Families welcome archive of WWI victims
RELATIVES of soldiers killed during World War I have described as a "major step forward" the move to place their records online.
Political leaders, North and South, officially launched a digital archive containing the details of 49,000 soldiers who died as a result of injuries sustained during battle.
The project, which took more than two years to complete, is aimed at "giving something back" to those who lost family members during the war.
For the first time, the public will be given access to an online database of all Irish World War I casualties.
Sisters Claire Connaughton and Sheila Mooney told how they have spent years trying to gather records relating to their great grand uncle, Private Thomas Connolly, who was killed in France in May 1917.
Ms Mooney has visited his grave in France but said she and her family are still trying to trace his records.
"Because a lot of the documents were destroyed, this may open up new roads for people to find out more information.
"That's what we're hoping. So it is a major step forward.
"Anything that comes our way, we immediately think it's fantastic and can do more research," she told the Irish Independent.
Ms Connaughton said Pte Connolly's death is somewhat of a "family mystery" but that the archive goes towards "acknowledging" him.
"This is like putting the pieces of a jigsaw together.
"I have a son and daughter and a grandson so we'd like to have a little bit more information to pass on to them."
The archive was developed as part of collaboration between Google, the In Flanders Fields Museum in Belgium and the Department of Foreign Affairs. Communication expert John Vanhoucke, who was involved in building the archive, said that he believes the public will embrace its content.
"This was a significant project which involved records being drawn from over 100 books and other resources," he told the Irish Independent.
"It's about giving something back to the relatives which we feel is very worthwhile," he added.
The archive was launched at the Google headquarters in Dublin yesterday by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Mr Gilmore said the archive is an important part a "decade" of commemorations relating to World War I.
"This work will allow the stories of the fallen to be recorded for the benefit of future generations and will allow us to express our thanks and acknowledge the sacrifice of men who died helping to preserve our freedom," he said.
Mr Gilmore added: "I believe that the resource that has now been made available will enable families throughout the country to research for themselves the connections, who was involved, what happened and be able to fill out the family record in relation to World War I."
For access to the latest online digital archive, log on to http://imr.inflandersfields.be/search.html - you can type in a name and see the place of birth, rank, regiment, service number, date of death and place of burial/ commemoration of each individual solider with that name, where the information is available.