation at


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And FindmyPast - please reinstate the original Scottish census citations on your new site.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

FamilySearch redesigns international records collections access

FamilySearch ( has been tinkering again with the way that we locate the international records collections. Previously there was a list of defined regions within which the collections were grouped, e.g. "United Kingdom and Ireland", located on the Search page. Now that list has been replaced by an interactive map. Here's a quick walk through...

Visit the Search page at and scroll to the bottom - this is what you will now find:

Rolling the mouse across the map highlights each region in yellow as you pass over:

If I roll over the British Isles and select Ireland as one of the options in the menu on the left and then click, I now get a brief overview of the number of records held and the number of collections:

To be blunt, that's fairly useless, and I get bored with numbers fairly quickly! What I want to see are the collection titles, and to do this I have to click on the 'Start researching in Ireland' blue hyperlink in the box. Once I click on this I am then taken to a dedicated page listing only the Irish collections:

I suspect this has been necessary due to the number of collections being added - the UK and Ireland page holdings list was getting quite lengthy, and I suspect it was the same for some other regions. There is also the option of using the 'Browse All Published Collections' list beneath the map - but it a very long list...!


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And FindmyPast - please reinstate the original Scottish census citations on your new site.

Irish BMD indexes database currently unavailable

The recently launched civil births, marriages and deaths indexes database for the Republic of Ireland on Irish Genealogy ( have suddenly disappeared, with a message since 13.05 yesterday (Friday) now stating "Civil Records Search temporarily unavailable: Further update will be provided."

Rather oddly the category heading itself has disappeared from the menu at the top of the home page, but all other record sets remain accessible at present. Hopefully this is just some sort of blip that will be sorted imminently...

For Northern Irish research, remember that BMD records can be sourced from the new pay per view source from the GRO in Belfast at, whilst for the Republic, BMD indexes from 1845-1958 are freely accessible on FamilySearch at


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And FindmyPast - please reinstate the original Scottish census citations on your new site.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office records 1782-1982 workshop

The National Archives at Kew is running a workshop on Tuesday 22nd July entitled From mandarins to mandates, an overview of Foreign and Commonwealth Office records in The National Archives. The workshop "will look at records of the Foreign Office from when it was established in 1782, through to the merger with the Commonwealth Office in 1968 and up to the latest releases of records for 1982."

For further details visit


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And FindmyPast - please reinstate the original Scottish census citations on your new site.

TNA podcast - Keeping it in the family

The latest podcast from the National Archives in England has a medieval Scottish link. Entitled Keeping it in the Family, it is a 42 minute talk from Dr Jessica Nelson - here's the blurb:

In a period where politics could not be separated from dynasty and the personal relationships between individuals were crucial to government, women often played a key role in diplomacy. This was certainly the case in relations between England and Scotland in the medieval period, with sisters, daughters and cousins of English kings regularly being dispatched north of the border to forge links through marriage with the Scottish kings. This talk draws on records at The National Archives and elsewhere to illuminate the roles that these women played and discuss what light they can shed on Anglo-Scottish relations.

The podcast is accessible at or can be downloaded for free from iTunes.


Now available for UK research is the new second edition of the best selling Tracing Your Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians, whilst my new book British and Irish Newspapers is also now out. And FindmyPast - please reinstate the original Scottish census citations on your new site.