The advent of easy access to historical and genealogical data has fuelled a rise in popularity for family history research, with websites such as Ancestry.com allowing users to get a glimpse into what life was like for previous generations. For many people in Ireland, however, much of the information they needed was lost – until now.
In 1922 a devastating fire swept through the Public Record Office in Ireland, taking with it seven centuries of historical and genealogical records. Now, following a great deal of meticulous research and restoration from a team at Trinity College Dublin, those records have been painstakingly recreated in virtual reality (VR).
The project is currently still ongoing, with the expectation that it will be complete in time for the 100th anniversary of the fire. Upon completion, members of the public will be able to use VR to enter a 3D recreation of the Public Record Office as it was before the fire and access all the documents it contained.
The principal investigator for the project, Dr Peter Crooks, explained that the effort was possible due to copies of the documents and records being held in various locations around the world.
“Because the archival collections date from such an early period of history, the reconstruction effort will allow anyone with an interest in researching their families or localities to engage in deep history,” Dr Crooks said, “reaching back almost half a millennium earlier than most readily available genealogical resources.”
The virtual archive was built using the original architectural plans and photographs from the era to capture the size and scale of the structure. The six-story tall archive contained a great wealth of historical detail, including records of births, marriages, deaths, wills, maps and town records.
The virtual archive will be fully searchable, with users able to browse its contents, such as exchequer records from the Middle Ages, or records from Cromwell’s government, with links to copies or surviving records held by museums, archives and libraries all over the world.
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