Tuesday, 1 April 2014

More on GRONI's Northern Irish BMD records platform

Last night I spent ages on the new GRONI genealogy records platform (https://geni.nidirect.gov.uk/), which is offering access to civil registered BMD events from Northern Ireland from 1845. I wrote an introductory review on first impressions last night at http://britishgenes.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/groni-launches-online-civil-records.html.

I spent about £60 on the site last night, utterly transforming many branches of my personal family history research in Northern Ireland. Some further thoughts and tips:

1) In most cases I did not need to bother using the enhanced search at an extra credit (40p). I simply used the basic search and then purchased the full record from that point. The indexes were in most cases detailed enough - I could do parental searches, to seek children not before known about, including the amazing revelation (for me) that my 2 x great grandfather Ernest Graham was a twin. I told my Melbourne based cousin about this (also a Graham) - she found this hilarious as she has recently had twins herself. Not sure how she'll react when I tell her that Ernest's parents had two sets of twins!

2) In some lines, where I was not so desperate to see the full record, I used the enhanced results at 40p each to view. These did the job, with enough detail to help me to eliminate possibilities in a couple of circumstances where there were a fair few options.

3) You cannot access the basic search results without any credits. However, unlike ScotlandsPeople, which charges £7 for 30 credits, the minimum spend required to access the basic (free) search facility is a purchase of just one credit at 40p - not per record, but to access the facility in general. In other words, free search results will be available as long as you have 40p - 1 credit - on your account. Bear in mind that with the free search facility you can work out the names of children to two parents, with birth dates, and more. It's not perfect - I was surprised to see a second family with the father's surname as Graham and the mother's maiden name as Halliday - but it is considerably better than what has been available before.

4) Death searches are the hardest to control, not so much because of the site, but because of the nature of Northern Irish records, which like the English and Welsh records offer little by way of corroborative genealogical details. One aspect here that I don't rate on the site though is the facility offering a chance to put in an exact date of birth - a year with a plus or minus range would certainly help here instead. It is possible to do the maths with the basic search returns, as an age is given, but I could do with an easier life!

5) I have had feedback from a reader that there may be issues with iPad access. I did use the site with my iPad last night to access basic search results, but I did not attempt to purchase and view images, and I was already registered. On that limited basis, I had no problems, but if anybody else has any comments on that, I would be grateful to hear them.

6) A five year search range is just frustrating, and could at least be expanded to decade long framed searches. Bear in mind the old poles and spaces analogy from school - its 5 year range means that if you chose 1892 as the lower year, the upper year should be 1896, not 1897 (1892, 1893, 1894, 1895, 1896 as the 5 years.)

7) I have read quite a few negative threads on a couple of forums about the new platform, commenting primarily that it isn't ScotlandsPeople, and that it isn't the sexiest looking site. On the latter I agree (I described it as a passion killer in my previous thread!) - but on the former, there was no obligation for it to be a ScotlandsPeople clone. The site was inspired by ScotlandsPeople - the GRONI actually visited Edinburgh to take advice - but it has clearly done its own thing. Some aspects of GRONI's site are in fact better than ScotlandsPeople - a minimum spend of 40p being the ultimate example. On the other hand, I don't understand the logic in not allowing downloads of the records - does GRONI think people are so flush with cash that having paid to see a digital copy of the record they will then pay to see paper copies?

I spent about £60 last night, resolving many brick wall situations I have had for years. In all those searches I chose two wrong records, both of them death records where it was worth a punt. The death of my four times great grandfather, Thomas Graham, still eludes me, though I have now further narrowed it down to a six year range thanks to events with siblings and his widowed wife noting when he was alive and dead. Two other lines have now been pushed back into the late 1700s thanks to discoveries made, and several ancestors' deaths have finally been located after years of being in the void. This researcher will most definitely see the new site as very positive thing, albeit one that will hopefully evolve in due course to correct some minor irritations for its users. By far the biggest issue is the inability to download images, or to at least create a digital account for folks using the site, as with ScotlandsPeople. People are going to flout the no screengrabs facility - of course they are - if such a draconian rule is not amended to be a bit more user friendly; and having spent £60 or so last night, I have absolutely no intention of paying more for paper copies! So this could certainly do with being looked at again.

Incidentally, with respect to the online closure periods for access to record categories - these are not implemented if you visit the GRONI in Belfast, meaning you can look for much more recent births, marriages and deaths.


Time to find your inner Irish...! All the best online Irish genealogy resources can be found through my book Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet - in print and ebook formats. "Very useful, makes me wish I was Irish!" - Saint Patrick, patron saint.


  1. Agree with your points Chris - and can now buy credits since I used the laptop and not the ipad.
    Couple of additional thoughts:
    I could not search for a birth using a single year - had to span at least 2 years - don't know why
    Would like to be able to see past searches made and past records viewed - haven't yet found a way to do this.

  2. There is a way to do that Marie - visit Features at the top and then click on Stored Searches at the bottom of the lost. Unfortunately though, it appears that these will only be stored for 72 hours!

    The year range thing for a single year is odd. I've not found it a problem in he sense that if I know specifically which year I am interested in, it only adds to the results. One possible motivation is perhaps for registration in a year following a birth - e.g. born 28th December, registered January 10th, that sort of thing?

  3. Like you Chris, I spent quite a bit of time last night on the new site, and found it great to be able to confirm a few things that have eluded me for some time. As you say, it's not scotlandspeople as it's not intended to be. It is just great to be able to see the certificates after all this time, I'm sure people will soon get used to searching the site. It's definitely a bonus that you can search for other children of your ancestors using the basic search, and therefore not costing you. I was even lucky with a death certificate of a 3 x great grandmother in that under occupation it named her late husband's name and occupation, enabling me to confirm it was the correct one.

  4. Hi Chris,

    I registered last night and found I couldn't search for a death record without buying a credit; which you have now explained but I think the site is a bit confusing as it implies that you can search the records without even being registered - I saw words to that effect on the right of one of the help sections.
    I also can't understand (same the first post) why I have to enter a number of years up to 5 when I actually know the year I want. I found an entry in familysearch for the death of Eve Herron in 1874. I entered the data of forename, surname and 1874 - 1874 in the date box. It wasn't happy but when I entered 1874 - 1878 it was happy with the format but I didn't get the result as I hadn't got any credit! Will get some later today and settle down for a lengthy spell; just hope the site hasn't crashed under weight of users by then :-)

  5. It's easy enough to downlowd the images if your browser is Firefox: the Tools Menu has a Page Info option, which allows you to view and download any image on the page. Oddly, you need to change the file extension from .htm to .png. The resulting images are v.gd quality - much better than a screenshot.

    1. That's a very useful tip Pete, am now heading off to explore...!

  6. To search a single year enter a year in the first box and nothing in the second box.

  7. I can't get that to work. I found the page info menu (by clicking on the leftmost character in the web address bar) but the only option I have is to save as a webpage and I can't overwrite that. What am I doing wrong?

  8. Could do with an overhaul of the death search facility. The bottom box asking for a date of birth for the deceased is no use for old certificates as no date of birth is given on a death back then, only years of age. If you have a common surname and forename to search for and don't know when or where the person died exactly but you do have a date of birth from a church register, you can't use just the 4 digits of the year of birth to narrow things down. The box will only accept dd/mm/yyyy format. Another box asking for a year +/- up to 10 would be really helpful.

    I have also had problems with the forename search capability. I was looking for the death of Sarah Ann "Doe" and drew a blank, no results for Sarah Ann. Then I wondered if using "begins with" would help. Sad to say, it was no help at all. Even if the person has 2 or more forenames the only name that appears to have been indexed is the first one. I found more information on my Sarah Ann and I took a chance and plumped for a particular death. Lo and behold when I paid for a full entry, she was indeed shown as Sarah Ann. Would I have got her full name on an enhanced search or not?

    The "begins with" did work when I was looking for an Annie and entered Ann - I got Ann, Anna, Anne, Annette and Annie in the results.