Wednesday, 9 April 2014

GRONI's new online service enjoys official celebration

Minister Hamilton launches GRONI's new online service
Picture: Matt Mackey/
Did you know that the very first birth registered in 1864 in what is now Northern Ireland was that of John McAnenny in Plumbridge, Co Tyrone? Did you know the first death registered was that of Mary Roorke in Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh?

Some of you clever clogs out there may have already known these facts, but I'll admit that I didn't before today. They were among the details offered up at this morning's official 'Ministerial' launch of GRONI's new online service, which went live last week.

The launch reception at Oxford House, Belfast was attended by around 50-odd people including Finance Minister Simon Hamilton and Registrar General for Northern Ireland Dr Norman Caven. The BBC TV was there and some of the interviews will, presumably, be shown on this evening's news programme.

Minister Simon Hamilton was in charge of the formalities. 'The General Register Office and District Registrars have provided and continue to provide an invaluable service to the public,' he said, 'giving individuals and families information about family history since 1864. In marking 150 years of civil registration we have progressed from hand-written records to a new online service, which facilitates searches of Northern Ireland’s historical records.

'As Finance Minister I have been promoting the need for Public Sector Reform as an essential element in the delivery of high quality public services to our citizens in the face of increasing expectations and reducing budgets. Engaging with the citizen and adopting more innovative ways of delivering services, as demonstrated through GRO’s new Family History online service, is an excellent example of this.'

Speaking to me after the formalities, GRONI's Alaistair Butler told me that thousands upon thousands of people have used the online service since it launched on 31 March and the project team has received many emails of thanks from around the world. 'Of course, there have been a few niggles – comparatively few, considering the numbers using the site – but many of them can be answered or explained in the Help text we've provided.  We'd urge people to read it. All in all, we're very happy with the way the site has been received.'

He was able to quickly answer a couple of my queries. On the subject of the 'five-year search' restriction, he says this is fixed by 40-year-old legislation* so we'll have to live with it for the foreseeable, and on the varient surname options, he says all the varients they know of were included in the program, but not all vaguely similar surnames are variants. (Here's my example of this: Santry and Sanders may be vaguely similar, but they're not varients of the same surname.)

The new online service enables searches of civil records for births over 100 years old, marriages over 75 years old and deaths over 50 years old. Researchers who visit the public search room can additionally access records right up to current. You can find out more at GRONI online.

*Different legislation applies to the online and Search Room versions of the search facility. The online version has the 5-year search restriction and includes only 'historical' records (the rolling 100/75/50 year); the Search Room version has a wider search restriction and includes all records up to current.