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Friday, 4 April 2014

Thoughts on the new Northern Ireland records....

So, on Tuesday I was sitting in the hairdressers having a quick flick through facebook on my phone when I saw a posting which said the long awaited birth, marriages and deaths from Northern Ireland had gone online. I followed the link and sure enough the website was live.

I tried to do a search and realised that I needed to set up an account, which I did but then it wouldn't let me see any of my results without buying credits. As I was on my phone I decided against continuing and waited until I got home and could look at it on a bigger screen.

Once my credits were purchased I was away - or so I thought!

Every search - births, marriages or deaths - must have a surname and a date - exact (dd/mm/yyyy) or a range of years (1872-1876). Fine you think but then you start to hit some problems.

Firstly sometimes the way that you think a surname will be spelt is not the same as the way it's been added to the index. McNeilly is a good example - almost every reference in the index that I found had the "c" transcribed as an "e" such as Meneally, Menelly etc. So if you were trying to search for all surnames beginning McN you would never find your McNeilly family.

I spent a good hour last night searching for my Hickinson ancestors. The majority I found using surnames beginning with HIC. I found that the variants option made very little difference and so I was reliant on coming up with every variant spelling I could think of. But what if there's a mistranscription in the first 3 letters - for example Dickinson or Higgison. A wildcard would help here.

Anyway, I thought I'd be clever and look at the Irish civil registration indexes on Ancestry where the search functionality is better. So I found a reference for the birth registration of Jane Hickeson in 1870 along with the volume and page number and headed back to the nidirect site. But nowhere can I find a reference to the birth of Jane Hickeson in 1870 - I even sat there and tried surnames starting with AIC, BIC, CIC, etc but no luck. Am I wrong in thinking that if they are in the Irish Civil Registration indexes then they should be in the nidirect database?

The other frustrating thing is that you have to put a date in - which I can understand as it stops the database getting too overloaded I suppose - but I might just want to put in just a year. I'm not sure many people will know the exact date as that's what they are hoping to find. The other alternative is to put in a range of years but with a five year gap maximum which allows for a slightly more general search but is still frustrating.

Now this may sound like a very negative post and it's not meant to be - for a start the fact that I can see the actual entry in the register for my great-great grandmother's birth and discover her parents for the princely sum of £2 pounds is absolutely fantastic!!! The free results that come back are more than enough to establish siblings or verify marriages which means that when you actually spend credits you're quite confident that it's the right event. I have been able to verify a few facts that before I had from stories or word of mouth too.

I'd like to say "Well Done" to nidirect for producing such a valuable database but (and there's always a but!) please can we have some more flexible search functionality??

I'm more than happy to volunteer to be a tester if GRONI are ever looking for help - now I wonder if we'll ever get anything like this for England and Wales....


  1. Jo, the NZ historical BDM indexes search is very similar - unless you have the *exact* spelling as it appears in the index, you will not find an entry. Specific dates are also required, though you can leave the end date blank. I spent considerable time trying to find my 2 x great grandfather's first marriage to no avail. Thankfully, his death certificate gave me her maiden name, and I could eventually search for the marriage that way. But, as you say, better that than nothing at all.

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