It's hard to be an Irish researcher! There are no Irish records...everything burned. I hear this frequently in emails or at lectures, on social media posts and even in general conversations. I've been writing this blog weekly for over 13 years and although I sometimes have to think about it, I can usually come up with something to write about. No, not everything burned, and as I frequently discuss in my lectures, there is an ongoing effort to make Irish records and substitutes available. As Irish researchers, we'll use anything...even dog licenses!😀. As more and more information has become available online, it really is a great time to research your Irish ancestors. Having said that, there are challenges.
A few weeks ago I signed up for a Webinar through PRONI (Public Records Office of Northern Ireland) on a project to create a digital archive of the Public Records Office of Ireland before the Fire in 1922. I had heard about this project in the past, but as we get closer to the 100th anniversary of the loss, more information has become available. The project is called Beyond 2022, and is an international effort to "launch a Virtual Record Treasury for Irish history—an open-access reconstruction of the Record Treasury destroyed in 1922." Although not specifically focused on genealogists, it will provide access to documents that will enlighten our research both specifically and generally.
The Deputy Keeper of the Records at the time of the Fire was Herbert Wood. Over the years, the Deputy Keepers published lists of the acquisitions to the Archives. After the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland as the State Church in 1869, records were requested to be sent to the Public Records Office for "safekeeping." Looking the the Deputy Keepers Report from 1898 below, the records from Newtownards, dating back to 1701 for marriages and 1713 for baptisms were deposited. Because of that deposit, what survives today are records from 1884 for baptisms, and 1845 for marriages (because the the civil records for Protestants). I always want to cry when I see this, as I had COI ancestors. We may never find copies of those particular lost records, but other records do exist in repositories all over the world.
In 1919 Herbert Woods produced a Guide to the Records Deposited in the Public Records Office of Ireland. This document is the basis for the understanding of what was housed at the Public Records Office at the time of the Fire.
David Chart was the first Deputy Keeper of the Records for PRONI. He had worked with Herbert Wood in Dublin and so was very familiar with the records that were lost. His efforts to find and obtain replacements for the lost records is one of the things that makes PRONI unique in its collection of both government and private records. Last week I wrote about estate records for which we can thank David Chart. In addition to contacting the gentry and requesting they donate their records, he sought out local government records, educational and church records as well as documents from Solicitors.
For Beyond 2022, knowing what was lost was the first step, then identifying archives which might have copies or some type of replacement documents. Clearly, the National Archives (UK) was an important source, however documents have been discovered in Archives around the world including in the United States.
Technology also played an important part in this project, not only the digitization and virtual technology, but also in conservation. Because of new methods in conservation, some documents not touched since the Fire, have been salvaged.
The final part is the presentation of this material in a visual and interactive manner. Rather than try to explain it, click on the image below and watch the short video.
I encourage you to explore this site and get excited about the possibilities for the future. Will it bring back all of the records on our ancestors? No, but new records might shed light on our ancestor's lives. As I mentioned last week, the information discovered in the estate records answered questions that previously had been unanswerable. What might be found in these records is unknown, but will move Irish history to a new place.
Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!
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