Wednesday 24 May 2017

Who do they think they are? Nine million flock to census website

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

FAMILIES have been immersed in a 'Who do you think you are?'--style trawl of online census records to discover their ancestors' history.

There have been 1.39 million new visitors to the 1911 census records website since it was extended to cover all 32 counties last August. This has boosted the total number of visits to the site to nine million since its establishment in late 2007.

The huge level of interest has been linked to the broadcast of the 'Who Do You Think You Are?' programmes by both the BBC and RTE.

According to new figures from the National Archives, there were 200,000 visitors alone to the 1911 census website last November. The largest number of international visitors came from Britain (90,000) followed by the USA (22,000), Europe (10,500), Canada (10,000) and Australia (8,500).

In contrast, only a couple of hundred people took the time to inspect the census records when they were only available physically in the National Archives in Dublin.

National Archives senior archivist, Catriona Crowe, who is responsible for special projects such as the 1911 Census, said the digitisaton of the records had been a big success.

Ms Crowe said it was quite interesting that there were a lot of visitors from Britain. "There's a big interest in Irish roots. That's mainly due to 'Who Do You Think You Are?'," she said.

Although British and US citizens have to pay to view their government's census records, the 1911 census website is freely accessible, with no charge to anyone for viewing the material. The project was carried out with the Canadian national library -- a world leader in digitising records -- at a cost of around €4m. Ms Crowe said it was good value for the volume of records digitised -- and could be used to boost tourism numbers in the future.

"We're collaborating with Tourism Ireland to try to encourage roots tourism, so that people will come to visit the country of their ancestors," she said.

The 1901 census records will be put online this year -- again free of charge. But these are the only surviving full censuses of Ireland open to the public.

The censuses from 1821, 1931, 1844 and 1851 were destroyed in the Four Courts, Dublin, during the Civil War.

And the census records of 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 were destroyed by the British authorities -- apparently in the belief that copies had been made.

Irish Independent

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