Genealogical gouging?

Published in 18th-19th Century Social Perspectives, 18th–19th - Century History, 20th Century Social Perspectives, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 2(March/April 2012), Letters, Volume 20

Sir,—I refer to Jackie Giddings’s letter (Platform, HI 19.5, Sept./Oct. 2011) concerning difficulties she experienced in using genealogy centres and the response from Brian Donovan of Eneclann.Brian is correct in pointing to the lack of significant central funding of, and commitment to, local archives. It is important to state, however, that there are at present sixteen local authority archives services in the Republic of Ireland, and one in Northern Ireland—in Derry City. All exist owing to the commitment of the relevant local authorities. Some of these are stand-alone facilities, whilst others share buildings with libraries or museums. All fulfil the same mandate: to collect, preserve and make accessible a wide range of archives from within their respective areas of jurisdiction. Those researching family history account for a large proportion of the users of local archives. Many local archival collections are important genealogical sources, such as the burial registers of local authority-owned cemeteries; voters’ lists; valuation books; national school registers and roll books; and a variety of landed estate material, including rent books, maps and surveys.The remit of local archives services does not include the custody of parish registers, so the development of a much larger local archives network would not in itself address the serious problems highlighted by Mrs Giddings. It should, however, be noted that two local archives, County Wicklow and Derry City, are associated with genealogy services. In the debate on access to genealogical sources like parish records, a crucial issue that has been ignored is preservation. Local archives services could work with clergy to promote awareness of the importance of the correct storage and handling of parish registers, thereby contributing significantly to their long-term survival. More recent Catholic parish records, which were not included in the National Library’s microfilming project, should now be filmed and then digitised in the interests of preservation and access. Such a project could be achieved by a partnership including local archives and the Catholic dioceses. Of course, work of that kind requires funding, which is very scarce in these difficult times, but progress is possible with collaboration. Too often bodies and services in the same field do not see opportunities for successful cooperation for the benefit of all. The lack of state support for local archives is symptomatic of the absence of an overall policy for the development of Irish archives. The clearest evidence of this is the neglect of the National Archives of Ireland. The availability on-line of the 1901 and 1911 censuses, a revolutionary initiative for Irish genealogy, was made possible by the National Archives. In its programme for government, the Fine Gael–Labour coalition recognises the importance of genealogy in promoting tourism, and it specifically commits itself to releasing the 1926 census. Yet the same government has adopted its predecessor’s plan to merge the National Archives, which holds the 1926 census, into the National Library of Ireland. While the details of the merger have not been disclosed, it is difficult to see how the institution can maintain something of its own identity in such a different structure. It is sad indeed that the Irish state fails to see the National Archives as a necessary institution, especially given the destruction of the Public Record Office in the Four Courts in 1922. Archives services in general can, and do, greatly facilitate genealogical research. Local archives services are uniquely placed to collect material that supplements the main genealogical sources, and in many cases even substitutes for what was destroyed. We look forward to a time when local archives will be accepted as necessary for all communities throughout the country.—Yours etc.,MARTIN MORRIS, archivistLongford Local Authorities(on behalf of the Local Authority Archivists’ Group)

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