'Irish Roots' archive



Irish Roots


August 10 2015

Online newsreels are a treasure trove

I usually begin my standard talk about online family history by declaring that there are no genealogical records on the internet and then pretending to walk offstage. The aim is to dramatise the fact that all we actually have online are transcripts, copies, images (if we're lucky), but no originals.

That's less and less true. As time goes on, the internet itself is creating records that didn't exist before - imagine the fun your great-grandchildren will have trawling through your Facebook posts - and allowing the creation of records that would just not have been possible a decade ago.

My favourite among the latter is newsreel. Just over a year ago, British Pathé digitised its entire archive and made it available free at youtube/users/britishpathe. With more than 85,000 short films stretching from 1896 to 1976, it has attracted plenty of attention; its coverage of the revolution in Ireland between 1916 and 1923 is extraordinary. Now British Movietone and Associated Press have just done the same for their archives, at bit.ly/1ehbOca

Movietone seems to have specialised in much softer news than Pathé - every Ireland-England rugby match since the 1920s is here - which makes its archive much more useful for local and family history.

The out-of-the-way bits of the past are likelier to include ordinary people. Gems I've come across so far include "Pig Fair in Oldcastle"; "Glasnevin New Parish Church Consecrated" and, from 1932, the unease-inducing "Enniskerry tenants draw Lord Powerscourt's heir and his bride up drive to ancestral home".

The one weakness is with YouTube. Its search is a ridiculously blunt instrument. A much better route of access is to use the home sites of Movietone and AP and Pathé. On these, you can narrow your target by location and decade and keyword. They're still not perfect, and still in need of proper archival cataloguing that treats these films as the important historical sources they are.

But they're deadly nonetheless.

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