Good deeds

The historic memorial books.

Many veteran researchers have a soft spot for the Registry of Deeds in Dublin. Research here is research as it should be, with much climbing up and down ladders hefting giant hand-written tomes, much poring over 200-year-old legal abbreviations and inhaling 200-year old dust. All that’s missing are the powdered wigs.

But an irksome aspect of recent research there has been the Registry’s official policy on photography.  It is utterly bananas.

A picture I took of the Registry’s ‘No cameras’ sign.

Every archive balances the contradiction between making records accessible to the public in the present and keeping them safe for the future. And every archive except the Registry has long recognized that encouraging readers to take digital images is a near-perfect answer: it decreases wear and tear on the originals and gives readers a chance to chew over complex records at their leisure. But the Registry bans cameras completely and polices the ban with CC-TV in every research room.

Land index Dublin city 1739-1810

Now FamilySearch.org has rendered the ban moot. So moot, in fact, it couldn’t possibly be mooter. In 1950, the Mormons made a microfilm copy of all of the Registry’s records, Lands Indexes, Grantors’ Indexes, Memorial Books, the lot, all the way from its opening in 1708 to 1929, comprising a massive 2686 microfilms. And they are now digitising the microfilm and making it freely available online. So far, all the Grantors’ and Lands Indexes up to 1929 are complete, all of the eighteenth-century memorial books are complete and about 90% of 1800-1850 memorials are there.  The intention appears to be to complete the set.

Memorial 383002 March 29 1805. Click to see the quality

Hurrah. Almost everything of interest to genealogy is now online, and imaged very well indeed. So much for the camera ban.

Don’t get me wrong. Research on these records remains as cumbersome as it ever was: identify deeds of interest from the indexes; find the matching volume number, then the right page number, then the right memorial. But now, instead of humping 50-pound books up and down ladders, you’re downloading 500 MB microfilm files.

A couple of spin-off implications come to mind. First the heroic volunteer transcription site “Registry of Deeds Index Project Ireland” has depended up to now on its transcribers having physical access to the Mormon microfilms. With direct online access, it should gain hordes of new transcribers and gather serious speed. Hurrah again.

Second, I don’t think I’ll ever breathe that centuries-old dust again. Or maybe ever get out of my dressing-gown.

Down the 1911 rabbit-hole

Every single human intervention in a record-set leaves its own layer of errors and omissions. Even the originals have mistakes. My own birth cert records my father as a farmer, something that irritated him immensely when he found out – he was proud he couldn’t tell one end of a cow from another. I presume the registrar in Portiuncula hospital in 1954 didn’t know Da’s occupation and made a reasonable guess. In 1950s rural Ireland he would have been right most of the time.

The cow is of the bovine ilk; one end is moo, the other milk.

Add to that the errors made when the records are catalogued. And then the omissions when they’re microfilmed. And the ones that are overlooked when the microfilms are digitised. Not to mention the mistranscriptions.

It’s a wonder we can find anything at all.

What set me off on this was last week’s post about 1911 census returns  imaged online but not transcribed. It produced an itch that had to be scratched: what about all the other 1911 returns that are missing? Some fell down the back of a desk early on and never made it to the National Archives. Some were missed by the Mormon microfilm team, but exist in hard copy in NAI. And some were microfilmed but never made it online, for reasons only known to the digitisers, Library and Archives Canada.

Down the 1911 rabbit-hole. That’s Valencia DED just below me.

So I’ve scratched that itch and put together a master list of

  1. online but untranscribed,
  2. microfilmed but not online,
  3. not microfilmed but in hard copy
  4. gone, God knows where.

The sources are the Rootschat forum on the topic, NAI’s own list of what’s missing (don’t ask) and my own fevered scratchings. I hope it will provide a home for any other refugees.

Time to break out the Calomine lotion.

The strange afterlife of the census microfilms

The method used by the National Archives of Ireland to digitise its genealogical records was sensible and straightforward. It took the existing microfilms (all created by the LDS Church) as the starting point and used digital images created from the microfilms as the basis of transcription and to provide an online copy of the original.

So far so good.

The first result is that the online collections include any flaws in the microfilms. For instance, the 1901 microfilms omitted the reverse of all Form As, which contain useful place-name identifiers, and so these are missing from the online image collection. Or areas missed by the microfilm team  – Ramelton Road in Letterkenny – are still offline only.

The second result is that it is possible to use the online image collections as if they were microfilm, scrolling forward and back through them in sequence.

The famous census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai002500860/

How do you do this? In your browser address-bar, you’ll see something like “census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai002500860/”. Just add 1 to that number to go forward a frame and subtract 1 to go back.

But the real question is why in the name of all that’s holy would anyone want to treat these image collections as if they were microfilm? Haven’t we spent half our lives praying for an escape from microfilm?

We don’t get away that easy. Just one example: the 1911 finding aid used to oversee the transcriptions included a category “Townland”. Many enumerators’ returns for small, single-street villages left the townland name blank and entered the name under “City, Urban District, Town or Village”. But where the finding aid left the townland blank, the transcribers presumed there were no returns and left it untranscribed. So around forty smallish villages are imaged online, but not findable by searching the 1911 database of transcripts.

The only way to research them is by going to the initial image and scrolling through them by hand. Precisely as if you were at one of those blasted microfilm machines.

So now you know why you couldn’t find Ballaghdereen and Moate and Kinvara in 1911.

Below is a table of the omissions I know of, with a link to the initial file. Let me know if you come across more.

Street-villages untranscribed in 1911, but imaged online

County Start file DED Name Comment
CORK nai002025430 Myross
CORK nai002026380 Crookhaven
DONEGAL nai002096139 Moville
DOWN nai002248323 Rosstrevor
GALWAY nai002405276 Kinvarra Kinvara town
GALWAY nai002456942 Headford Headford town
GALWAY nai002441621 Portumna Portumna town
GALWAY nai002370022 Sillerna
GALWAY nai002423570 Killeroran Ballygar town
GALWAY nai002423611 Killeroran Ballygar town
GALWAY nai002426479 Mount Bellew Mount Bellew Demesne
KERRY nai002499945 Tarbert
KILDARE nai002561153 Graney Castledermot town
KILDARE nai002562371 Donaghcumper Clonoghlis
KILDARE nai002560339 Ballitore Ballitore Town
KILDARE nai002570290 Rathangan Rathangan village
KILDARE nai002561729 Celbridge Entire DED
MAYO nai002951079 Bunaveela
QUEEN’S CO. nai003161018 Vicarstown
ROSCOMMON nai003185940 Ballaghadereen Ballaghadereen town
ROSCOMMON nai003226133 Cloontuskert Lanesboro town
ROSCOMMON nai003218186 Croghan Croghan village
TIPPERARY nai003368519 Mullinahone Mullinahone town
TIPPERARY nai003360703 Kilbarron Ballinderry town
TIPPERARY nai003365169 Terryglass Terryglass town
TIPPERARY nai003316315 Ballina
TIPPERARY nai003381603 Killenaule Killenaule town
TYRONE nai003434634 Stewartstown Stewartstown village, West Street
TYRONE nai003436854 Moy Moy village
WATERFORD nai003957523 Kilwatermoy, West Janeville
WATERFORD nai003479421 Courmaraglin
WATERFORD nai003510696 Faithlegg Cheekpoint village
WATERFORD nai003481043 Dromana Villierstown
WATERFORD nai003511636 Killea Dunmore village
WATERFORD nai003475372 Dungarvan No. 1 Urban Part of Mitchel Street
WESTMEATH nai003525104 Moate Moate town
WESTMEATH nai003525164 Moate Moate town
WESTMEATH nai003525203 Moate Moate town
WESTMEATH nai003525665 Moate Moate town
WESTMEATH nai003554911 Kilbeggan Kilbeggan town
WEXFORD nai003574228 Castle Talbot
WICKLOW nai003641691 Glendalough All of Glendalough DED missing
[This post was originally published in March 2016, but got washed away in the Great Delete of June 2016. Joe Buggy wanted it back, so it's his fault. Paddy Waldron continues to unearth other missing returns at Rootschat.]

How to date Griffith’s Valuation precisely

Griffith’s Valuation is an astounding achievement, a masterpiece of Victorian social quantification that measures every property on the island of Ireland with painstaking, pinpoint precision. But it is not a census, and to use it as a census substitute, you have to understand how it works.

Sir Richard Griffith in 1854

Griffith was charged with producing a scientific basis for property taxation in Ireland, and that is exactly what he did. Every building and every field in the country was assessed in meticulous detail to produce a monetary figure that represented the income that property should produce every year. The results were published between 1847 and 1864 in a series of 301 volumes.

These volumes were a public statement of the property tax liabilities of the inhabitants of the areas they cover, and were open to challenge. So accuracy was paramount. And part of this accuracy was precision about the date of publication – property, then as now, was a moving target.

For researchers, those precise dates of publication can be very important: if your William Burke was in Boston in March 1856, that can’t be him in Castlebar on January 26th 1857.

Title page of the Griffith’s volume for Castlebar Poor Law Union

So how do you get that precise date? Every volume has the date on its title page. And you can get to the title page by going through Askaboutireland.

Run a search (e.g. http://goo.gl/JFSkd8 ), then open up a page image in a new tab or browser window. If you want, you can then just click the “previous page” link until you get to the volume title page.

But each volume can have up to 500 pages, making that process mind-numbingly tedious. Here’s a shortcut: in the browser address bar, you’ll see something like “griffiths.askaboutireland.ie/gv4/z/zoomifyDynamicViewer.php?file=210173[…]”

Griffith’s browser address bar

The”file” in that address is made up of two parts, a three-digit volume number and a three-digit page number. The example above therefore refers to volume 210, page 173. If you want to go to page 1 of volume 210, just change that 173 to 001 in the address bar, hit “enter” and there you are. The precise publication date is usually about two-thirds down on the left. In the example, it’s January 26th 1857.

Et voila.

[This post was originally published in March 2016, but got washed away in the Great Delete of June 2016. It's useful enough to republish, I think]