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Friday February 2 2018


Family Tree

Discover your roots with our guide to genealogy


Belfast Telegraph l FEBRUARY 2 2018

Introduction By John Low, Director, Back To Our Past

Discover the roots of your family tree

Genealogy is now one of the fastest growing pastimes in the world, largely thanks to the internet. Family history hobbyists can now search for their ancestors across the globe. As a result of modern technology and the myriad of genealogy databases, many of them free, enthusiasts can access data which previously could have taken weeks and much shoe leather to amass. TV programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are have undoubtedly added to the popularity of genealogy even if we can’t all jet thousands of miles to get the lowdown on long lost great uncle Charlie. But if you are a beginner in trying to research your family

history, some basic guidance is essential; otherwise you can find yourself hitting a brick wall. In this supplement we want to help you begin the process of tracing your ancestry, directing you to the most reliable sources of information and giving you helpful tips on how to complete a family tree that will amaze and delight future generations. In the following pages a number of respected genealogists, archivists and family history experts offer a wealth of advice to help you on your way. For those of you who wish to find out more about your family history, why not attend the Back To Our Past Show at


Titanic Belfast on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th February 2018. Tickets cost £10 each.

■ Find out more and purchase your tickets at


GI is an accrediting and representative body for professional genealogists throughout the island of Ireland. At the upcoming Back To Our Past event at the Titanic, visitors to AGI’s stand will have the chance to talk to some of the most experienced and knowledgeable genealogists in the country about anything to do with family history. They may even book a free one-toone consultation with an AGI Member if they have specific problems to solve. One of the first traps the novice family historian falls into is relying solely on sources online, especially with no clear picture of how records interrelate. Without knowing the background to the various free and subscription databases available it can be bewildering

AGI past presidents, Steven Smyrl and Helen Kelly with AGI’s Grant of Arms to start on that path without some help. AGI runs the free Genealogy Service for the National Archives of Ireland at its premises in Bishop Street, Dublin. One of the first things the AGI consultant usually has to do is determine that the visitor is on the right track; that they are not inadvertently tracing someone else’s ancestors! For someone completely new to genealogy the initial step

should be to gather whatever information they can get from family sources. There may be certificates, grave receipts, memorial cards, deeds, old photographs or a Family Bible containing records of birth, marriage and death. Perhaps more importantly, living family members could be questioned more closely as to their knowledge of the past. Names, addresses, occupations and half-remembered stories can

open up all sorts of possibilities for research. All of these can be good raw material, but memory can be deceptive, so it is important to keep an open mind and not to accept oral information as gospel truth till it is verified by documentary evidence. As mentioned already, Belfast is AGI’s birthplace. It was here that in 1986 a group of Belfast-based genealogical researchers got together to

discuss the formation of an organisation specifically for those professionally involved in the field. At the time the sources of information for Irish genealogy were mainly held in record repositories in Belfast and Dublin, so practising genealogists were concentrated close to both centres. After the initial meeting the Belfast group approached their Dublin-based colleagues and the organisation developed.

Tracing your Northern Irish Ancestors: A three-step guide Brian Mitchell, Director of Derry Genealogy

Belfast: The birthplace of Accredited Genealogists Paul Gorry explains how the influential genealogy body can help your family history search


FEBRUARY 2 2018 l Belfast Telegraph


Independent assessors were appointed to take charge of the admission process. Three decades on, AGI is still at the heart of Irish genealogy and the organisation has seen significant growth in recent years. Members no longer have to be living close to the record repositories in Belfast and Dublin as much of their work can be done online. Consequently the membership is spread throughout all four provinces. The upcoming Belfast event will be a milestone for AGI, as it will be the first time in Ireland that it will be joined in meeting the general public by Members of its Scottish counterpart, ASGRA. In 2015 ASGRA (the Association of Scottish Genealogists and Researchers in Archives) and AGI formed an alliance in which they co-operate in highlighting the professional and ethical standards that have been promoted by both organisations over the past three decades. Many people are unaware that there are such standards, which protect professional genealogists and their clients. Of course, there is no requirement for a practitioner to seek credentials from AGI or ASGRA, or the accrediting organisations operating in other geographical areas, but membership of AGI or ASGRA is a guarantee of competence, experience, ethics and accountability. AGI and ASGRA are not merely support organisations for professional genealogists. Gaining membership is not just a matter of paying an annual fee. Applicants must submit work samples to be assessed.

Published by Belfast Telegraph, Clarendon House, Clarendon Dock, Belfast, BT1 3BH | DESGINER: Raymond Esteban | CONTENT: John Low, Director, Back to Our Past


There are 289 parishes in Northern Ireland (i.e. Counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone). You can identify the civil parishes of Northern Ireland, and their associated townlands, at www.johngrenham. com/places/civil_index.php by selecting county of interest on the map. To gain insight into the economic and social landscape of 19th century Ireland you can consult a Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, published in 1837, by Samuel Lewis. Arranged in alphabetical order by parishes, towns and villages this book can be viewed online at placeindex.php.

An excellent starting point for surname research is the ‘Surname Search’ option at where you can explore the location, frequency and history of Irish surnames

Research Steps

Civil registration of births, deaths and Roman Catholic marriages in Ireland began on 1st January 1864 while nonCatholic marriages, such as this Jewish one at Waterford Courthouse in 1901, were subject to registration from 1st April 1845. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF IRELAND

returns name, event type, year and name of Superintendent Registrar’s District, a pdf Step 1: of the full register page in Search 1901 and 1911 which that birth, marriage or Census Returns death certificate appears can be downloaded by selecting Although census enumerations ‘image’. were carried out every You can also search and decade from 1821, the earliest view ‘historic’ civil records of surviving complete return for births, marriages and deaths Ireland is that of 1901. The for Northern Ireland at GRONI census enumerations of 1901 Online, by purchasing credits, and 1911, arranged by townland of births (over 100 years old), in rural areas and by street in marriages (over 75 years old) urban areas, can be searched, and deaths (over 50 years for free, at www.census. old). Visit the website of the These General Register Office of returns will list the names, Northern Ireland at https:// ages and place of birth of all members in a household. go-groni-online. RootsIreland, at www., is a good starting point for searching Step 2: church registers of baptisms, Search for births, marriages and burials as this marriages and deaths website is the largest online source of Northern Irish Civil registration of births, church register transcripts. deaths and Roman Catholic You can either search across all marriages in Ireland began counties or search a particular on 1st January 1864 while county. For example, Derry non-Catholic marriages Genealogy, at www.derry. were subject to registration, has transcribed from 1st April 1845. Prior and computerised the early to the commencement of baptismal and marriage civil registration of births, registers of 97 churches (38 marriages and deaths in Roman Catholic, 24 Church of Ireland, family history Ireland and 35 Presbyterian) researchers usually rely on and gravestone inscriptions baptismal, marriage and burial from 117 graveyards. registers kept by churches. As the search facility on With civil registration of births this website is very flexible it and deaths commencing in means that you should be able 1864, and with the patchy to determine if any entries of survival of church interest to your family records prior to history are held on 1820, gravestone this database. inscriptions For example, can be a if you are vital source searching for for family the baptism/ historians. birth of a Northern child you Irish Civil can narrow Records the search of births down by 1864-1916, year, range of marriages 1870City cemetery, years, names 1921 and deaths Belfast of parents 1878-1921 can now and by parish of be searched and viewed baptism/district of at On birth. Marriage searches can searching the index, which be filtered by year, range of

years, name of spouse, names of parents and parish/district of marriage. It must be stated, however, that a failure to find relevant birth/marriage entries in this database doesn’t mean that the events you are looking for didn’t happen in Ireland. It simply means that they are not recorded in the database; for example, they may be recorded in a record source which doesn’t survive for the time period of interest or in a source that has not been computerised. Microfilm copy of church registers can be examined, at no charge, in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast. Their Guide To Church Records, which can be accessed on their website at https://www. proni-guide-church-records, lists, in alphabetical order by civil parish, church registers of all denominations for most parishes in Ulster and their commencement dates, together with their microfilm reference details.

Step 3: Search Census Substitutes Quite often the only realistic strategy in tracing ancestors beyond church registers (which are the building blocks of family history) is to examine surviving census returns and census substitutes, often compiled by civil parish, for any references to a surname or given name of interest. There are a number of census substitutes – such as 1630 Muster Roll, 1663 Hearth Money Rolls, 1740 Protestant

Householders Lists, 1766 Religious Census, 1796 Flax Growers Lists, early-19th century Tithe Books and mid-19th century Griffith’s Valuation – which can be searched to confirm the presence of the family name. The problem with these sources is that they name heads of household only; hence they provide insufficient information to confirm the nature of linkages between named people in these sources. Census substitutes, however, are very useful in confirming the presence of a family name in a particular townland and/or parish, and in providing some insight into the frequency and distribution of surnames. You can examine the mid-19th century Griffith’s Valuation at www. You can search, for free, a number of 18th century census substitutes for Northern Ireland, such as indexes to pre-1858 wills, 1740 Protestant Householders Lists and Religious Census of 1766 in ‘Name Search’ archive on website of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland at https://www.nidirect. At scotsinulster you can also search, free of charge, by surname, the Flax Growers Lists of 1796, the Protestant Householders Lists of 1740, the Hearth Money Rolls of the 1660s and early-17th century Muster Rolls for Northern Ireland. Although such sources will confirm the presence of a surname of interest they will not confirm if there is a connection between people with the same surname!


Belfast Telegraph l FEBRUARY 2 2018

Tom Quinlan, Keeper, Collection Care and Customer Service, National Archives

A page from the Census of 1911 and sadlkjf lakdfjlkads jflkadsj flkajds flkadsjf lkdjsafl kajsdf lk jadflkj afdlkjasldkfjadslkf jadsf PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF IRELAND www.census.


f all the archival sources of information available to those with an interest in genealogy, census records – a survey and enumeration of all people and households at a designated point in time - are perhaps the most valuable and frequently used. A nation’s official census of population constitutes the most complete periodic survey of information about a country’s people that government makes. Because the aim is to include everybody, the returns of information made to government provide a detailed and comprehensive snapshot of an entire population, where the same type of information has been collected on everyone at the same point in time. Although a census is undertaken for the primary purpose of providing government with essential information on the people who make up the nation, one of the secondary uses of census return forms is by those engaged in research of their ancestors. And few richer seams of quality information on people are to be found. A census was taken in Ireland every ten years from 1821 until 1911. No census was taken in 1921 because of the disturbed state of the county during the War of Independence. Decennial census resumed in 1926 in those twenty- six counties that comprised the Irish Free State and a census subsequently taken in 1936 and 1946. The pattern of collection then changed and a census was taken in 1951, 1956, 1961, 1966, 1971, 1979 (the census due in 1976 was cancelled as an economy measure), 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2002, 2006, 2011 and 2016. The Irish State body charged with the collection and analysis of census in Ireland is the Central Statistics Office. However, before haring off in that direction to hunt for elusive ancestors in its raw data, remember that census records are closed to public access for 100 years from the date on which the census was taken. This means that the latest census to which there is public access is the 1911 census. Unfortunately, most of the census returns for 1821 to 1851 were destroyed by fire and explosion in the former Public Record Office of Ireland during bombardment of the Four Courts, where the PROI was situated, at the commencement of the Civil War. Only a small quantity of returns now survives for certain portions of counties and for certain years as follows: Antrim, 1851; Belfast

For those genealogy new to , it is probab surprising ly to le census for arn that the 1901 and 19 11 have been av searchable ailable and onl census.nat ine at www. ionalarchive s. ie/ for less than a decade.

Using and understanding 1901 and 1911 online census records city (one ward only), 1851; Cavan, 1821 and 1841; Cork, 1841; Dublin city (index to heads of household only), 1851; Fermanagh, 1821, 1841 and 1851; Galway, 1813 (numerical returns for Longford barony) and 1821; King’s County (Offaly), 1821; Londonderry (Derry), 1831–34; Meath, 1821; Waterford, 1841. So what about the census taken at ten-year intervals from 1861 to 1911? The original census returns for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed shortly after each census was taken and the statistical reports compiled and published, while those for 1881 and 1891 were destroyed at the end of First World War in 1918. The census for 1901 and for 1911 now held in the National Archives are therefore the only complete Irish census accessible to the public. The surviving records cover all of Ireland and not only comprise the census return forms in which data was recorded, collated and summarised by census enumerators, but also the original individual household census return forms filled out and signed by the head of each household on census night. The 1901 census was taken on 31st March 1901 and the 1911 census on 2 April 1911. For those new to genealogy, it is probably surprising to learn that the census for 1901 and 1911 have been available and searchable online at http:// www.census.nationalarchives. ie/ for less than a decade.

Before this, anybody who wanted to use these invaluable archives either had to visit the National Archives Reading Room to access original census returns or else order copies by post. In both instances, the family historian had to be armed with information as to an ancestor’s address to have any possibility of finding census returns of potential research relevance. The need to know an ancestor’s address for success in census research was due to the physical arrangement of the original records, which is alphabetically by county, then grouped by district electoral division. Within the records for each district electoral division,

files of census returns are arranged by name of townland or town and street. Putting the census returns online in the form of digital images of the original returns, with indexing of census data to facilitate online searching and retrieval of specific returns, revolutionised accessibility. It enabled anybody to perform the most simple of searches with a piece of information as basic as a family surname and to have presented a list of all families bearing that name, with links to other more detailed information on those families and to the digital image of the original census household return, as well as related

For those who search online and get no results, this could be due to a number of factors:

For those who search online and get too many results, it is possible to: ■ add any extra information in the relevant search boxes, such as age, sex, townland, street; ■ try alternative spellings of the name; ■ type the street/townland name into the relevant box where this is known, and it will locate all the occupants of that street/ townland.

■ The name could be spelled differently, so variations of spelling or a wildcard search should be tried. ■ The person may not have lived where you think, so searching the name without any geographic information should be tried. ■ The person sought may not have been in Ireland on census night. ■ The person you are seeking may have been in an institution, and only listed under their initials.

enumerator census returns. So, what are the census forms that can be accessed online and what kind of information do they contain? The most useful relevant form for anybody doing family history is Form A, which is the census return for each household recording each member of the family and any visitors, boarders or servants. It was completed and signed by the head of the household. Information recorded on each individual resident in a household on census night 1901 or 1911 is name, age, sex, relationship to head of the household, religion, occupation, marital status, county or country of birth. Also recorded is information on an individual’s literacy and ability to speak the Irish language, and whether deaf, dumb, blind, idiot, imbecile or lunatic. Form A for 1911 also records the number of years for which women had been married, where relevant, and the number of children born alive and the number still living. For the family historian, the information in Form A can be usefully supplemented with that recorded by the census enumerator on Form B1, which is a return of houses and buildings inhabited by each family in a townland or street. Form B1 provides information on the nature and class or standard of the building in which the family lived. The enumerator was required to identify the material from which the house was built (stone/brick/ concrete or mud/wood or other perishable material) and to allocate the respective numerical value of either 1 or 0 based on this. Similarly, the type of material used in the roof construction was scored as either 1 - if slate, tiles or metal was used - or as 0 - if thatch, wood or other perishable material was used. Numerical values were assigned by the enumerator to indicate the number of rooms occupied by the household and the precise number of windows in the front of the house was recorded. Based on the total of these values, the house was scored by the enumerator as either a 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th class dwelling. The enumerator even recorded the name of the landholder on whose property the dwelling house was situated and, where different from the name of the householder, this indicates whether the property was owner-occupied or rented. Use of Form B1 in conjunction with Form B2, which is a return of outbuildings attached to a dwelling house that identifies stables, coach houses, cow houses, dairies, piggeries, barns etc. can be used to provide not only an important insight into the living conditions of all members of a particular household listed on the Form A household return, including the quality of accommodation,

the appearance of the house in which the household lived, but also the relative prosperity of a household where such distinct buildings as coach houses, stables and dairies can be identified. Finally, the census enumerator’s abstract, Form N, gives details of the number of houses in a street or townland, and the number of occupants of each house, broken down by sex. The form also tells you the religious denominations present in each household. It provides information on the wider context in which a particular household was situated. It is important to bear in mind that not all people recorded in the 1901 or 1911 census are to be found on the standard household Form A return. Occupants of various institutions, for example, barracks, ships, workhouses, hospitals, colleges, orphanages, etc. were recorded on separate forms as follows: ■ Form B3: Shipping return ■ Form E: Workhouse return ■ Form F: Hospital return. ■ Form G: College and BoardingSchool return ■ Form H: Barrack return ■ Form I: Return of Idiots and Lunatics in institutions ■ Form K: Prison return People in institutions on census night were recorded only by their initials. Thus, Mary Smith will be listed only as M.S. or John Murphy as J.M. Is the online census easy to search? As mentioned, putting the census online revolutionised access. It allowed the family historian to search census data to find returns for named individuals who had hitherto remained hidden. The National Archives census website at http://www. can be searched in two ways: by name or by geographic location. However, the less precise the information entered in the search boxes, the more numerous the results that have to be sifted through. It is important to remember that the census data has been indexed as the names were written into the original census form. Spellings have not been corrected. The basic topographical divisions for the census are: county; district electoral division; townland or street. This is a simple hierarchical structure which makes it easy to access returns for any area in the country. The returns are arranged in clusters by townland/street within district electoral division within county. For anybody unsure of the townland or street the person sought lived in, browsing can be done within a district electoral division of a county, which contains numbers of townlands or streets. The browse function allows searching for someone through location, and to view households surrounding that of an ancestor. It also allows for studies of particular districts.


FEBRUARY 2 2018 l Belfast Telegraph

An introduction to preparing and writing up a family tree chart Christine Deakin Director of Irish Genealogy Solutions, describes the materials available and necessary to preserve family records.


reating a family tree is a labour of love which will serve generations to come. But before contemplating writing up your family tree chart, you of course need to have gathered information on your ancestry. It is best to start with yourself and work backwards, verifying any information uncovered. Speak to any living relatives regarding their memories, names of relatives, where people lived, travelled, where they worked etc. This is invaluable as you will be able to uncover many leads in establishing your family history. You will then need to consult official sources which may include:

The Civil Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths They will also provide family history information. The civic registration of these events began in Ireland in January 1864 with non-Catholic marriages required by law to be registered form 1 April 1845

Birth Certificates: Record the date, place, birth and usually the name or sex of the child. The name, residence and occupation of the father. The mothers name and maiden name. Lastly the name & address of the informant which is usually one of the parents but can be another relative.

Marriage Certificates: Record the name, age, status and occupation of the individuals getting married. The names and occupations of their fathers are also given. If a father is no longer living the word, deceased will be written. The witnesses are also named which maybe relatives.

Death Certificates: Name of the deceased with date, place and cause of death. Marital status, age at death and occupation is give. Name & address of informant present at the time of death who maybe a close relative. The General Register Office of Ireland is in Roscommon, but a research facility is open to members of the public at the Irish Life Centre in Dublin. The

harmful external factors as best you can.

Quality materials/ acid free products

GROI holds master copies of Births, Marriages and deaths for all of Ireland up to 1921 and thereafter for the Republic only. General Register Northern Ireland has records for births, marriages and deaths for the six counties.

Internet: Researching your Irish ancestry on-line : Church and Civil Registration records Civil registration records & the IGI (International Genealogical Index) Various Irish records

Book: The Irish Family and Local History Handbook: Researching Irish Ancestors, interesting topics/ articles together with and an Irish Genealogical Services Directory.

Family history storage binders for preservation There are specially designed family history binders available to store your certificates, photos, documents and research and come in different forms such as: ■ A4 landscape certificate / document padded binder ■ Portrait A4 photo / memorabilia padded album

A 17th century baptism document Both incorporate aced-free pockets and divider tab. It is possible that you will collect a variety of treasured items, photos and documents during your research. The list can be extensive. The obvious items include birth, marriage and

death certificates, diaries, passports, school reports, school / college/ university exam certificates. We all want to preserve them for years and will eventually be passed on to future generations for their enjoyment. So we need to think about how we store our collections to preserve them. Several factors can contribute towards the deterioration of items including environmental conditions, the quality of materials used and the chemical changes which take place in those materials over time. So therefore some wear and tear is inevitable, but surely our objective is to extend the life of our documents and treasures A very basic understanding of conservation principles is careful storage and safe handling as the golden rules. Similar to professional conservators you need to protect your collections from

Writing up a Family Tree chart When you have a few names and information you can then start to write them on a family tree. You can: ■ Write them yourself ■ Use a calligrapher on a blank chart ■ Use a family tree computer software package e.g Family Tree Maker ■ Use an on-line based family tree company e.g. My Heritage, Ancestry, Find My Past Charts are either ‘grown’ vertically or sideways and usually have a generation organised into a single level so it is easy to see which ancestors preceded which generation because they are physically above them on the tree.

ways to help protect your collection. Light, heat, damp, dust and insects all cause damage and deterioration. Don’t store anything in direct sunlight, near bright light or any heat source. Avoid areas of high humidity such as conservatories where condensation forms. Other areas to avoid include damp places like cellars, sheds, garages or external walls which have a high temperature fluctuation. Ensure the area is free from pests and insects.

In order to preserve our collection, we need to protect against external factors. Acidfree and quality archival storage materials and products are essential for the preservation of items you wish to cover, wrap and contain. Storage in such materials will prevent damage and deterioration, and add years of Mounting life and enjoyment of the items documents/ that you value. A variety of acid free pockets, wrapping fragile paper, card, storage boxes, artefacts binders, pens, gloves & glue are available to use. Acid free card, glue, clear So what is so special about adhesive strip, and marker acid free products? Such pens (all Acid free) are products as pockets and files available to mount your available on the high street documents/ photos etc. and for and ordinary items such as labelling. If you use ordinary cardboard, plastic, newspaper glue or Sellotape you will or wood are not acid free but find that it will leave a sticky are instead acidic products residue and yellow staining which contain harmful as they deteriorate. Acrobats from a chemicals and Use acid free tissue Belfast circus destructive acid paper to wrap all which migrate artefacts. Never onto paper, use newspaper photos, textiles as it has a causing high acidic permanent content. When damage and handling decay. So the fragile artefacts result is that and documents your keepsakes use natural will discolour and (unbleached) disintegrate quicker. cotton archive gloves, as our hands can be carriers of oil and other substances. Always make sure Storing your family your hands are clean and dry. history Don’t over fill folders and boxes as this will cause harm to In addition to using acid the contents and may be unsafe free products for storage to handle. Padded folders are there are a number of other available which will minimise damage. Always remove metal fasteners, clips or staples from documents, as they will stain as they begin to rust.

A box is also usually included for each individual and each box is connected to the others to indicate the relationship between them all. In each box there may be either room to include dates; birthplace etc or these may be physically written in depending on the complexity of the diagram. Most blank charts are direct ancestry only e.g mother, father, grandparent, great grandparent etc. However you can also find some all ancestors charts where you can add spouses, brothers, sisters, aunts & uncles. If you build your own tree chart in a software/internet based package it is also useful to use a blank chart to help establish where you have information missing and have something physical to show relatives.

Technology It may be assumed that in living in the technological world storing everything electronically will hold the answer. However, your data may not be retrievable if kept for a long time. The hardware and media used for storage is likely to become redundant as technology develops, and both are susceptible to damage from various sources. However, the Domesday Book over 900 years old is safely preserved and still readable.


Belfast Telegraph l FEBRUARY 2 2018


FEBRUARY 2 2018 l Belfast Telegraph

Janet Hancock , Deputy Head of Public Services, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) details the work and services of the organisation


ave you ever wanted to find out more about your family history – where your ancestors came from, how they earned a living, and what their lives might have been like? The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), part of the Department for Communities (DfC), is the official archive for Northern Ireland and holds literally millions of historical records and images. These include church registers, workhouse records, testamentary papers, Land Registry and valuation records, school registers, and archives relating to courts, prisons and hospitals. An archive can range from a single letter or photograph, to large collections – for example, the business records of Harland & Wolff, or the records of the Londonderry family at Mount Stewart - which can contain thousands of documents. PRONI records relate mainly to the north of Ireland, and date mostly from the 17th century onwards. They cover key periods of history from the Plantation of Ulster to the peace process, and span a wide range of topical interests, from maritime heritage to transport to arts and literature. Located in Belfast’s historic Titanic Quarter, only a short walk from Titanic Belfast, access to PRONI records is free of charge to the public. Simply register for a PRONI Visitor Card (see PRONI’s website for details) and a member of staff will be happy to help you get started when you arrive.

Getting started

A wealth of information is now available online, with more sources being added all the time. It is possible to compile a significant amount of your family tree from the comfort of your own home. Many online resources are free of charge, including all information on the PRONI website. Before you begin, it is a good idea to speak to other family members who can often provide valuable information you may not otherwise be aware of. Check if someone from your extended family – sometimes in another country – has already been researching your family or a common ancestor. There are various online sites and forums where researchers can share information, including social media channels such as Facebook. You could also consider joining a family or local history society – they often provide access to printed sources, completed local genealogies and localised resources. PRONI’s website is a great starting point. You can find guidance on carrying out research, a number of searchable digitised archives and databases which document literally thousands of names,

Exploring your family history at PRONI

Newtownmountkennedy Street, Strabane, c. 1910. and a searchable catalogue detailing over 1.5million PRONI records.

What records are available?

Many important records were lost in 1922 during the destruction of the Four Courts in Dublin, which was the Public Record Office for all of Ireland prior to partition. This included most early wills and church records, and nearly all pre-1901 census records. Whilst this was a terrible loss, a wealth of sources still remain.

■ Census records

The 1901 census is the earliest surviving census record covering all of Ireland, recording everyone at the address where they were located on enumeration day. The census identifies the head of the household, and the relationship of all other residents to him or her. The 1901 and 1911 census returns have been digitised and are searchable free of charge on the National Archives of Ireland’s website.

is a land valuation, all entries cross-reference to a valuation map. The list of householders and related maps have been digitised and are available free of charge on the Ask About Ireland website. You can search that application by name or by place. This resource can be useful if you are unsure where your ancestors lived in the 19th century, as you can see the distribution of surnames across the island, or within counties and parishes.

■ Civil registers (births, deaths and marriages)

Civil records are another good entry point for researchers. Civil registration of all


births, deaths and marriages in Ireland commenced in 1864. Non-Roman Catholic marriages were registered from 1845 onwards. Civil records generally record clearly defined information – for example, birth records include the child’s name, father’s name and occupation, and mother’s name and maiden name. The General Register Office of Ireland has made indexes to civil birth, death and marriage records available free of charge via the Irish Genealogy website. This includes: indexes of births up to 1916 for all counties; indexes of marriages and deaths for Northern Ireland counties up until

Key Sources at PRONI (online and onsite) ■ Wills and letters of administration

■ Census substitutes

Prior to 1901, there are a number of useful ‘census substitutes’, which generally list the main householder, but not individual members of the household. Nevertheless, they are still valuable in identifying/ confirming an ancestor residing in a particular place at a particular time. The Griffiths Valuation, compiled between 1848 and 1864, lists householders across all of Ireland. As this

partition; and marriages (up to 1941) and deaths (up to 1966) for counties in the Republic of Ireland. Many of the index entries are linked to a digitised copy of the original record. The General Register Office of Northern Ireland (GRONI) holds civil records for Northern Ireland. GRONI have digitised a range of civil birth, death and marriage records which can be accessed online. This includes birth records over 100 years old, marriage records over 75 years old, and death records over 50 years old. You must register an account to use the GRONI online application. Index searches are free of charge and access to more detailed information or a digitised copy certificate is pay-perview. You can access more recent civil records onsite in GRONI’s public search room in Stranmillis, Belfast and also in PRONI’s Public Search Room in Titanic Quarter.


PRONI holds testamentary records dating from 1858 for the District Probate Registries of Armagh, Belfast and Londonderry. Wills include information on the deceased and who they wished to inherit their goods and property. Witnesses, beneficiaries and executors of a will, who are often related to the deceased, are also named. Wills can therefore give a picture of a family and how they lived, as

well as evidence of their wealth and social status. From 1858 onwards, an annual calendar was produced noting the name of the deceased and a brief overview of the estate. Will calendars from 1858 to 1965 have been indexed and can be searched on the PRONI website. Copy wills for Armagh, Belfast and Londonderry Probate Registries up to 1899 have been digitised and can also be viewed via the Will Calendars application. Original wills after this period can be consulted onsite at PRONI. Prior to 1858, the established church was responsible for probate. The majority of these early wills were destroyed in the Four Courts fire, however some have survived, mainly in personal papers and solicitors’ collections. Diocesan will indexes also exist in some cases, and can be used to confirm the existence of an individual at a particular time and place. A database of surviving pre-1858 wills and will index entries at PRONI is available on the Name Search application on the PRONI website. Name Search also includes extracts from surviving fragments of the 1740 and 1766 religious census returns, and 1775 dissenters’ petitions.

■ Other searchable archives on the PRONI website

A range of other searchable archives are available on the PRONI website. PRONI’s Ulster Covenant application contains just under half a million signatures from the Ulster Covenant and corresponding Women’s Declaration of 1912. You can also search pre-1840 Freeholders’ Registers and Poll Books. PRONI’s Historical Maps Viewer allows you to search and browse almost 1,500 historical Ordnance Survey maps, dating from 1832-1986 and covering the six counties of Northern Ireland.

Why not visit PRONI?

PRONI staff cannot undertake research for you, however we are always available to provide advice on PRONI records and help you get started. Most PRONI records are open to the public and can be copied free of charge using your digital camera, phone or tablet. PRONI also provides a range of introductory tours and workshops for groups and individuals, and a fee-paying copying and search service for accessing specific information if you are unable to visit the record office in person. ■ Visit PRONI at 2 Titanic Boulevard, Belfast, BT3 9HQ ■ Visit PRONI’s website at ■ Follow PRONI on Facebook at publicrecordofficeni ■ View PRONI’s Flickr Photostream at com/photos/proni


any people have been inspired by watching TV programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? to start their family tree, but are unsure about where to begin or perhaps get stuck on a “brick wall”. That’s where the North of Ireland Family History Society (NIFHS) can help them. It helps connect people around the world with their family here in Ulster, while people locally can get support and advice by joining local branches and attending meetings, talks and classes to help them trace their roots. They will have a stand at the Back to our Past show.

Local yet global The North of Ireland Family History Society helps connect people around the world with their roots in Ulster records are published as books or CDs and some have surname indexes on the society website.



Established in County Down in 1979, the North of Ireland Family History Society (NIFHS) was formed to promote and encourage the study of family history. Today it has ten branches across Northern Ireland and members worldwide. The society is run by unpaid volunteers and has charitable status. It is not a commercial research agency but likes to put people in contact with one another. Members support each other in tracing their family trees and can attend talks at any of their branches, use their wellresourced library or avail of the many services such as their education programme.

Meetings, classes, outings

Each of the ten branches runs an annual programme of genealogy talks and workshops and, alongside social evenings, members also visit local archives, such as the Public Record Office, as well as places of historic interest. The society also runs genealogy classes. Recent topics have included “Using DNA for Genealogy”, “Life in Ulster in the 1830s” and many more including beginners’ classes. The courses have been popular, and some people have

Above left, the Malone family photographed at Malone House, Belfast 1906, above, The Henry family of Londonderry, 1896

A DNA class at the North of Ireland Family History Society research centre at Newtownabbey travelled from Scotland and England to attend them. DNA is an increasingly popular topic for talks and classes and the society run their own DNA project

A dedicated family history library in NI

Over the years the society has gathered together an impressive set of resources for local and family historians and has established the Randal Gill Library and Research Centre in Newtownabbey. Local members have welcomed visitors from around the country and from around the world. The library holds resources for many areas, but concentrates on the six counties of Northern Ireland and the three Irish border

counties that together make up the traditional province of Ulster. The library contains a wide range of local journals, street directories, members’ family trees, a map collection and CDs. Computers and online databases are available for visitors to use. The library is near the Abbey Centre and is open to the public. It is free to visit, although a small donation towards running costs is appreciated. People who are unsure where to start with their research are welcome to call in on a Tuesday from 2pm to 8pm to chat with one of the volunteers or to use the resources. For people who cannot visit in person, an email look-up

service is one of the perks of membership.

Preserving history

A valuable resource is the large and expanding collection of indexed transcriptions of parish records and gravestones, mostly produced by very active groups of branch members working together to preserve these historical documents. In recent years the society has used crowdsourcing techniques so that members around the world can help. There are now indexes to baptism and marriage records for more than 100 churches, and as many graveyards, with work continuing on these and school records too. A copy is given to the provider of the records and a copy retained in the NIFHS library. Some

The booklets that the society publishes have been very popular both locally and internationally and some discounts will be available at the show. As well as useful guides to help beginners, they have published dedicated county research guides that so far have covered Counties Tyrone, Derry-Londonderry, Cavan and Monaghan. Their latest booklet covers the subject of census records – helping to tackle the myth that everything was destroyed in 1922 - and highlighting that there is much that has survived and that can be successfully used to help with your research.

It’s all about me!

The society advises that the best place to begin your family tree is to start with yourself and work back. Write down your details, then your parents. The society has a free family tree that can be downloaded from their website. Filling in the diagram makes it easier to see where any gaps are. The next step is to talk to your oldest relatives and ask

what they know about where they grew up and what they know about their parents.”

DNA Project

The society has been running a successful DNA project for a number of years and it now has over 1600 members. It’s a newer way of making family connections or verifying existing family tree research. Help with understanding the results is available at meetings and classes and there is an online chat forum where members can help each other. The increasing number of people in the project means a greater chance of making family connections and filling in blanks in your family tree. Brian O’Hara, Chairperson of NIFHS, said “We are looking forward to meeting people at the Back to Our Past Show at Titanic Belfast. “Family History is an increasingly popular pastime and it’s wonderful that the show is coming to Belfast for the first time. “Our members have put a lot of work into helping others and creating useful resources. In the past year, the Society has arranged over 150 meetings, workshops and classes, and members have participated in local projects as well as outreach events in Northern Ireland, Dublin and Birmingham. “I am delighted that our efforts are helping people make family connections in Northern Ireland and beyond”.

Further information For more information about the North of Ireland Family History Society, the library catalogue and details of upcoming branch meetings and classes, log on to or follow @NIFHS on Facebook and Twitter.

Back To Our Past Belfast Telegraph Supplement Jan 2018  

This supplement helps you begin the process of tracing your ancestry, directing you to the most reliable sources of information and giving...

Back To Our Past Belfast Telegraph Supplement Jan 2018  

This supplement helps you begin the process of tracing your ancestry, directing you to the most reliable sources of information and giving...