29 September 2011

ANCESTRY.COM VS THE NLI?

     The news buzz around the Irish genealogy world the last couple of weeks has been the controversy over  the addition of Irish Roman Catholic parish records to Ancestry.com's database. The question being asked  is whether Ancestry.co.uk infringed the legal rights of the NLI regarding the microfilms containing those records. The NLI possesses the microfilm collection of the Catholic parish records.
See IRISH TIMES: National LIbrary Inquiry into Legality of Records Release        
    The copyright and other legal issues involved are difficult and fact-dependent, so I will not comment on the allegations made by the NLI. The Library has been attempting for some time to digitize the collection of Catholic parish records, and to place them online free of charge for the public's use. Currently, a free database has been established under the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht ( http://www.irishgenealogy.ie/ ), but the records available are very limited.
     Be cautioned, however, that the Ancestry.com database available to paying subscribers is very limited, even though it is titled broadly. For example, the collection titled "Ireland, Catholic Parish Baptisms 1742-1881" contains mostly records from Counties Meath (40 percent) and Roscommon (15 percent). My concern is that researchers who do not read the full description of the database will be misled into believing, when they cannot find their ancestor on the database, that the record for the ancestor does not exist at all, when it is simply not included in the collection.
      I will admit that, in my excitement over accessing the Catholic parish records online, I spent quite a long time fruitlessly searching the Ancestry.com collection for Clough parish records that I knew existed on the NLI microfilms. Why wasn't I finding them in the Ancestry database?  My much-more-thorough-fellow-researcher Jack, from the Castlecomer mailing list, directed me to the collection description (Jack saves me from many a research blunder). But mistakes are great learning tools, and this one reminded me to ascertain exactly what records are in any collection before I start plugging information into a search engine!