If you have Irish ancestry, and are still having trouble tracking your ancestors don’t despair, as the National Library of Ireland is set to digitise more than 400,000 images of Catholic parish register and publish them online for free. Yes, FREE!

Irish Catholic Parish Registers

This project is already being described as “the most significant ever digitisation project for Irish genealogy” and the National Library of Ireland (NLI) are giving a date of summer of 2015 as to when these will be available. (Remember that’s Australia’s winter, so around June-August 2015).

The Press Release from the National Library of Ireland (NLI) says the following …

The records are considered the single most important source of information on Irish family history prior to the 1901 Census. Dating from the 1740s to the 1880s, they cover 1,091 parishes throughout Ireland, and consist primarily of baptismal and marriage records.

Commenting today, Colette O’Flaherty, Head of Special Collections at the NLI, said: “This is the most ambitious digitisation project in the history of the NLI, and our most significant ever genealogy project. We believe it will be of huge assistance to those who wish to research their family history. At this stage, we have converted the microfilm reels on which the registers are recorded into approximately 390,000 digital images. We will be making  all these images available, for free, on a dedicated website, which will be launched in summer 2015.

The 390,000 digital images due to be published by the NLI will be searchable by parish location only. They will not be transcribed or indexed by the NLI, and the images will be of the microfilms of the original registers, which – in some cases – were in poor condition when the microfilming took place. The images will be in black and white.

Anyone who has traced their family history knows it can sometimes be frustrating due to illegible handwriting on original records or poor-quality reproductions or transcriptions,” said Colette O’Flaherty. “Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to transcribe or index the images we are making available.

The information in the registers varies from parish to parish but, typically, includes the dates of the baptisms or marriages, and the names of the key people involved, including godparents or witnesses. Obviously, such information is extremely valuable for both amateur genealogists and professional researchers.  

Set to be created as a separate website, John Grenham’s report of this in The Irish Times, goes into possible opposition that this project might face, but he finishes off with the best quote …

“It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of what is about to happen. When the Irish public service gets things right, it can get them spectacularly, gloriously right.”

So researchers of Irish ancestry. If you’re currently stuck on your Irish lines, give yourself a little break. Work on a different branch, or do some of that scanning of documents and old photos (not to mention the slides) that you keep putting off. And in six to eights months or so, you’ll be ready and raring to get going on that Irish research again.