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Monday, 15 October 2012

Back To Our Past 2012: Ancestry

Ancestry was a name that visitors couldn't escape at the RDS in Dublin over the last three days. The company was the headline sponsor not only of Back To Our Past (BTOP) – Ireland's number one family history event – but also the much bigger Over 50s Show, which takes place at the same time, in the adjoining Main Hall and attracts in the region of 20,000 visitors.

So the company's banners were everywhere to be seen – draped along the mezzanine gallery in the Main Hall and in prominent locations of the Industries Hall where the Irish genealogy industry was gathered.

This financial and logistical commitment was an announcement of Ancestry's arrival in Ireland. The company opened its new international base in central Dublin in September and is now settling into its new role, primarily dealing with technical and financial admin, marketing and customer support. Whatever the future of this new hub may hold – and I'm assured that no blueprint exists – BTOP was the occasion for shouting loud and clear 'We're here!'

In addition to the ubiquitious banners, the Ancestry stand also demanded attention. And it got it! Visitors were able to queue or book a timeslot for a one-to-one with an Ancestry expert, so the stand was continuously busy. There was also a 20% discount on offer for annual memberships.

Despite the team being so busy on the stand, Miriam Silverman was able to find a few minutes to talk to me about the Lord Morpeth Roll project. The Roll is a document from 1841 which contains the names of some 275,000 people from all over Ireland and is held on a continuous roll of 652 pages wound around a mahogany spool.

'It's been a very exciting project,' explains Miriam, 'not least because nobody knows exactly which names the roll holds, other than those on the front page. That's the glory of it. It's a census substitute, and yet we don't know who is included.' But we soon will.

'The indexing project has now finished,' she says. 'It started in May and finished in September, making it one of the quickest keying projects we've done. Even the earlier scanning was fast – it took just five days, but that was because all the hard work, the conservation work, had already been completed by NUI Maynooth.'

So the project has now gone back to the US where a Quality Assurance process will be carried out. 'We expect to have a good sense of the project by Christmas and we'll be able to decide exactly how we're going to deliver it at that point.'

And the all important 'live' date?

Spring 2013, says Miriam.

But it won't end there. 'We'd like to reach out to the genealogy community in Ireland and elsewhere whose ancestors signed this document. We need contextual information. Who were these people? We know they were literate; we know they wanted to make a political statement by signing the petition; and we know some, but not all, occupations. And that's all we know. We're hoping that genealogists can help further the research and let us understand more about this document and the people who feature in it.'

I'll be keeping in touch with Miriam, so I'll let you know how to get involved in any follow-up research after Lord Morpeth's Roll goes live on Ancestry's database.

Incidentally, if, like me, you've felt you're losing touch with what Ancestry's growing Irish collection holds, you should have been at one of the BTOP talks that I attended! Presented by genealogist Paul Gorry, as a guest speaker on behalf of Ancestry, the talk covered the eight most useful collections for local and family history. I found his summary very helpful, so I'll get a synopsis written up by the end of the week.