The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has launched an index to wills from the civil District Probate Registries of Armagh, Belfast and Londonderry, covering the period 1858 to 1943. The database also includes digitised copies of wills from 1858 to 1900.
The Northern Ireland Minister for Culture, Mr. Nelson McCausland, said of the new database: “One of PRONI’s key goals is to digitise key cultural resources and make them easily available to a worldwide audience. This free of charge application will therefore be of enormous assistance to anyone trying to trace their genealogical roots and will be of particular help to those wanting to begin their research from the comfort of their own home.
“In recent years there has been a huge increase in people researching their family history and trends have shown that a large number of these people are from outside the UK. I am sure this new application will be of particular interest to this international audience.”
With reference to next year’s opening of the new PRONI headquarters, Mr. McCausland said: “I recently had the priviledge to visit the stunning new PRONI headquarters at [Belfast’s] Titanic Quarter. This much needed £30million investment in our cultural infrastructure was provided by the Northern Ireland Executive. The new state-of-the-art facility will open to the public early next year and will protect Northern Ireland’s irreplaceable archives in a safe and secure environment.”
The new wills database can be found here.
On Monday just passed in his weekly genealogy column in The Irish Times, Irish genealogist John Grenham drew attention to the work of CIGO. Having subtly sketched out the “feuding, committee politics and in-fighting” that all too often besets Irish genealogy he then went on to say “one body that can take much of the credit for fostering genealogical common sense is the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations. As its very sensible name indicates, CIGO acts as an umbrella group for others, comprising 14 constituent organisations in Ireland and 12 overseas. The group’s main role is to lobby for improved access to research material. It has had some spectacular successes, including the amendment of the Civil Registration Act of 2004 to require the inclusion of detailed family information in death records.”
You can read the full story here.
The following organisations have recently joined CIGO as associate members: from Australia: the Queensland Family History Society and the South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society; from the UK: the Catholic Family History Society and the Lancashire Family History and Heraldry Society; from the USA: FamilySearch (formerly the Genealogical Society of Utah) and theIrish American Family History Society.
The Annual General Meeting of CIGO took place in Dublin this evening. At the meeting, outgoing chairman Steven Smyrl delivered the chairman’s annual report which highlighted CIGO’s campaigns and successes during the past year. Paddy Waldron of Clare Roots Society was elected chairman for the coming year. The AGM concluded with a talk by Fiona Ross, Director of the National Library of Ireland, entitled ‘Fact, Fiction & Public Record’.
The Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations continues with its campaign to obtain full access to data recorded about deceased persons from the United Kingdom’s war time National Register. After high profile campaigns led by renowned professional genealogists Steven Smyrl (CIGO’s executive liaison officer) and Guy Etchells, at the end of last year the National Health Service Information Centre (NHSIC) finally conceded a public right of access to data from the National Register. It introduced its ‘1939 National Register Cost Recovery Service’, but then astounded all by disclosing only the data as recorded on the 29th September 1939 and continuing to withhold subsequent annotations to the register about dates of death and changes of surname. The NHSIC invoked section 44(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which is an absolute bar based upon the premise that some other piece of existing legislation provides an exemption against disclosure. The NHSIC held that such a bar to disclosure was contained in section 42(4) of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007.
However, CIGO believed otherwise and in June decided to challenge the NHSIC’s policy. We requested disclosure of the date of death from the National Register for a Mr. Theophilus Collins Baldwin who was born in Ramsgate, Kent on the 9th October 1847, which made him born 163 years ago! We were aware that Mr. Baldwin was said to have lived to a very great age. In due course the NHSIC refused our application and in turn we appealed to the UK Information Commissioner. On CIGO’s behalf the Information Commissioner approached the NHSIC and indicated that by the 17th September they must either disclose the requested data or apply the exemption and then await the Commissioner’s adjudication in the form of a Decision Notice.
At the very last minute, on the 17th, the NHSIC disclosed that Mr. Baldwin died on the 24th January 1948, aged 100! In their letter the NHSIC indicated that “in future any requests for information about date and place of death, where we hold this information, will be part of the 1939 National Register Cost Recovery Service”. Given this, CIGO advises that in future when using the Cost Recovery Service specific mention should always be made by the applicant that they require all data noted in the National Register.
In communication with the NHSIC the Information Commissioner stated clearly that he was of the opinion that “section 42(4) [of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007] is irrelevant when it comes to considering whether disclosure would be prohibited [by that Act]”. Further, he questioned the NHSIC’s interpretation of the term ‘personal data’ indicating that “the Commissioner’s definition of ‘personal data’ requires that information must relate to an identifiable living individual. Information about the deceased does not constitute personal data”. In its response the NHSIC admitted that its reliance upon section 44(1) of the FOIA was wrong and that the requested data should not have been withheld. The Information Commissioner’s Good Practice Team has now been called in to work with the NHSIC to “improve its general request handling”.
CIGO’s success is yet a further validation of its public access policy regarding the National Register and clearly demonstrates how the Freedom of Information Act 2000 can be successfully utilised to the benefit of genealogists.
Mary Hanafin, TD., Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport today (Wednesday 22ndSeptember, 2010) announced the appointment of a new Board of Directors for the National Library of Ireland. The appointments made by the Minister are as follows:
Mr. David Harvey Chairman
Chief Executive of City Channel Ltd, Ireland. Chairman of the national St Patrick’s Day Festival organisation and recently assumed the Chairmanship of Dublin Contemporary 2011.
Prof. Diarmaid Ferriter
Author, historian and university lecturer, Professor of Modern Irish History at University College Dublin.
Dr. Marian Fitzgibbon
Head of the School of Humanities in Athlone Institute of Technology.
Mr. Brian Halpin – FCCA.
Former Deputy DG and Secretary of the Central Bank of Ireland.
Mr. Patrick McMahon
Galway City and County Librarian, former President of the Library Association of Ireland
Ms. Carol Maddock
Information Systems National Library of Ireland. Nominated by the staff of the National Library.
Mr. Des Marnane
Historian, writer and teacher. Hon. Sec. Tipperary Historical Society.
Mrs Susan Philips
Lecturer involved in community and rural affairs. Nominee and Council Member of Royal Dublin Society.
Ms. Pat Quinn
Secondary school teacher of English and History.
Mr. Paul Rellis
Managing Director of Microsoft Ireland.
Mr. H. Paul Shovlin
Company director, business consultant. Nominee and Council Member of Royal Dublin Society.
Prof. Robert Spoo
Robert Spoo is a member of the faculty at The University of Tulsa College of Law. He has a law doctorate from Yale University and a Ph.D in English from Princeton University. His particular expertise is in copyright, trademark and intellectual property.
Announcing the new board members Minister Hanafin said ”I am extremely pleased that these very experienced and talented people have agreed to serve on the Board of the National Library of Ireland. They will form the second Board to be appointed since the Library became an autonomous body in 2005. The new Board Members possess a range of exceptional skills and experience that can be used to steer and improve the fortunes of what is one of Irelands premier and venerable national cultural institutions, in difficult times. The role of our national cultural institutions, like the National Library, was never more critical. The skills set of these new members will assist the Library in using new technology, understanding copyright issues and linking into local and national library users.”
The appointments are made for a five year period, subject to progress on restructuring between the National Library, the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission. In announcing the new Board, Minister Hanafin paid special tribute to the work of the outgoing Board under the Chairmanship of Gerard Danaher, S.C.
LostCousins is a website where family historians who share the same ancestors can ‘discover’ each other, exchange information and collaborate on future research. The connections are made using census data and the 1911 Irish census is one of seven sets of census returns that can be utilised in this way on the Lost Cousins website. Other census returns cover Britain, the US and Canada.
The General Register Office of Northern Ireland (GRONI) has announced that it is to extend its public searchroom in both size and the number of PC terminals available for public access. In future, the searchroom will have over twenty public computer positions thus negating to constant need to book weeks in advance. Also, GRONI has completed the firtst stage of its computerisation project. The NI Birth Indexes now note mothers’ maiden surnames for every entry from when registration first began in 1864.
The Minister for Finance & Personnel, Sammy Wilson MLA, has informed CIGO that the delay to the passing of the Civil Registration Bill 2007 relates to various amendments which need to be made to the Bill on foot of other legislation which has been passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly since the Bill was commenced in 2007. Once the required changes have been identified and drafted the Bill will continue through its parliamentary procedures.
On June 17 th at St. Werburgh’s Church of Ireland parish church in Dublin Mary Hanafin TD, Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, launched the latest tranche of data to be added to the website irishgenealogy.ie. The website, sponsored by her department, contains an index to church records (and scanned images for many parishes) from around Ireland. The site is entirely free to use. Until recently, the site contained only Catholic records from two counties, comprising the entire parish records for Co. Kerry and a small number for the city of Dublin. But, with the latest additions, the site now also includes original Church of Ireland records, from counties Kerry, Cork, Dublin and Carlow and is supplemented with the various published transcripts of those parishes whose records were subsequently destroyed in 1922 when the Public Record Office of Ireland was consumed by fire. The website now contains more than two million records, all of which can be accessed online at no cost.
Much of the surviving Church of Ireland parishes records for Dublin city are included, some dating back to the early seventeenth century. Significantly, even though these are ‘Protestant’ records, up until the opening of the city’s cemeteries in the 1830s, the parish burial registers generally include all denominations.
Contracts have been signed with data agencies to continue the work with the completion of the Catholic parish records for Dublin and for south and west Co. Cork (which comprise the RC diocese of Cork & Ross) before the end of the year. At that time about a further million records will be added to the website.
Making the scanned images of the various parish registers available online (in addition to the indexes) will have the added benefit of preventing yet further wear and tear of the original records.
The 1901 Census of Ireland has been published online at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/ today.
Saturday 10th April saw over 250 archivists, readers, genealogists, students, staff and researchers pack into Trinity’s arts block for the ‘Archives in Crisis’ symposium. Such an overwhelming turn out proves beyond any doubt that there is strong opposition to the Government’s plan to merge Ireland’s National Archives into the National Library.
At a time when it has almost become impossible to motivate public opinion, this extraordinarily well attended event will send a very strong and clear message to Mary Hanafin TD, the new Minister for Tourism, Culture & Sport, that those who work within the world of archives need to be fully consulted before any draft legislation is published. As an initial step the minister could show good faith by moving quickly to complete the appointment of the National Archives Advisory Council (NAAC) which is outstanding since the last NAAC went out of office in 2007. The appointment of the NAAC is a statutory requirement under section 20 of the National Archives Act 1986.
CIGO has discovered that out of the blue, and only eight years after it was first created, the British government is proposing to abolish the publicly available UK Edited Electoral Register . While access to the Full Electoral Register is limited to purposes relating to elections, crime detection and fraud prevention, the Edited Electoral Register (which anyone can opt out of) is open to all. When completing the yearly application form to be entered onto the annual electoral register each UK citizen can choose whether or not to be included in the publicly available Edited Electoral Register .
In October 2007, Gordon Brown, the UK Prime Minster, commissioned Dr Mark Walport and Richard Thomas ” to undertake an independent review of the use of personal information in the public and private sector “. Amongst a number of recommendations is one that the Edited Electoral Register should cease to be commercially available and if this proposal is carried that it should be abolished as it would no longer serve any purpose.
The UK Justice Minister, Michael Wills, has admitted that ” there are strong opinions on the future of the Edited Register and before considering any changes we need to further understand the impact that this may have on different groups of people. The Government has noted Dr. Mark Walport and Richard Thomas’s recommendation that the Edited Register should be abolished. But we also recognise that the edited version of the electoral register acts as a comprehensive list of names and addresses of use to businesses, organisations and individuals .” The UK government has launched a period of consultation which they say ” will help us consider the potential impact of the changes proposed .” The Ministry of Justice Press Office say that the consultation ” aims to build a firmer evidence base about the advantages and disadvantages of the edited version of the electoral register and the impact of any changes made to it .” And that “views and evidence are invited from the public and other stakeholders about how they could be affected by its abolition .. On the basis of the evidence gathered, the government will consider a range of options for the future of the Edited Register including abolition, changing the process by which individuals are included on it, or improving public awareness of it. ”
However, the consultation seeks views on six proposed options, none of which includes ‘no change’ which might suggest that the abolition of the Edited Electoral Register in one form or another is a foregone conclusion. The six proposals are:
i) abolish the Edited Register as soon as practicable.
ii) set a timescale or trigger point for abolition of the Edited Register.
iii) abolish the Edited Register as soon as practicable, but consider extending access to the full electoral register.
iv) retain the Edited Register, but impose restrictions in legislation on who can purchase it and for what purposes.
v) replace the current ‘opt out’ provision on the Edited Register with an ‘opt in’ option.
vi) improve guidance for the public about the Edited Register.
For genealogists, it looks as if the last of the six options would be the best to plump for, “improve guidance for the public about the Edited Register”. More information about this issue and how to submit your views can be found on the Ministry of Justice website. The period of consultation closes on Tuesday, 23rd February 2010 . This issue is urgent and CIGO cannot impress enough that a clear message should be sent to the UK Justice Minister, Michael Wills, that genealogists continue to require unfettered access to the UK Edited Electoral Register.
The National Health Service Information Centre (NHS-IC) has announced the launch of a new fee-paying service giving access to historic data held on approximately 35 million deceased individuals whose names were recorded on the ‘National Register for England and Wales’ compiled in 1939. In essence this data is similar to census data in that it is arranged by household and includes basic details about the entire UK population (England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) as it stood in 1939 at the outbreak of war. The NHS-IC’s announcement is made on foot of successful Freedom of Information Act requests by both Mr. Steven Smyrl and Mr. Guy Etchells, both professional genealogists.
The National Register
The National Register, often referred to as the ‘1939 Schedule’, was created under The National Registration Act 1939 (NRA) and was an emergency measure which took a snap-shot of the entire UK population on 29th September 1939. The data recorded was used to issue identity cards and for the ‘calling up’ of men and women to the Armed Forces for the war effort. A number of ‘sample’ blank pages and forms from the register can be seen here. From 1948 the National Register was used for both national registration (until that ended in the early 1950s) and for the creation of the NHS. For the NHS it was used to establish and maintain a register, containing personal details of each living person’s registration with an NHS General Practitioner in each constituent part of the United Kingdom. Subsequently, personal data was added into the National Register in the form of annotations to the data originally collected under the NRA. The data was constantly kept up to date as a manual patient register until the computerised NHS Central Register was launched 1991. As such, the register holds data about both living and deceased people. Many of those who were already elderly in 1939 would now of course have been born in the middle of the nineteenth century and in a few cases even before Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837!
The NRA compelled the population to provide the following information: full names; sex; date of birth; profession; home address; marital status; and whether a member of one of the UK Armed Forces. From 1948 additional data was added to the National Register (up until the creation of the NHS Central Register in 1991) including: changes of name; and, where relevant, the date and place of death.
The individual ‘schedules’ (these are the forms upon which the original information was recorded on 29th September 1939) were until 2008 held by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), but were transferred to the new NHS-IC in that year. Up until that time ONS had ran a very popular service called ‘Traceline’ which for a fee would search the National Register (and the annotated records created after 1939) in hopes of locating an entry for a given individual. Traceline would then either offer to forward a letter to that person if they appeared (from the records) to be still living – or if deceased they would provide the enquirer with the date and place of death (and alternative surname(s) where a married woman was concerned).
In April 2008 Steven Smyrl (one of CIGO’s two Executive Liaison Officers) challenged this decision with an appeal to the UK Information Commissioner. The NHS-IC used a number of delaying tactics and it took until September 2009 when they finally relented and took heed of the Information Commissioner’s guidance in relation to the application of the DPA. The NHS-IC had tried to argue that it could not answer Steven’s enquiry for information about a particular person who appeared in their records because to process such a request would be to infringe the privacy of the “data subject”. He successfully argued that such a stand did not make sense as the DPA does not extend to the deceased – a principle that the UK Information Commissioner had conveyed to the NHS-IC during the period of their investigation. Finally, in September and October 2009 the NHS-IC relented and disclosed the information requested and included various addresses and alternative dates of birth for the deceased person. Subsequently, in correspondence with Steven the Information Commissioner described his appeal to them as one which “actually raised some interesting and novel points concerning data protection and the application of the Freedom of Information Act”.
Although Steven was the first person to successfully obtain information (in September 2009) from the National Register under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, it was Guy Etchells’ case which initially caught the interest of the UK media. Like Steven, Guy (who is a professional genealogist based in Yorkshire and who was pivotal in the early release of the 1911 census for England & Wales) had also been campaigning for the release of data from the National Register. When the register was transferred from ONS to NHS-IC he continued his campaign and applied for the full details of all people noted at a particular address in England. The NHS-IC refused to disclose the data Guy requested and he too appealed to the UK Information Commissioner. In November 2009 the Commissioner issued a Decision Notice upholding the NHS-IC policy of not disclosing data about living people but finding in Guy’s favour that he should have been given the data relating to those at the given address who were deceased.
Accessing the National Register for England & Wales will cost £42 per enquiry and for this the enquirer will be provided with the full details about each individual at the same address as recorded in September 1939. More details can be found here. In Scotland the cost will be only £13 and more information can be found on the website of the ScottishGeneral Register Office. However, at this time it is not clear how access will be managed for the Northern Ireland part of the National Register as the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) recently admitted that the collection, which comprises many hundreds of volumes, “is extremely large, is completely uncatalogued and is stored in our offsite storage facility.”! PRONI can be contacted through their website.
The Society of Genealogists Northern Ireland (SGNI) are calling for the Director of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), Mrs. Aileen McClintock, to think again about the proposed closure of PRONI for up to eight months to allow for the removal of the archives from PRONI’s current home to new premises in Belfast’sTitantic Quarter. SGNI says that the move should be managed in a manner which limits disruption to public access to PRONI’s unique holdings and which would be more in-keeping with the experience of other national archives in moving records. You can read more about this story here.
Following Fiona Gartland’s Irish Times article about the crisis of the lack of storage at the National Archives (NAI), a letter appeared in the same newspaper by well-known professional genealogist Paul Gorry and former President of the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland (APGI) setting out what needs to be done to secure the future of the NAI.
In his letter Gorry states “The crisis facing the National Archives [has been] highlighted by Fiona Gartland.
“Frances McGee, archives keeper, is quoted as stating there is a chronic lack of space and the warehouse to the rear of the current premises is inadequate for long-term storage of documents.
“In 1922, during the Civil War, almost the entire contents of the Public Record Office of Ireland were incinerated in the siege of the Four Courts. This shameful act of cultural vandalism was perpetrated by the founders of this State. Wittingly or unwittingly, they robbed us of countless unique and irreplaceable records of our heritage.
“We are supposed to have learned our lesson after 1922, but it seems that we have not. In lieu of a civil war, the Government proffers “recession” as an excuse for endangering what has been accumulated in the wake of 1922.
“The National Archives of Ireland has been starved of resources for decades. Evidently the Government has a low opinion of our heritage. Its current plan for the archive is to merge it into the National Library. Far from promoting the interests of the National Archives, such a move would reduce it to a component of the National Library’s manuscript department where it would compete with other departments for even more limited funding.
“The National Library’s dismantling of the Genealogical Office (a “branch” of the Library, according to the legislation) should give some indication of the fate of the National Archives in that scenario.
“The very idea that the National Archives could be absorbed into, or even merge equally with, the National Library is an affront to what is left of our heritage. Instead of this philistine approach, what the National Archives needs is adequate funding, staffing and premises, the re-appointment of the National Archives Advisory Council and, of course, continued autonomy. Recessions come and go; the stain of cultural vandalism is indelible.”
Fiona Gartland, a columnist with The IrishTimes, has highlighted the ongoing problem of lack of space at the National Archives (NAI) premises in Bishop Street, Dublin. She said that “Many state papers due to become available to the public [this year] will not be accessible because of storage problems at the National Archives”. CIGO has established that previous annual increments sent to NAI have already been stored away in the warehouse to the rear of the main archives building because of a lack of storage. This material too is inaccessible. Even more worrying, the warehouse has problems with both humidity control and its roof which might at any time let in rain water. Gartland quotes archivist and deputy head of NAI Frances Magee saying that “If paper is stored in good condition it will last a very long time. It must not be too warm and relative humidity must be right; it is very important that it is dry. It is very difficult to acheive those conditions if the building is not purpose-built.” CIGO knows well that the warehouse is not purpose built, in fact it is a former biscuit factory. Quite rightly Magee says further that “in the long term the only solution is to provide new, purpose-built accommodation for the State’s archives somewhere in the city centre”. Once again CIGO calls on the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to heed the call for better premises for this unique national institution before disaster strikes and we see a repeat of the fire of 1922 which destroyed the contents of the Public Record Office of Ireland.