|Duelling knives in the Irish records kitchen.|
In the background is the Bank of Ireland building.
With the Irish government still "in talks" to create a National Genealogy and Family History Centre, possibly in the Bank of Ireland Building, one has to wonder if the creation of such a centre ever does come to pass, will it make any difference as far as the custody of records, and our access to them? One thing which makes me absolutely boiling mad about politicians is that they seem to be able to 'talk' about issues for years on end. Meaningful action comes about at a snail's pace, and in some cases, even the snail is way out in front.
To state the obvious:
The goal: the goal of the Irish government with respect to family history and genealogy research is to increase tourism.
The hook: Give researchers outside of Ireland just enough access to get them started, and ultimately they will go to Ireland in order to complete the picture.
The Irish government should not be faulted for this strategy; after all, one of the jobs of any government is to draw money into their respective country.
The fact is that in Ireland there are too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to family records, and everyone wants their piece of the pie. Someone in the Irish government needs to step up to the plate, say enough is enough, and impose unification on this system of disparate record holders. By doing so they might stop frustrating the hell out of researchers outside of the country, and perhaps end up with a one stop shop.
While the government should not be faulted for trying to build tourism, they should be faulted for allowing this madness to continue. Here are just a few of the matters currently making me mad.
1. Online frustration:
In addition to the fact that we now have to pay to view the index of search hits, (yes, a minimal payment, but it's the principal of the thing), when we deal with the Irish Family History Foundation, IFHF, we do so under the threat of being bounced from the site, and subject to legal action, if we don't follow their ever evolving 'terms and conditions' to the letter.
How is it that the government, as well as various organizations in Ireland, such as the Catholic Church, and The Representative Body of the Church of Ireland, have allowed the IFHF to claim that they have not only have ownership, but also copyright, on church records, Griffith's Valuation, and Census Records? When did the County Centre Overlords take over the island, and why have they been allowed to do so?
In addition to the rules about use of the information held on the site, we have to trust that the transcribers got it right when they transcribed the records, because we are not allowed to see the originals. Why is this the case?
News flash: sometimes transcribers make mistakes. I have written to both the IFHF and irishgenealogy.ie to ask for corrections on transcribed records which I know to be incorrect, because I have seen the originals. Why are originals available to view on a free government website, but not on this paid site?
2. More online frustration:
Why does the irishgenealogy.ie website imply they have parish records for all of Dublin City when they don't? In their update, the site specifically states, "The remaining Roman Catholic records of Dublin City...have now been added to the website". (see http://www.irishgenealogy.ie/churchrecords/about/aboutprogress.html)
Oh really? The remaining records of Dublin City have been added? Why then, just four weeks ago, did I have to pay a €10 fee plus €5 each for records from St. James Roman Catholic Church in Dublin, in order to have a couple of baptismal records pulled?
If the remaining Dublin City records are on the Irish Genealogy website, then why are those records not on the site? The answer: 'Remaining' doesn't mean the rest of the total parish records in Dublin City. In this case 'remaining' only means the rest of the group of records they planned to post, not the total records of Dublin City.
In the case of St. James Church, the site claims to have posted their records from 1737 to 1890. The records I requested are from 1888, 1889 and 1893, so I should have been able to find the first two out of the three. All three records exist, but the two within the time period are not on the site.
I have no problem paying for records, but don't try to snow me. Just give me the straight goods about what is actually available.
3. With respect to a National Genealogy and Family History Centre:
Why are they still "in talks" over the Bank of Ireland building becoming a heritage site? When the bank received their bailout from the Irish government, which now owns 36% of the bank, it was implied by Minister Deenihan that the building would be given to the Irish people. Why hasn't it been handed over? Did Mr. Deenihan put the cart before the horse? According to an Irish Times article in May of 2011, the Bank of Ireland wasn't onboard with the idea, although as late as January of 2012 Mr. Deenihan still seemed to think it will happen. He stated, "I met the chair and chief executive of the Bank of Ireland and had a constructive engagement on the issues. That positive dialogue is continuing with the Bank of Ireland". (see Oireachtas website: Dáil debates)
4. Heritage Centres or Heritage Overlords?
Dealing with the individual County Heritage Centres is another frustrating matter, whether you are outside of Ireland, or in the country. Although I have never laid out a dime in any of these centres, I know many people, both offshore and in Ireland, who have spent A LOT of money trying to find ancestors via the research services offered by the centres. One of the biggest frustrations on this score is that some centres hold records which cannot be viewed elsewhere.
My question: Why do they behave as though the records are a big secret which must be hidden from view, and are for their eyes only?
Like Golem with the Ring, 'my precious', in The Lord of The Rings, they hide records and databases away from public view. They do the research, and we have no idea if they even have good research skills.
An experienced family history researcher emailed me to say that she had gone to a Heritage centre, and was surprised to find she could not do her own research. She filled out the requisite form, paid the €75 fee, and then watched as the researcher pulled a couple of volumes and went upstairs to another room, where he allegedly conducted the research sight unseen. Although she did not share the end result with me, the woman indicated that she came away with much less than she had expected.
Was the Heritage Centre staff member afraid she might look over his shoulder, catch a glimpse of a record, and then run out into the street shouting to non-paying customers, "He was born in 1796! He was born in 1796! Woo Hoo!"?
When I contacted a Heritage centre in County Mayo to ask why I could not do my own research there, I was told "members of the public" don't have good research skills, so the centres are there to help by doing the research for us. Really?
There are lots of so-called members of the public who have spent many years conducting research in every kind of library, repository, and archive you can imagine, but as members of the public, apparently we don't have good research skills. In my own experience, I have not only conducted research for years, but when I was in graduate school I was required to take a course in which the entire syllabus was on conducting research in libraries, repositories and archives. I just love it when people make assumptions about members of the public.
Why not charge a fee, even a hefty one, and give people with research skills the opportunity to do their own research. Even those people with little or no skills could be afforded the opportunity. They could pay the fee, and the Heritage Centre Overlords could offer guidance. If there are limitations in terms of availability of computers which hold databases, then at least allow the person requesting the information to sit alongside and engage with the researcher to see what is being done.
I fully recognize that it is not easy to get everything straightened out. I also recognize that because of the way the world works most of this is driven by the almighty dollar, or Euro in this case; however, there is such intransigence at work in some of these sectors, it seems as though some people in Ireland want to keep the past all to themselves.
I am an Irish Citizen. The blood of my family was spilled in the fight to free Ireland from British rule, yet because I now live in the so-called Diaspora, as a researcher I am subject to the intimidation of various 'terms and conditions', treated as though I am stupid, and generally disrespected, when all I want to do is uncover my family history.
Article 45, Section 3, Part 2 - Bunreacht na hÉireann, The Constitution of Ireland, states:
"The State shall endeavour to secure that private enterprise shall be so conducted as to ensure reasonable efficiency in the production and distribution of goods and as to protect the public against unjust exploitation."
So I have to ask what the heck is going on here?
I am deeply grateful for the National Library of Ireland, and for the National Archives of Ireland, with their respective initiatives in the areas of family history and genealogy. In particular, Catriona Crowe of the NAI should be given a gold medal or a bag of money for the work she does. However, with respect to the above mentioned issues, numbers one through four, someone is seriously falling short.
Here's an idea: why not appoint a Czar, or to keep it all Irish, a Taoiseach (Chieftain) of Irish family history and genealogy. Such an individual, preferably not a politician, would be entirely and only responsible for bringing together the disparate groups currently controlling Irish records.
Well just think about the fact that 70 million people worldwide claim Irish heritage, and think about the money in the pockets of those 70 million. Want to increase the Irish coffers, then try building some good will by solving these problems, not just talking about them.