Researchers can now access Northern Irish birth, marriage and death records online following the launch of a new web service.
Available at nidirect.gov.uk/family-history, the General Register Office for Northern Ireland (GRONI) unveiled its family history website on Monday ahead of the ‘official’ launch on Wednesday 9 April.
As with the system currently in place in England and Wales, it has previously only been possible to access civil registration records as certificates sent by post – a process in Northern Ireland that costs £15 and can take up to five working days.
However, family historians can now search the website’s free BMD index and click through to view an ‘enhanced’ transcription of a record for 40p.
In the case of births, for example, this will include a place, date and the full names of both parents. Users can then decide whether to go ahead and view a scan of the original register entry for £2, instantly revealing more crucial genealogical information.
For researchers at home, only ‘historic’ civil records dating back to 1845 will be available through the platform – births over 100 years, marriages over 75 years and deaths over 50 years.
However, those paying a visit to GRONI’s public search room in Belfast will be able to see more recent material from the computer terminals, including adoptions and civil partnerships.
Although some users have encountered minor glitches with the website since its ‘soft’ launch on Monday, the overall verdict is that it is a landmark moment in Northern Irish genealogy.
Chris Paton, the author of Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet, spoke of his enthusiasm for the new website.
“This new platform is an excellent initiative and will help many with Northern Irish ancestors to get underway with their family history research at an affordable price,” he said.
With Scottish civil registration records available at ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk, the move has led to questions about whether services for other nations within the British Isles will be launched.
Claire Santry, who runs the website irish-genealogy-toolkit.com, explained that she was still waiting for the Republic of Ireland to upload its equivalent records to the web.
“The South has officially been watching developments, but I don’t see them embracing such a project any time soon. Even if they had the will, they have no staff resources and an ever shrinking budget,” she said.
Guy Etchells, who is currently campaigning to open historic English and Welsh BMDs to the public argued that the recent news from Northern Ireland was “ironic”.
“England, the first country in the union to require registers of births, marriages and deaths, is going to be the last to allow its population to access those records online,” he told Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine.
“Perhaps Northern Ireland’s move will add an impetus to the inevitable and push the Government’s thoughts towards opening the registers sooner rather than later.”
Mr Etchells said he would encourage researchers to lobby their local MP and sign his e-petition, which can be found at General Register Office Northern Ireland.