Back in 1998 when we were casting around for a title for the soon-to-be-launched Irish Times ancestry sub-site, one of the suggestions was “Stiffs ‘R Us”. Needless to say, it was vetoed. But it’s always stayed in the back of my mind, awaiting the right moment. And that moment has come.
We’ve just launched surname maps of all Irish death records 1864-1922. Have a look at Buggy, or Mungovan, or Scahill. All precisely where they should be.
These maps are a little different from the others on the site. The data that underlies them comes from the old printed General Register Office indexes, specifically from the transcripts of those indexes made by the FamilySearch.org website of the Mormon Church. They very kindly shared a copy with us, the only quid pro quo being free access to our site in LDS Family History Centres.
In all the other maps, the links on the map will take you back to the original records they’re based on. Linking back to images of the printed indexes would be pointless, though. So these death entries point back to the full death records on IrishGenealogy. But … the IG records use a fresh set of indexes, not the old printed volumes. So there are discrepancies – 70 Scahill entries in the old index, 72 in IG, 127 Finns in Boyle as opposed to 129 and so on. As ever, there are mistakes in both indexes, but they’re not the same mistakes.
Once again, I got a real kick from seeing these things work and from the way visualising the information brings it to life. So to speak. More and more, though, I feel the most important aspect is the list of surname variants that also appear in the original records. Forty years doing this stuff and I’m still astonished at the new ways record keepers torture names out of shape. And looking at the Grenham variants, I found the long-missing death of my own great-great-grandmother tucked away under an obscure misspelling.
So roll on up. Enough deaths for everyone in the audience.
The hundredth anniversary of our destruction of the Record Treasury of the Public Record Office of Ireland fell a week ago and the dust has now settled on the launch of www.virtualtreasury.ie, our response to that catastrophe. For the past few years, the project was trailed (“beyond2022.ie”) as a reconstruction of the collections burnt in 1922. The PR-fueled headlines on Irish media were that “technology” (whatever that is) was going to restore everything lost a century ago: just don your immersive headset and swim off through the 1821 census, mar dhea. Anyone with a titter of wit (a group that apparently doesn’t include many Irish news editors) could see this was just smoke-blowing.
So now that it’s live, what’s the verdict? On the Virtual Reality side, the first thing to be said is that the reconstruction of the Treasury building is superb. To be able to wander through the magnificent galleries and empty spaces that held all those records is awe-inspiring and not a little sad. The second thing is that the “Treasury View”, a VR doll’s-house view of the locations of records inside the building before 1922, is just silly. This is the part of the site closest to that blown PR smoke. For anyone trying to access records it’s useless, an online exhibition maybe, certainly not a restoration or reconstruction.
The real meat is buried away in the emphatically non-VR Browse section. Not “Browse All”, which is a dutiful and impressive listing of partner institutions and their records, the other one, “Browse PROI Catalogue”. This makes it clear that the heart of the project is to take Herbert Wood’s massive 1919 published listing of PROI holdings (helpfully included at the bottom of the page) and use it as a vast series of pigeonholes for substitutes, copies and abstracts of those destroyed holdings. The sheer chutzpah required even to attempt this is just jaw-dropping. Hats off: there are several lifetimes’ work here.
This approach creates its own problems, though. The main one is the huge warren of sub-sub-categories inside sub-categories, a large majority of which ultimately lead to a bald “Destroyed”. The rabbit-holes vastly outnumber the rabbits. Another is that Wood’s record hierarchy is deeply unintuitive for researchers a century later. “Extinct Jurisdictions” gets a top-level listing, while the giant 19th-century census holdings are stuffed away down in sub-section 9 of “Miscellaneous documents”. The priorities of Edwardian gentlemen record-keepers are emphatically not ours.
But trying to get at the gems can be excruciating. A little less software engineering and a little more focus on the research experience would help. By which I mean a simple, regularly-updated plain text listing of all the transcripts and images on the site. Please?