A report on the
The General Register Office is one of the principal repositories of genealogical records in
Ireland, and under legislation dating from 1844 it is obliged to provide a public search
service. As a consequence it has long been used by family historians (most of them overseas
visitors to the country) and professional genealogists.
During the last number of years regular PSR users have witnessed:
Since August 1987 the PSR has been closed to the public at lunch time. The legislation in force
states that a 'General Search' shall extend over six consecutive hours. This is clearly
impossible under the present circumstances as the office is open to the public for five hours
and fifteen minutes per day. Not only is the lunch time closure very inconvenient to existing
PSR users, but the limited opening hours preclude other office workers from attending the GRO
without taking time off work.
In recent years Ireland has become an all-year-round destination for tourists and this, coupled
with the immense growth of interest in genealogy by Irish people, is creating a level of demand
that the current PSR facility is unable cope with. The programme to improve the PSR facilities,
which has been promised for a number of years, finally began in June 1999. There was a desperate
need to increase the PSR's floor space, especially as during the summer it became so congested
that many researchers, some from overseas, had to be turned away. However, while the PSR floor
space has been extended by one third the refurbishment have never been completed. The chairs,
tables, shelves and the depressing decoration of the PSR are all, without exception, dirty and
PSR users were outraged when it was mooted in 1997 that GRO search fees were to be increased.
The Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations, the Dun Laoghaire Genealogical Society, the
Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland, various overseas interest groups and
numerous private individuals lobbied the then Minister for Health. The increase was decried as
indefensible given the state of the service provided. The general feeling amongst users was
that increased GRO fees for an ever decreasing quality of service would not be tolerated.
Since July/August 1999 the GRO has introduced a new rule that reduces to eight the number of
photocopies a researcher may obtain per day. This rule runs contrary to the Statutory
Instrument which sets the GRO search fees. The measure was met with astonishment by the users
of the PSR some of whom have since complained to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman has since
declared that the linking of photocopy production to the number of daily search fees paid by an
individual is clearly contrary to the Statutory Instrument currently in force.
The consequences of the above have led to a large number of dissatisfied users, and a very
fractious working environment in the PSR. The office staff are put under ever increasing
pressure to produce a professional service without sufficient resources or support from their
own Department. The daily users are dissatisfied with the ever diminishing level of service at
the GRO provided by the Department of Health & Children.
The more than one hundred people who attended the CIGO public meeting were not there simply to
air their grievances, but to contribute to CIGO's quest to find helpful solutions to the points
raised above. It is hoped that the following suggestions will be accepted as a genuine attempt
by the PSR users to assist the GRO in re-establishing a quality level of service in Joyce
1 PUBLIC SEARCH ROOM
The refurbishment programme should be completed without delay. The PSR layout should be
reversed. It would make sense if the counter and indexes were moved to the opposite end of the
room, rather than having the staff members walk the length of the room each time they serve a
customer. A hatch at the counter with 'in' and 'out' trays for photocopy orders should be
provided, which would end the need for personal delivery of copies by staff. There should always
be one member of staff at the counter to assist the public and collect search and photocopy
CIGO is of course well aware of the GRO's ongoing work in Roscommon town and the eventual
computerisation of the civil registration records. However, the completion of this project is
still a good number of years away and in the meantime at least one more set of indexes should
be made available in the PSR. Researchers cannot be expected to pay a daily search fee, but be
unable to fully use their time for want of an index volume. The index volumes should be
re-bound in a similar fashion to those in the GRO for Northern Ireland.
The current practice of unnecessarily limiting users to eight photocopies per day should be
abandoned. This rule, which was to be temporary, is implemented daily, although when announced
it was supposed to apply only at busy times.
4 USERS GUIDE
Most public institutions now have a "Users' Guide". The GRO should be no exception, especially
as a well written and concise guide has been needed for a great number of years. It may not be
apparent to GRO staff that nearly all surviving nineteenth century records inter-relate and
users of the PSR need to be aware of this important fact. The Association of Professional
Genealogists in Ireland has offered to write or assist in writing a guide.
5 OPENING HOURS
The issue of the GRO's opening hours is one that was raised by almost all of those who attended
the public meeting. Ideally, the office should be open from 9am to at least 5pm each weekday,
with provision for Saturday opening. However, initially the GRO needs to address the
inconvenience caused by the lunch time closure. As the GRO operates on flexitime a pragmatic
approach should allow the lunch time closure to be abandoned.
6 REPRESENTATIVE USERS' COMMITTEE
CIGO requests the urgent establishment of a users' representative committee to meet regularly
with senior GRO staff. This representative committee should include amateur & professional
genealogists and legal researchers. The GRO cannot be expected to know the feelings of the
users of the PSR unless it is regularly informed. Likewise, the PSR users need to know that
their needs are being taken seriously. During the summer a meeting was called by the PSR
supervisor at which the various problems faced by PSR users were aired. This forum proved to be
productive and out of it came the successful introduction of the 'counter tray' into which
those requiring photocopies place their order. This system ensures that all orders are dealt
with in strict rotation. This example of PSR users interfacing with GRO staff more than
adequately suggests that a users' representative committee would be a success.
7 THE NATIONAL LIBRARY
Finally, at the CIGO hosted public meeting a unanimous resolution was passed to request the Minister for Health & Children to deposit microfilm copies of the important national archive that are the civil registers of birth, death and marriage, with the accompanying indexes, at National Library of Ireland. During 2000 the National Library will open its new 'genealogy wing' in which will be housed microfilm copies of many of Ireland's genealogical records. Presenting a copy of the registers up to at least 1900 would not only reward the National Library's initiative, but would have far reaching effects upon relieving the congestion in the GRO's Public Search Room.
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