Executive Liaison Officers’ Report 2007

Executive Liaison Officers’ Report 2007

This is a combined report on behalf of Rob Davison and Steven Smyrl, CIGO’s two ‘executive liaison officers’.

The General Register Office has continued to implement the provisions of the Civil Registration Act 2004 . Yesterday the Minister signed into law section six of the Act which relates to the registration of marriages. In future, no difference in legal procedure will exist when registering either civil or religious marriages. Up until now, marriages performed by civil registrars and those celebrated by non-Catholic clergy fell foul of a disproportionate amount of red tape. Under the Act, gone also are the quarterly paper returns and in future all registrations will take place on-line.

The news relating to the completion of the GRO’s database of scanned images of all paper records is not good. To-date although all birth records have been scanned back to 1864, marriages have only been completed back to 1920 and deaths to 1926 and CIGO has learnt that currently there are no plans to complete this project. This news also puts in doubt the provision of Internet access to scanned images of older civil registration documents, promised many times over the past decade by the GRO.

Last month was to have seen the move of the GRO’s Public Searchroom from Lombard Street to the Irish Life Centre on Lower Abbey Street. Given the many false starts genealogists have come to associate with the modernisation of the Republic’s civil registration service, I’m sure none here tonight are too surprised that yet another deadline has been breached without results. Furthermore, the GRO has been reluctant to say much about the new searchroom and what will be found there. As the database of scanned images has not been completed it means that the new premises will have to house the microfilms for all pre-1920 marriages and pre-1926 deaths and the hardcopy indexes for the same period. As these will take up a significant amount of space the fear is that the seating capacity in the searchroom will be reduced. This time last year when Mr. Eddie Flood from the GRO in Roscommon came to speak to us at our 2006 AGM, he told the meeting that there would be 42 seats (with PC terminals) in the new searchroom. This is approximately the number in the current facility in Lombard Street and, as was mention to Mr Flood at the time, is already insufficient at peak times. For instance, Scotland’s population is approximately the same as Ireland’s and yet the number of seats in it General Register Office searchroom is about one hundred.

A month ago the Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, published a quite damning report about the GRO. Although it dealt primarily with non-genealogical registration issues, in summing up it intimated that the service provided by the GRO needs to be improved across all areas.

In October Brian Lenihan TD, Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform, introduced the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill 2006. In the course of the debate he confirmed what we had already learnt in 2006 from the Property Registration Authority, which was that within a few years the Registry of Deeds would close. What is meant by this is that the paper-based ‘register’ will close because in future it is envisaged that all property transactions will be registered in an electronic register as part of a revamped Land Registry system. There are plans to scan the paper records, which date from 1708, and create a database of scanned images. We have been assured by the Property Registration Authority that they not only recognise that genealogists will require continued access to the records of the Registry of Deeds, but that they intend actively to promote the use of these records by genealogists and historians by creating access to them via the Internet. In the meantime, access to the original hardcopy records will continue at the Henrietta Street premises.

At the National Library, the refurbishment work continues. There is now a room dedicated to on-line access to various in-house and external databases and for the first time we now have access to read-printers for various classes of microfilmed records, although not Roman Catholic parish registers. However, we have been advised to expect further disruption during 2008 as more work will have to be done on the roof in the main reading room.

Likewise, we should expect some disruption at the National Archives in 2008 as some remodelling work is to take place in the reading room area on the 5 th floor. There is to be a swap of rooms with the self service microfilm unit moving across to a larger space which is to be created where the APGI advisory service currently operates and the advisory service itself is to move to the room vacated by the microfilms unit.

Also during November, the National Archives is to launch the first phase of its Census website. For the first time, this will allow free Internet access to scanned images of the original 1901 & 1911 census returns and to a newly compiled names index. Initially, the first release will relate to the returns for Dublin city & county from the 1911 census. Other counties will come on-line over the coming months.

For those who don’t know, this winter’s edition of Irish Roots will be the last published by its current editor and proprietor, Tony McCarthy. This is sad news as Irish Roots has been avidly followed by most folk involved in Irish genealogy since it first began in 1992. Fifteen years later and Tony has announced that there are other things he would like to spend time on and reluctantly has announced that the magazine is for sale. However, as no buyer has emerged it looks likely that the publication will now fold in 2009.

News from Northern Ireland is mixed so far as the genealogical community is concerned. Whilst there have been no major developments, the various repositories are, generally speaking, continuing to provide a good service. Both PRONI and the GRO have had their ‘Charter Mark’ status renewed and CIGO’s second Executive liaison Officer, Rob Davison, was involved in the process for both organisations. ‘Charter Mark’ is a UK government backed procedure for ensuring high standards in public service organisations.

The General Register Office in Belfast has experienced problems over the past months with two of its three computerised searching systems, however these have now been resolved. Unfortunately, the ‘long-term’ prospects are not hopeful as at some time in the near future, the two older systems may not be considered financially viable. Devolved government appears to have accelerated the ‘Civil Registration Review’ process, and a Bill is expected to be presented to the Northern Ireland Assembly in the Spring, which should lead to improved access to these Public Records. Digitisation of GRO records has suffered a setback due to problems with the original tenderer’s. The Business Plan is now being amended and it is hoped to have a new contract in place by Autumn 2008.

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland is still working on revamping its website and on completion there should be extra records available on-line, including the Wills Index (1858 to 1919). The digitisation of historic maps in conjunction with Ordnance Survey is nearing completion. Researchers have advised PRONI of their fears that the ‘hard copy’ maps will no longer be available for inspection once digitisation is in place and this concern is being looked in to. Also, PRONI’s digitisation of Belfast Street Directories is still on-going.

PRONI has produced a CD-Rom containing all of their ‘Information Sheets’ (which are available in hardcopy form in the Public search Room) along with the updated Guide to Church Records. However, stocks of the CD-Rom are now exhausted and requests have been made for more to be made available. A ‘reader-printer’ is now available in the Microfilm Reading Room, along with a Solar microfilm reader which projects the images onto a computer screen and provides higher definition. There is a project in place to re-catalogue PRONI’s Library. The big news is of course that PRONI is to move to a new purpose built home in the Belfast’s new ‘Titanic Quarter’. The anticipated completion is August 2010.

Looking forward to the coming year, CIGO will continue to be at the forefront in representing genealogists’ interests not only by lobbying for better and higher quality services and standards by service providers but also through publicly recognising instances where our collective hopes and aspirations have been exceeded by those who hold and manage access to source material. And as you have already heard, the first recipient of CIGO’s new award for ‘Excellence in Genealogy’ is to be awarded to Dublin City Libraries & Archive. The formal presentation of the award will take place soon.

Finally – and again looking into 2008 – might I finish by saying that although we gave the annual CIGO Table Quiz a ‘rest’ this year we hope to hold one next year in the usual month of May.