Thursday 16 July 2015

Indexing the RC parish registers: word on the street

We're one week on from the launch of the National Library of Ireland's Roman Catholic parish registers' website (see blogpost), and I'm pleased to say that I've read and heard pretty much nothing but praise for the new database. Online forums are busy unravelling illegible handwriting or de-coding abbreviations and margin notes, and there's already word of small-scale transcription projects being undertaken by family and local history groups and other associations with specialist interests.

But what about the BIG indexing job – the one that would marry each name in the registers to its corresponding page image, and would allow those who don't know their ancestors' parishes of origin a realistic chance of discovering this crucial piece of the genealogical jigsaw?

This was the subject of many conversations at the launch reception. When would one of the commercial suppliers announce their intentions?

Now, I can't confirm the truth of this, but my rumour radar is picking up news that Ancestry and FindMyPast are co-operating in a joint project to index the registers and link to the National Library's register images database. I first heard about this 'joint project' about two months ago, and within days heard it again, with both people citing the same named source. It seems to have become a well-kept 'secret' in Irish genealogy circles since then, with those 'in the know' reverently lowering the volume of their conversation while not reducing it to whispers.

Meanwhile, I've received neither confirmation nor denial through official channels.

Interestingly, an additional element of the story – that the combined resources of both companies will result in very speedy delivery – has not been elaborated upon, which may well indicate the veracity of the rumour. There is precedent for quick turnaround: the US 1940 Census of 3.8million images was indexed by Ancestry within nine months. The National Library's registers collection is just 10% that scale, so I doubt we're talking of much more than a few months before the index is online as part of subscription packages at Ancestry and FindMyPast.

Under normal circumstances, I don't blog about news stories or industry developments until I've checked them out. Trouble is, this particular rumour seems to have its own legs so it seems worth reporting even if 'commercial sensitivity' is preventing the two global businesses from writing a press release about it.

I'm also mindful that some 18 months ago, I heard the National Library of Ireland was scanning its microfilms of the parish registers with a view to putting them online, free. I didn't report it because I couldn't get confirmation this was true. In fact, I got big fat denials from contacts at the Library. And look what happened! (see last November's announcement).