Tuesday 18 October 2022

The Church of Ireland Registers Digitisation Project: a mini update

A press release issued last week from the Representative Church Body (RCB) Library provides the nearest we've seen to a progress report about the Church of Ireland Parish Registers Digitization Project in four years. You can read it here.

Some contect and background... The RCB Library is the custodian of the surviving historical parish registers of the Church of Ireland, the vast majority of which have been accessible only tp researchers visiting the Library, which is based in Churchtown, Dublin 14. After decades of thumbing by zealous genealogists and historians, some of these have become very fragile, making their digitisation increasingly urgent.

In September 2018, the Library confirmed (see IGN blogpost) that state funding had been secured to start such a project and this would be carried out in-house and would result in the digital registers being freely available online, possibly on genealogy.ie (a free, state funded and managed database).

No timescale was given and no progress updates have since been provided to the public. I did, however, come across a report* from the RCB Library which outlined some of the behind-the-scenes steps taken in 2018-2019. These included the procurement and installation of a Lizard Book Scanner, the satisfactory completion of a 4-month pilot scanning programme that resulted in about 250 volumes of scanned registers, and the development and customisation of transcription software. It concluded that indexing of the data was expected to begin in 2020.

And then Covid-19 struck.

More than two years later, a visit from Catherine Martin, TD, Minister of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, the source of the funding for the Digitisation Project, finally took place at the Library (it had originally been scheduled for early 2020), hence last week's press release.

It gives us an up-to-date idea of how things are going and where they're headed, but the subject of timescale is still not mentioned and the 'end game' of researcher access to the digitised collection is rather ambiguously described in this statement: "Once digitized, the records can be made available on screen for viewing in the Library while the longer–term goal is to share them for the worldwide audience on the internet."

I've always understood that the project was specifically intended to result in free online access. Use of the phrase 'longer-term goal' suggests there is a separate shorter-term goal which has to be achieved first. I hope this isn't the case.

*The RCB Library's Report to the Church of Ireland's General Synod", published 2020. See pdf.