A recent article in the Irish Echo, a New York Irish-American newspaper, extolled the contribution of one of Accredited Genealogists Ireland’s (AGI) former presidents to the world of Irish genealogy and to wider civil society. Steven Smyrl has been a member of AGI for over thirty years, and during that time has achieved significant success not only in improving the data recorded in Irish civil registration records, but also in gaining public access to records of great use to genealogists.
Steven’s work in probate genealogy made him all too aware of the shortcomings in data recorded in death registrations in Ireland, which had remained the same since civil registration first began in January 1864. His campaigning saw the Civil Registration Act 2004 making provision, for the first time in Ireland, for the inclusion of each deceased person’s date and place of birth and parents’ names. He subsequently topped by achieving the same provisions for Northern Ireland in Civil Registration Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.
He was also pivotal in using the provisions of the UK’s Freedom of Information Act to gain general public access to the data locked away in the National Register for England & Wales. Crucially, this is a source which, unlike census returns, notes the actual date of birth for the entire population as recorded on the night of 29th September 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War. This success led to both the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and the Scottish authorities providing a facility allowing public access to the National Register for their own jurisdictions. And a little later, this in turn led to a partially redacted version of the National Register for England & Wales being made available online.
Steven also led the campaign by the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations (CIGO) to gain early access to the 1926 Census of the Irish Free State (that part of Ireland which is now the Republic). And while it didn’t eventually result in those returns being opened early, what it did achieve was to bring this issue into the public consciousness and to see it widely debated. The announcement in November 2022 that the 1926 Census returns are to be conserved, catalogued, indexed, digitised and published online for free immediately at the expiration of the 100-year embargo has its roots firmly in Steven’s long-running, high-profile campaign. Sometimes success has to be measured in other ways.
You can read the full article in the Irish Echo here.