A few weeks back, someone (Hi Donna) contacted me to tell me about some wonderful estate maps they’d found online. Here they are, and if your ancestors were from Kildrumsherdan in Cavan, congratulations.
And then I started thinking about where online the records are. The National Library of Ireland web catalogue has always been more than just an online finding aid for NLI holdings. It includes almost 70,000 historic Irish photographs, lots of weird and wonderful eye-candy and of course my pets, the Betham prerogative will abstracts.
But I’d always thought of the digital parts of the catalogue as fautes-de-mieux, visually interesting bits and pieces shoehorned online via the catalogue for want of a better alternative. No no no.
It’s now a major route for NLI digitisation, with a huge selection of manuscripts and images, as well as a plethora of criteria to play with. You can slice and dice by era, topic, format, author, region … And suddenly it’s 5 am.
The real question, at least for genealogists, is how items are chosen for digitisation (and why more estate rent rolls and tenants’ lists aren’t there). NLI’s need to play its part in historic commemorations is one clear criterion. For the decade of the revolution that created the Irish state, there is a magnificent online manuscript collection, a trove of letters, trial records, posters, handbills, even an envelope containing “One of the bullets that killed one of the leaders in the Sinn Fein Rebellion, Ireland 1916”.
As far as I can make out (by educated guesswork), the main other criterion for digitisation and inclusion in the catalogue is that an item is in need of conservation. This is how the Betham collection got online, and why only the half that needed conservation is there.
Maps are the single class of manuscript most liable to damage by handling, thus earmarked for conserving, thus finding their way online. So a digital search for “estate” in the catalogue returns almost 60% maps. And what maps. Tenants with acreages, boundaries, records of disputes, rents due … Add a county name to the search and see what pops up. There are wonderful records here, for periods when nothing else survives.
And some oddities:
It’s hard to argue that the most vulnerable manuscripts shouldn’t be first in the queue for digitising. But the few rentals that have made it online (by being bound with maps) give a tantalising glimpse of what could be. What will be.
A hands-on video of me playing with the catalogue and happy as a pig in the proverbial is here.