Wednesday 8 July 2015

National Library of Ireland releases RC parish registers

Today is a landmark day for Irish genealogy. The National Library of Ireland has released its entire collection of Roman Catholic parish registers in image format on a dedicated section of its website. And it's simply wonderful!

The site is topographically organised. You can either home in
on the map, or type the parish name in the search box.
The registers span the 1740s to the 1880s; most start in the 1820s and a sizeable number even as late as the 1860s.

As we were led to expect, the website is topographically organised and the registers are unindexed, so anyone still hoping the new site would allow instant discovery of their Catholic ancestors without a known place of origin is going to be disappointed.

However, while the handwriting of parish priests hasn't been improved by digitisation, and nor has their Latin, the site provides some clever tools that may help overcome some of the challenges presented by old documents that were not kept in ideal conditions for many long years.

The site is so easy to use, I really don't think anyone who's ever used a genealogical database needs a tutorial.

Instead I'll just mention a few of the features I've been particularly impressed with in my sample searches.

  • You can select a parish by zooming in through county/diocese map options or by simply typing a parish name in the search box.
  • The 'home page' of each parish presents the selection of the registers available by date and provides brief details about the number of images in each book and a map showing the parish highlighted in red and the names and boundaries of the surrounding parishes. This is incredibly useful, allowing you to click through to adjoining parishes if your ancestor isn't showing up where you expected to find him/her.
  • Once you've selected the parish register you want to view, you can choose how to view it. The default option is to scroll through the pages chronologically. It's a relatively smooth scroll, so it doesn't make your eyes spin but there is a slight delay for all the image capture to de-pixelate. Alternatively, you can choose to view by date using the Filter Events/Date button to the top left of the image pane. The image delay is the same.
  • When faced with difficult handwriting, ink splodges, and inconsistent recording patterns, the site has a number of image tools to help decipher the records. There's the option to invert the black and white images into negative view (white writing on black background), as well as brightness and contrast tools that work in both regular and inverted view. These controls are sure to reveal many secrets.
  • The FAQs are also very straightforward and helpful. Good to see Shane's excellent site ( being mentioned as the place to locate Catholic parishes, and there's a good technique explained for those researchers who know their ancestors' county but not the parish.
So over to you. Have fun!