Friday 12 October 2012

Back To Our Past gets underway in Dublin

The Back To Our Past (BTOP) show opened its doors today to a good sized queue and within minutes there was a great buzz within the RDS's Industries Hall. This lasted pretty much throughout the day, only noticably reducing after the last two presentations started at 5.30pm.

Now in its third year, BTOP has become the most eagerly awaited event in the Irish genealogy community's calendar and I'd say no one was disappointed after the first day. With special offers galore, a terrific programme of lectures organised by APGI, the Association of Professional Genealogists of Ireland, and specialist advice or records waiting to be plundered on many stands, visitors were in for a treat. There was also a great crop of news, which is what I'll concentrate on in today's report.

First up, Phillip Martin of Irish Newspaper Archives (INA) revealed that the Belfast Newsletter for 1738-1799 is now available on the website, albeit with a few gaps. At present, there's no indication on the Home Page that this is the case, but when you get through to the search page, the paper is available.

"It'll take another 18 months to get editions from 1800 to current online," says Phillip, "But we hope to have 1800 to 1899 ready by June next year. By then, we also hope to have editions of the Fermanagh Herald online." With a couple of additional publications following a similar course, INA should have at least one newspaper available for each county on the island by the end of 2013. That'll be quite an achievement.

Talking of achievements, Discover Ever After, the business that carried out graveyard surveys for Magherafelt District Council and has placed the results online, free of charge, last month (here), was proudly displaying certificates from Ballymena Borough Business Excellence Awards. Only last night, the company was a finalist in the Most Promising New Business category, and it won outright the Innovation Award.

Back to mainstream Irish genealogy news, the other big deal of the day came from archivist Bernadette Walsh of the Derry Genealogy Centre: the Great Parchment Book of 1639 will be coming to a computer near you within a couple of months.

The Great Parchment Book was a survey of all the lands seized by the Crown and includes names, placenames and details of rentals and contracts. All 165 parchment pages were badly damaged in a fire at the London Guildhall back in 1786 but they have now been carefully conserved. (You can read fascinating details of the conservation project on a dedicated website.)

"With the conservation project having finished in September, the digitisation process can now begin," explained Bernadette. "It will be released online, page by page, starting in December and should be completed during 2013."

This project is sure to play its role in Derry's year as UK City of Culture. It will also provide an outstanding resource for researchers of the Plantation of Ulster.

Bernadette also told me that some census substitutes – mainly Militia Lists – will shortly be added to the Derry database of RootsIreland.

Moving south, family historians with Wicklow links will be interested to learn of a new website that's in development. Catherine Wright, the archivist who runs the Wicklow Family History Centre, told me that this new site is as much a local history as a family history site. It will include parish histories, details of what records are available for different locations, genealogy advice articles, and personal and family memories. It should be published early next year, and I'll bring you further news of this in due course.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned on this blog that the Irish Family History Society was relaunching itself. Well, here it was, sporting a very attractive and rather clever new logo. I'll try to remember to take a photo of it tomorrow! The Society has a special show offer for potential members (membership through to the end of 2013, just 20 Euros) and a bundle of eight past journals reduced to 20 Euros.

Julie Phibbs of Irish Roots magazine also had some show offers available. For the course of the weekend, an annual subscription costs 20 Euros (this offer is not open only to show visitors... you can also claim it online), and copies of the magazine were on sale to show visitors for just 2 Euros.

Another special offer could be had at the Robert Blatchford Publishing stand where the second edition of the Irish Local and Family History Handbook was launched today. It's on sale for 12 Euros and, when you buy it, you're offered a copy of last year's handbook free, while stocks last. Alternatively, a copy of the first handbook alone costs 5 Euros.

I picked up another couple of piece of news when I attended a talk by Maire Kennedy from the Special Collections Department of Dublin City Library and Archives (DCL&A). Firstly, a project is underway to digitise and place online the DCL&A's collection of Dublin Almanacs and Street Directories from the 17th century to 1900.

The first tranche of the collection, from 1890 to 1900 will be available by the end of the year at

The second collection destined for online status will be the Registers of Electors for Dublin 1937-1964 (with some gaps). Maire said that the digitisation project has been finished, but technical problems have delayed the online upload. She is hopeful that this will be remedied soon.

So that's the main highlights of day one of BTOP 2012. I'll be doing a report of day two tomorrow, but it may not be online until Sunday.