What a huge disappointment the release of the Catholic Qualification Rolls from the National Archives of Ireland has proven to be! It is not the material that disappoints but the way in which it has been presented. I quite appreciate that this does not reflect on the institution itself, as the work was not done in-house. The relevant database is headed variously ‘Catholic qualification & convert rolls, 1700 – 1845’ and ‘Catholic Qualification Rolls, 1700 – 1845’. Neither heading is correct, and whoever thought of throwing these two separate and distinct sets of records (actually merely indexes) together into one database evidently had no appreciation of their differences.
The Convert Rolls recorded those who converted to the Church of Ireland, whether in form only or through conviction, as a result of the Penal Laws. The Catholic Qualification Rolls recorded those who, from the mid-1770s forward, took an oath of allegiance to the Crown in order to avail of relaxations of the Penal Laws through various Acts of Parliament. These were prosperous Roman Catholics were had no notion of changing religion. The two sets of records relate to different sets of people reacting differently to the same laws. They are now fed into one database with no differentiation between them. The related images (of pages from different sources) give the uninitiated viewer no hint as to what they are viewing. Indeed the database is misleading to researchers.
The images from the Convert Rolls merely show names and dates, with no context. Those seriously interested in tracking down a possible convert would do better to refer to the excellent revised edition of The Convert Rolls published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission in 2005. The Rolls were edited by the late Eileen O’Byrne, FAGI, in the 1980s and published by the IMC. The revised volume includes Fr. Wallace Clare’s Annotated List of Converts, 1708-78 edited by the late Anne Chamney.
As well as conflating two very different sets of records, and misleading the viewer into thinking that they are in some way related, the new online database has entries with failed links to images and very many repeat entries. In fact, it seems to me that there are double entries for almost all individuals listed. From the description of the conflated database on Claire Santry’s Irish Genealogy News blog it is supposed to hold 52,000 records. Should this number be divided by two?
The NAI began its digitisation of records a decade ago and produced an exemplary set of databases to the 1901 and 1911 Census returns. In partnership with Library & Archives Canada the repository gave the world resources searchable in various ways. They were not just designed for family historians narrowly searching for specific ancestors but browse-able to allow genealogists and local historians alike to place each census form in geographical context. This helped researchers to circumvent many of the glitches in the databases. Some glitches (the omission of whole townlands or even DEDs) could not be overcome. Unfortunately these omissions, as well as corrections submitted by interested viewers, were never fully addressed and the databases remain exemplary but flawed. [Note: Since 2016 substantial work has been done on corrections]
The databases of NAI material produced since then, whether on commercial sites or on the NAI’s own site, have never reached the same standard of search-ability. It’s as though the records have been digitised and indexed with more concern for speed than ultimate utility; as though there was an urgency to empty the National Archives of its genealogical holdings. Sadly, once a database has been created, no matter how shoddy it may be, there is little chance that the original source will ever be revisited for high quality digitisation and indexation.
Having looked through the content on the website, It appears to me that there are 31, 493 Entries in Total over the two sets of records.
Of these 23, 268 are in the Catholic Qualification Rolls, some are indecipherable, [with lnk marks having faded]
8, 225 are entries in the Catholic Convert Rolls. Within the convert rolls there appears to be some naturally occurring duplicates. I’ve considered the convert rolls in 3 sections,
Vol 1 (Part 1) Date of Certificate & Date of Enrollment
Vol 1 (Part 2) Filing Dates, some appear to be new records, others appear to be partial duplicates of some records in part 1 albeit with either a filing date sometimes similar/sometimes different from the cert or enrollment date.
Vol 2. (Part 3) Later conversions and Naturalizations.
One major discrepancy in the records on the site, is the number of duplicates. The convert rolls on the website come from two sets of Microfilm rolls, which are only slightly different in layout, but upon inspection appear to be the same same document; They are Microfilm role no’s 597103 & 100891.
Some of the other duplicates appear to be problems with the microfilm roll itself, with some pages appearing twice, [this is quite normal considering that Newspapers on microfilm often have this happen] This at most would cover c, 1000 – 2000 records, There appear to be a set of c 8-10, 000 records unaccounted for. Did these ever exist?
Thank you Seamus – if you take a look at the surviving fragments of the nineteenth century censuses you’ll see a similar duplication of entries, for example: http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1821/Cavan/Annagelliff/Annagelliff/1/
Very badly done, and a huge exaggeration of numbers. Thanks again for the interest you have shown and the effort you went to.
No worries Paul, when I saw your original facebook post on the rolls, I felt exactly the same way. The way the information is organised means that a lot of potential insights are missing. It’s why I created my own databases from these records.
Just though I would give you an update on the project. I’ve transcribed all the records with some difficulty and also done the Test Book alongside a comparison with the British Library copy.
I’m trying to add latitude longitude points to each entry (all sources) and have approximately 3650 entries remaining, of which c1250 of these may possibly never be found (Townlands no longer in existance or mis-transcribed beyond recognition)
After I’m close to finishing this stack, I plan to correct for occupation, multiple spellings for same role and then location of where oaths were taken/dates when taken.
Ideally I would be able to look at the original calander for the convert rolls as the microfilm doesn’t contain the roll numbers for each entry due to area on each page being close to the spine of the book.
I am fixing this
Thanks for that. Sounds like a huge task you’ve taken on. What do you intend to do with the results of your project? You may like to email me. My address is: info at gorryresearch dot ie