2.9 cheers for IrishGenealogy.ie

As anyone with an interest in Irish genealogy will know, IrishGenealogy.ie is the greatest thing since sliced bread. After decades playing Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey with the printed General Register Office indexes of births, marriages and deaths, the online release of the entire collection of historic GRO records was (and is) an extraordinary liberation.

Are you the right Patrick Murphy?

But like every other wonderful thing in the universe, it’s not perfect. Its quirks are legion and not always obvious. So let me list the most bothersome.

Many stem from a 1980s digitisation project that set out to give GRO staff easier access to records needed for public administration identity proof. It only went back to 1899, because its focus was on the living. If you use the post-1899 indexes in the GRO search room, you’re handling dot-matrix printouts from that project. These post-1899 birth indexes included mothers’ maiden names, very handy for reconstructing families. When IrishGenealogy began to make the indexes available online, they very sensibly used these ones. Hurray!

Except … to search using the mother’s name, you have to use the site’s “More search options” feature. Which gives no indication that if you enter a mother’s name for a birth before 1899, you’ll find no births at all.  See Kelly with mother’s name Walsh 1864-1880. Be warned.

Another problem from these post-1899 indexes is their treatment of prefixes, especially those with apostrophes, a recurring nuisance for early coding languages. So O’Brien became “OBrien”, O’Reilly became “OReilly” and so on.  IrishGenealogy tried to make allowances by having them as variants of each other, but that hasn’t quite worked. Total BMDs for O’Brien 1900-1921 are 122,200 but there are  124,565 for OBrien and for Brien 123,148. Small differences, but not if they include your ancestors. The same problem occurs with the prefixes Mc, Mac and M’. So be very wary searching for any O or Mc surnames (or any surnames that have O or Mc variants) after 1899.

A related oddity is the way the site uses surname variants in the “More search options” area. Search for a Grenham/Duignan marriage here and you’ll find precisely one match. But try Duignan/Grenham and you’ll get two. The reason is that the site searches surname variants for the first surname entered, but not for the second.  The moral: Always search for marriages with surnames both ways. Something similar happens with the mother’s surname search after 1899. Only variants of the birth name are searched, with no variants of the mother’s.

But most peculiar of all is not a bug but a feature. By default, the site searches all name fields for every surname you enter. I think this is intended to be helpful, by spreading the search as wide as possible. But the effect can be very strange. Search for a man with surname Loughlin marrying a Gertrude John and you get 1526 results, including every Loughlin (and variant) marrying a man with first name John, every John Loughlin (and variant), every Gertrude McLoughlin and, wonderfully, in an early example of New Age sologamy, John McLaughlin marrying John McLaughlin in Belfast in 1913.

This is really only a problem with marriages and with births after 1899, where there multiple surnames in each index record. But it can be bewildering. And there’s no way to turn it off.

For a hands-on video demonstrating all this, see https://youtu.be/1mAzghwXI1I



17 thoughts on “2.9 cheers for IrishGenealogy.ie”

  1. Thank you, John! I use IrishGeneaology.ie all the time but did not know of theses oddities and especially of the post 1899 distinction line. All great information to know. Thank you!

  2. Thank you John for sharing your knowledge with us.
    You are always a great read full of information that I share with a number
    of genealogy groups where I am a member.

  3. Using other variants with the same years
    O’Bryan 121,995 O’Brian 121,994
    O Bryan 121,994 O Brian 121,996
    Bryan 122,145 Brian 150,654 (not a misprint )

  4. 2.5 cheers is about as much as I can muster John. We will be reading about the additional year update on the homepage until next year’s update, as if it is new information. The ‘new free’ education website was launched back in 2016 and is now six years old with the same old headline. Have you ever used the Feedback/Contact Us link? Perhaps John Grenham might get a response but the ordinary citizen might have to reference the Minister before a reply is given.

    The ‘peculiarities’ that you refer to are unacceptable and as you say, are a relic of the past. I think there is a culture change required here and I doubt if everything can be blamed on staff shortages. Somebody needs to take responsibility for these issues.

    1. I think this is a very negative view. This service, warts and all, is provided free to all enquirers, and is streets ahead of the “service” offered by the British GRO site.

      My grumble, and I think it’s a genuine one, is the delay in adding the digital images for death registrations 1864-1870. I think adding these, as soon as possible, is the first problem that should be addressed.

      1. Folks, this service is not free. It is funded handsomely by the taxpayers of Ireland and like all public services, it should be run to a professional standard. If I was paying for it privately, I would be seeking improvements, otherwise I would be reviewing my contract.

        1. Well I’m an Irish tax payer, and given some of the other daft things my taxes go on, I think it’s pretty good value for money

      2. Disagree.

        I have wondered about this issue for years. It shouldn’t be there. Yet,it is. I wondered as how some of the linking could be made. Now, it is revealed within the records.

        They tried to “box” the data.

        The dataset doesn’t need to be converted. It’s the coding within the search engine that must be to par.

      3. “My grumble, and I think it’s a genuine one, is the delay in adding the digital images for death registrations 1864-1870.”

        Oh yes, I will grumble along with you (even though I’m NOT an Irish taxpayer, and therefore perhaps have right to complain about any of it!). For civil records, I’m mostly looking in Armagh, and the digital images for deaths from 1864 are available at GRONI. I typically do an initial search at IrishGenealogy.ie, then go to GRONI to find the record, then have to decide (before actually viewing the record) whether the record is likely to be worth the precious GRONI credits…

  5. At least the records are free online, even with the glitches. That’s WAY better than not online, or having to pay.

    My big “Are you kidding me?” about this site is that they make it so very difficult to know which Supt Registrar’s Districts you should be filtering by. Someone might know only the county name, so they have to work hard to figure out which SR districts are in that county if they don’t want to waste time and effort looking in the wrong places. A few years ago I sent in a suggestion to fix this and got a “we’ll think about it” answer.

    Perhaps they finally did think about it. Now, in the list of Help questions, you’ll see “Can you explain the location to me.” The answer page includes a link to John’s site here, apparently to where his Poor Law Union map used to be but now the link has changed, so you end up on John’s “Browse” page with no idea of where to go from there. If the researcher thinks to go to the Maps section, they would then have to know that Supt Registrar Districts are the same as the old Poor Law Unions. Beginners to Irish research don’t know this! (I would also suggest that a PLU map still requires cross-checking to a county-only line map, especially for interior counties.)

    I keep Claire Santry’s list (https://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Ireland-civil-registration.html) on my hard drive to pull up for quick reference, and when I teach a class on beginning Irish genealogy, I include that list in the handout (crediting her website, of course) and tell everyone they have to use it when using irishgenealogy.ie.

    John, if you send your updated map link to irishgenealogy.ie, maybe they’ll correct it. 🙂

  6. I have been unable to find a way of *limiting* searches.

    For instance, if I search Duignan, I get all Duignans, Deignan, Dignans and Dignams. I’m a one-namer, so catching the common variant spellings is very useful – most of the time. But if I specifically want to search *only* under say, Dignam, I can’t. Or if I can, I haven’t found out how to do it. Am I missing something?

    1. Have you tried searching using the “more search options” where you can tick a box for exact spellings only?

  7. Wow….this is really helpful as I use that site a lot and had no idea about these “quirks”.
    Thank you!

Leave a Reply to Con Shanahan Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.