Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland

Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland: A User’s Guide

Contributors: Peter Crooks, Gary Munnelly, Paul Dryburgh
First published: 2022

Why Use This Guide

Use this guide to gain a better understanding of our data structure and digital resources in the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland (‘the Treasury’). 

The guide offers an overview of the Treasury’s ‘metadata’ model, and describes how the information we curate is structured and interlinked. 

The guide also lists the various types of digital content the Treasury contains. 

The guide describes:

  • How digital resources are linked together (‘interlinked’) in order to reconstruct a destroyed archive
  • How icons and other visual cues show the types of digital content available and how this content is interlinked

What is the Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland?

The Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland is a digital representation of a lost archive—the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI), destroyed in 1922. 

The Treasury includes a new electronic catalogue of the contents of the PROI with approximately 25,000 entries. This is the Inventory of Loss. It provides structured information about what was destroyed in 1922. 

The Treasury also provides structured information about surviving and replacement sources—in a variety of formats—from nearly 70 other partner archives, libraries and societies (‘repositories’) around the world. This is the Inventory of Survival. There are currently c.125,000 database records in the Inventory of Survival, and many tens of thousand more will soon be added. 

Wherever possible, replacement records are interlinked with the PROI repository and the inventory of records destroyed in 1922. 

What is metadata? What are digital resources? 

Metadata is ‘data about data’—that is, information about the digital resources in the Treasury. 

The Treasury stores and interlinks ‘metadata’ about the sources we have identified in partner repositories across Ireland and around the world. 

The Treasury also includes other digital content or ‘resources’. These resources include:

  • ‘digitized’ or scanned materials, for instance digital images of manuscripts or other physical archival records and publications
  • new (‘born-digital’) scholarly editions of documents that appear here in digital format for the first time.
What standard does our metadata model follow? 

The metadata in the Treasury conforms to an international standard for describing archives. This standard is called the International Standard for Archival Description

You can find further information about this standard below. 

For further details about this, see the detailed description of the Inventory of Loss and Survival, below.   

What kinds of digital content does the Treasury include?

The Treasury includes the following kinds of digital content:

  • Digital images (colour) created from newly-scanned or newly-photographed physical manuscripts, maps and other handwritten historical records from partner archives and libraries (‘repositories’) around the world. The Treasury also includes digital images donated by partners from their existing digitized collections. Where appropriate, the digital images of handwritten records are enhanced and the text is made searchable using Machine Transcription technology.
  • Digital images (grey scale) created by transforming physical rolls of microfilm into digital format. The microfilm typically contains Black and White photographs of manuscripts and other handwritten historical records from partner archives. Where appropriate, the digital images transformed from microfilm are enhanced and the text is made searchable using Machine Transcription technology.
  • New scholarly digital editions including full transcriptions or translations of historical records, sometimes interlinked with digital images. This content typically belongs to a ‘Gold Seam’ collection within the Treasury. This material is ‘born digital’, meaning it has been published for the first time by the Treasury in digital format.
  • Digitized images of printed works, including publications of the Public Record Office of Ireland (before 1922), early newsprint and pamphlets (late 17th century to 1922), printed maps, open-access digitized books (sourced from Google Books or the Internet Archive), open-access digitized parliamentary reports, and selected editions from the Irish Manuscripts Commission. These materials are sometimes described as ‘reborn digital’ because they originally appeared as print publications, and the printed work has been scanned to create a new digital object. The text of digitized published/print materials within the Treasury is normally searchable. 
  • Detailed descriptions (without digital images) of historical records from partner archives and libraries.
  • Descriptions including an external link to a web domain outside where digital images of archival sources or detailed catalogue entries may be available. External links may also direct the user to digital copies of printed works.

Basic descriptions, including references to print publications, with no digitized images and no external link.

What is a Gold Seam? 

Gold Seams within the Treasury are full-scale reconstructions of entire series of archives that were destroyed in 1922. They bring together digitized images of replacement manuscripts with transcriptions and translations. Gold Seams also include deep historical context and exploration tools, providing an enriched understanding of life at the time. 

The identification of a Gold Seams is based on two primary considerations:

Quantity: the existence of a critical mass of replacement sources relating to a destroyed series of records (or multiple related series of records within a Department of State)

Quality: the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the substitute texts (i.e., their proximity and fidelity to the destroyed originals), as well as their accessibility and state of preservation within their current repositories.

What are the icons displayed besides records in the Treasury? 

The Treasury uses icons as ‘signposts’ to guide your exploration into the past. 

The icons help you navigate the Treasury. They show whether a record was originally held by the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) and whether we have interlinked it with replacement sources from other repositories. The icons also show whether a record forms part of a ‘Gold Seam’ within the Treasury. 

Blue PROI Stamp
Icon for a record from the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) destroyed in 1922 with links to replacement sources

Grey PROI Stamp
Icon for a record from the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) without links to replacement sources.

for an item in any repository with digital images.

How are links between records shown? 

Coloured dots are used as visual cues to show that a database record is interlinked with other records in the Treasury. 

The dots indicate the types of link (‘Link Type’) to expect. 

For instance, a source that replaces a document destroyed in 1922 will be indicated by a blue dot for ‘Replacement Sources’. 

There are four categories of link

  • Blue: Replacement Sources 
  • Green: PROI
  • Pink: Relation
  • Grey: No Link
Blue: Replacement Sources 

Replacement Sources include four categories

  • Direct Replacement
  • Indirect Replacement
  • ParaReplacement
  • Salved
Green: PROI (Public Record Office of Ireland)

Internal links within the PROI to descriptions and cross-references . There are two categories: 

  • PROI Description (the catalogue entry published by Herbert Wood in 1919), 
  • PROI CrossReference (an internal cross-reference within Wood’s Guide of 1919).
Pink: Relation

Other links between entries in the database including the following link-types: 

  • Published Calendar
  • Published Edition
  • Published Description
  • Published Translation
  • External Catalogue
  • Further Reading
  • Relation.
Grey: No Link

An open dot indicates there is no link. 

For additional information about these Link Types, see the definitions provided below.

What is the International Standard for Archival Description (ISAD[G])? 

Our metadata model is fully compliant with the International Standard for Archival Description

This standard—known for short as ‘ISAD(G)’ —was first developed in 1990 and was accepted by the International Council of Archives in 1994. 

The standard sets out a series of instructions for what metadata fields should be captured about an item housed in an archive, and how these metadata should be grouped. 

The seven groupings for these ‘Elements of Description’ are:

  1. Identity Statement Area (including Title and Reference Code)
  2. Context Area
  3. Content and Structure Area (including Scope and Content)
  4. Conditions of Access and Use Area
  5. Allied Materials Area
  6. Notes Area
  7. Description Control Area

Additionally, ISAD(G) outlines a logical nested hierarchy for the various levels of archival description from ‘Fonds’ at the root to various sub-levels down (Sub-Fonds > Series > Sub-Series > File > Item), as set out below.

Fig. Image of ISAD(G) structure reproduced from

ISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description Second Edition 1999

Since its original acceptance in 1994, ISAD(G) has been widely accepted by major archives around the world. It is well recognized and well understood by curators of archival materials, making it the ideal structure around which to base our own metadata model. 

Can you provide an example of this hierarchy in practice? 

Let’s take an example from the destroyed Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI). 

The Chief Secretary’s Office (CSO) was the administrative department or ‘office’ of the Chief Secretary of Ireland, who was a key official in the government of Ireland from the late seventeenth century onwards. 

The Public Record Office of Ireland held many records produced by the Chief Secretary’s Office. The Chief Secretary’s Office is, therefore, classified in the Treasury as a top-level department, or ‘Fonds’. 

The records of the Chief Secretary’s Office were divided into two departments conducting different kinds of business. They are the Civil Department  and the Military Department. These two departments are categorized as ‘Sub-Fonds’. 

This leads to the following simple archival hierarchy: 

These two major divisions within the Chief Secretary’s Office each contain groupings of records, known as ‘Series’. These series also have a reference code. For instance, the first CSO ‘series’ within the Military Department (PROI CSO 2) was ‘Accounts, 1684-1834’ The reference code for this series is PROI CSO 2/1.  

What is the Inventory of Loss and Survival?

The Treasury draws a conceptual distinction between the ‘Inventory of Loss’ (referring to the contents of the Public Record Office of Ireland, destroyed in 1922) and the ‘Inventory of Survival’ (referring to any archival or other historical record which can serve as a replacement or para-replacement for the destroyed records’). 

Both inventories follow the same metadata model in conformity with ISAD(G). The result is a powerful tool for interconnecting the Treasury’s metadata records and other digital materials.

‘Inventory of Loss’: One of the first tasks of the Beyond 2022 researchers in 2017 was to analyze the complete contents of Herbert Wood’s Guide to the Contents of the Public Record Office of Ireland (1919). This catalogue of the destroyed PROI was keyed into a database and encoded using ISAD(G) descriptive elements. Each level of the archival hierarchy of the PROI received a unique reference code. The reference code begins with the four letters ‘PROI’ indicating that the code belongs to the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI). Further information about this system is provided here. 

‘Inventory of Survival’: Metadata concerning all replacement sources also have an ISAD(G) identity statement — including a unique Reference Code — which can be linked to the corresponding records destroyed in 1922 at any level of the PROI’s archival hierarchy.

Any entry in the Inventory of Survival (e.g. a copy or transcript now held by another archive) can be interlinked with the metadata record for the document destroyed in 1922. Interlinking can happen at any level of archival description, or multiple levels. A single replacement source can, in theory, ‘replace’ many items destroyed in the Public Record Office of Ireland. 

This is how the metadata record for a ‘replacement’ record is connected through the database to the corresponding object destroyed in 1922.

Although developed to deal with the specific case of the PROI, the principles of how a destroyed archive can be reconstructed through this metadata model are in theory transferable to other cases of cultural loss.

What do the links between items in the Treasury mean? 

Links between digital resources in the Treasury are categorized or ‘typed’ with a ‘Link Type’. 

There are three main groups of Link Types: Replacement Sources, PROI, and Relation.

  • The Replacement Sources group (shown with a blue dot) is used when linking records from partner archives to a destroyed record from the PROI repository. The four Link Types in this group are: Salved, Direct Replacement, Indirect Replacement and Para-Replacement. 
  • The PROI group (shown with a green dot)  is only used internally within the PROI Repository to describe and cross-reference to other PROI records. The two Link Types in this group are: PROI Description and PROI CrossReference. The PROI Description is displayed prominently in the PROI repository: the information includes keyed-in archival descriptions from Herbert Wood’s Guide to the Public Record Office of Ireland (1919). 
  • The Relation group (shown with a pink dot) is normally used to interlink records between repositories outside the PROI. Link Types in this group reveal relationships between such records, for instance between a manuscript and a published critical edition of that manuscript; or between two copies of the same text. 

All ‘Link Types’ include a ‘description’ field which is used to provide additional qualitative information about the nature of the relationship between sources. 

Our convention is to link from a replacement source to a PROI record. In semantic terms, the formula would be “Source X” > “is a replacement for” > PROI  record Y. Links are, however, reciprocal. The same link type and link description is displayed for any two records that are interlinked. 

The following table sets out the three groups and provides full definitions of the Link Types. 

Replacement Sources Salved Original PROI document which survived the 1922 fire
Direct Replacement A source that directly replaces a record destroyed in 1922: the quality of the replacement is indicated by the replacement grade. 
Indirect Replacement A source that indirectly replaces archival series destroyed in 1922. Indirect replacements were not held by the PROI, but they originate from the same offices whose records were destroyed in 1922; and they were, therefore,  created as part of the same transactional and archival processes as the lost ‘originals’ which they indirectly replace.  For instance, some original public records were taken from Irish repositories and passed into private custody before the foundation of the PROI, and now survive in other repositories. These originals are indirect replacements for archivally related materials, which were accessioned by the PROI from 1867 and were destroyed in 1922. Similarly, parish registers were accessioned by the PROI, but many were later returned to their parishes and now are held by the Representative Church Body Library: these are classed as indirect replacements for the Parish Registers series destroyed in 1922. 
ParaReplacement A source whose provenance, archival history and content makes it distinct from, but cognate with, PROI collections. The para-replacement was not part of the PROI collection, and it was created as part of different transactional and archival processes from the lost ‘originals’ to which it is related. It is, however, related in terms of its content or administrative/biographical history. Examples of sources in this category include legal cases originating in Ireland that were appealed to courts in England, whose records survive in English administrative collections; state papers of royal office-holders relating to their administrations in Ireland, but retained in their private custody; and other administrative records originating in England concerning Irish affairs.  
PROI PROI Description Archival description provided in Wood’s Guide to the Public Records Office of Ireland (1919)
PROI CrossReference Cross-reference provided within Wood’s Guide (1919) to other content within the PROI, for instance a cross-reference between two series. 
Relation Relation Generic link indicating that items in the Virtual Record Treasury are in some way related.
External Catalogue External link to an online catalogue of another repository.
Published Edition Publication containing a full or partial edited transcription of a primary document.
Published Translation Publication containing a translation of a primary document
Published Calendar A published calendar of an original document
Published Description A published description of a manuscript source.
Further Reading Further historical or  contextual information, including administrative history, provenance, custodial history and publication. 
No Link No link There is no link from this database item to any other.

How is the quality of sources graded?

Sources are given a quality rating. This is a grade which describes, in declining order, how the source in question relates to those lost in 1922. There are currently twelve grades.   

Destroyed A document or series destroyed and no longer extant.
Duplicate A duplicate original copy of a primary document.
Original An original document or series, as distinct from a facsimile, transcription or other copy.
Facsimile A facsimile copy of a primary document.
Certified Copy A legally-authenticated copy of a primary document, certified by an authorising officer. Certified copies were supplied by the PROI and, before 1867, by institutions such as the Rolls Office.
Transcription A full transcription (in original language) of a primary document.
Translation A full translation of a primary document into English, retaining all the contents of the original.
Calendar A detailed descriptive summary, often in translation, of a document or series of documents. In the nineteenth century, calendars were typically prepared as a guide to the original records.
Abstract A brief notice containing the salient details ‘abstracted’ from a longer document or series of documents, often of a legal nature.
Catalogue A guide or handlist describing archival organization and contents.
Secondary A secondary source providing historical analysis or other contextual information, including administrative history, provenance, custodial history and publication.
Index A basic listing typically of persons and place-names in a primary document or series of documents.

How is the format of documents described? 

Detailed qualitative descriptions of documents are provided within the archival descriptions of individual documents. 

Additionally, we use 10 short descriptions to describe the format of sources.

Handwritten Manuscript documents written by hand.
Printed Printed documents, for instance a published book, map, or unpublished report.
Manual Type Document typed on a manual typewriter.
Cartographic Maps and cartographic engravings.
Engraving A printed illustration created by the process of engraving.
Photograph An image of a document created by photography.
Lantern Slide A visual representation of a document preserved on glass. 
Artefact A non-documentary object
Seal A wax impression of a seal used to authenticate documents.
Born Digital A record created in electronic format which has never existed in printed or physical format.