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Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Digitisation plans for Griffiths Valuation (and more)

Two news updates concerning Griffiths Valuation, Ireland's most important census substitute. (And a little bit more thrown in for good measure!)

National Archives of Ireland's Griffiths Valuation House and Field Books

Regular readers of Irish Genealogy News will be aware that I've been following the slow road towards digitisation of the 'preliminary books' associated with Griffiths Valuation – the National Archives of Ireland's collection of Field and House Books, 1848–1860 – since I learned these were 'in the pipe' at Back To Our Past in October 2013.

That was the year the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) had uploaded Griffiths Valuation Revision Books (1864–1933) for the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, LondonDerry and Tyrone for free consumption, a move that has proved an outstanding success for PRONI and for researchers lucky enough to have ancestors from those counties. (It turned the rest of us green.)

While there's no hint (see Valuation Office below) of a similar project to upload the Cancelled/Revision Books held by the Valuation Office for the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland, the NAI's Valuation Office House and Field Books will be useful resources for Irish genealogists, and I'm looking forward to their online arrival. It's taken a while, and there has been a considerable delay in getting the documents fit for release. Having told me last May of a cataloguing issue that required some parts of the process to return to the starting post, Catriona Crowe, NAI's Head of Special Projects, tells me this week that 'it's nearly there'.

I hope to soon have more news about when the collection will go live on the NAI's Genealogy site and FindMyPast's database. The records will be free to access on both sites.

Following the House and Field Books into the online environment will be the NAI's copy Will Books from the second half of the 19th century, and the pre-1858 indexes of the wills and administrations granted by the Prerogative Court and the Diocesan Courts. These, too, will be free to access on both the NAI's Genealogy site and FindMyPast.ie.

Valuation Office's Cancelled/Revision Books

You may remember that last summer saw the publication of a Request for Tender from the Dublin-based Valuation Office's project to digitise its collection of Cancelled/Revision Books. I'm pleased to confirm that a supplier has started work.

But before we all get over-excited, let's look at the use of that word 'digitisation'. Like most ever-optimistic researchers, I hear 'digitisation' as meaning that documents are going to be scanned into digital images, which will then be linked to a searchable indexed database, which I can then play with to my little heart's content. However, in quite a few instances recently, I've seen the word used to describe projects where documents are going to be scanned into digital images... Full stop. The term itself is not to blame. Both are digitisations. But the results are a world apart.

The Valuation Office's project is not going to result in a PRONI Revision Books looky-likey. Have a good cry, now. Instead, it will create an estimated 1.6million images that can be viewed on a computer terminal at the VO Research Room in the Irish Life Building. Researchers will be able to view the images on-screen in Cancelled/Revision Book order rather than pawing over the pages of the historical books.

While I love the physical experience of handling the old books and turning the slightly grimey pages to make new discoveries, I can't deny that the computerised option is necessary if the historical originals are to be preserved. The pilot scheme, which has been running for a year or so using the books for Counties Mayo, Kerry and Tipperary and Dublin City, has proved to be successful; the computer program is very simple, and the colour images are of very high quality, so you can easily pick out the different coloured inks used to indicate the dates of revisions.

There is no plan to place the digitised images online, but having ready computer access to the images may allow VO staff to extend a formal email service for those who can't visit the Dublin Research Room in person. I also understand that the historical books will continue to be in use until the entire digitisation project is completed. There will not be a gradual, county by county withdrawal.