Who Do You Think You Are?
John Grenham is the author of Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, 5th Edition (2019)
RootsIreland ( rootsireland.ie) is the website of the Irish Family History Foundation (IFHF), the umbrella body for an all-Ireland group of disparate heritage centres that began transcribing parish registers back in the 1980s. These two factors – the IFHF’s highly decentralised structure and the organisation’s origins before the start of the web – have both left their mark.
On the positive side, RootsIreland’s transcripts of church registers come from the original records held locally, not the very poor microfilms used by Ancestry ( ancestry.co.uk) and Findmypast ( findmy past.co.uk). That head start makes them orders of magnitude more accurate, even allowing for sometimes dodgy transcription. The site’s surname variants listing is also much better, tailored to the mind-bending weirdness of Irish surnames. And its search interface (once you get down to county level) is spectacularly flexible, allowing you to base research on anything that appears in state or church birth, marriage and death records including godparents, witnesses, place names and mother’s forename. Many of the website’s transcripts are also much later than those available elsewhere, in some cases reaching well into the 1920s.
On the negative side, the site remains transcriptonly, far off the now gold-standard transcript-withimage. The local centres’ independence of each other has also left coverage of some areas patchy. Only 19 of the 48 Catholic parishes of Wexford have records, for example, and there are no Catholic records at all for County Fermanagh. In addition, the site is not good at listing what’s missing.
Membership is also expensive, currently costing £148 for a year. But as long as you use it carefully, it’s the only absolutely essential Irish genealogy site.
The responsive website from this month’s expert allows you to find out more about records available for Irish research, as well as providing some powerful mapping tools. Try a simple surname search and you are presented with a map showing numbers and locations of households in the 1850s, as well as heads of households in the 1901 and 1911 census. Alternatively you can use interactive maps to drill down by county and then parish to various types of information, linking to external sources such as askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation. A good starting point is johngrenham. com/browse, which leads to guides to the most important genealogical sources.