Friday, August 23, 2013

Irish Family Research

Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)  
Update: PRONI has gone digital

What Is PRONI?
The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is one of the favored repositories for genealogy and family research for No. Ireland. (Of course the National Archives Of Ireland is another.)  But, what's interesting, is that although PRONI'S emphasis is in Northern. Ireland, you may find your Republic of Ireland or British ancestors hiding in these records.

Many historians already know of the civil "war" of 1922* (see comments) which resulted in a fire destroying historical records and archives held at Four Courts, Dublin.  Of course many vital records were lost.  However, with a bit of digging, researchers can recreate their ancestors past by substituting records and compiling other resources.  Even where the originals have been destroyed, indexes can give you a clue to your ancestor's whereabouts. 

Where To Start
At minimum feel free to conduct a name search using the online index.  The Name Search Index
includes ancestral names pulled from the following:
  • index to pre-1858 wills
  • limited diocesan will indexes
  • surviving fragments of the 1740 and the 1766 religious census returns
  • 1775 dissenters petitions
  • pre-1910 coroners' inquest papers
Lost Records and Their Substitutes
Few census returns from 1821 to 1851 survived the fire of 1922.  However, extracts from the 1841 and 1851 census are in the Old Age Pension books held at the National Archives of Ireland (NAI).  These archives can be used to prove  age (from baptisms).  The Old Age Pension was introduced in Ireland in 1908.

Under the auspices of "confidentiality," census returns between 1861-1891 were destroyed  in compliance with a Government order.  For more information visit Census Records 19th Century

Wills and Bonds 
The original pre-1858 original wills, administration bonds and marriage "licence" bonds were destroyed.  However, indexes survived, and can be used as viable reference tool.  There are over 15,500 entries in this index.  The researcher will also want to search the Privately Deposited Archives for copies of wills. 

Indexes to Diocesan administration bonds (admons)
For many researchers we would love to review the original diocesan administration bonds  which were some of the oldest records of interest for the genealogists. However, these original bonds dating between the 1600 and 1857, were destroyed.  Although not a direct substitute for the information that could have been extracted from originals, the salvaged indexes can be used a reference tool.
  • Dromore diocesan administration bonds, 1742 -1857
  • Armagh diocesan administration bonds, 1600 - 1858
  • Derry diocesan administration bonds, 1698/9 -1857
  • Down diocesan administration bonds, 1641-1857
Parish Records
The 1922 fire also was responsible for the destruction of 1,006 Church of Ireland parishes records. You will want to check the microfilm holdings at PRONI to research the preserved parish records.  Additional parish records can be found at the National Archives of Ireland. in Dublin.

Pre-1910 Coroners' Inquest Papers
In total, 5911 files and papers relating to Coroners’ Inquests, 1872-1909 can be searched using the Name Search.  Although these records, dated from 1872 to 1997, are held at PRONI, most of the recent inquest papers are closed to the public. Not every inquest record created by coroners are cataloged, (but they most likely exist), so it is suggested that you contact PRONI, if you have a negative name search result.  For more information  visit Coroners' Inquest Papers - What's Available? 

Other Records  
The following records are not held at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, but can be found in other repositories within Ireland and will assist with your efforts to piece-meal your ancestor's past:
  • Births, Death and Marriage Certificates (Civil Registration)
  • 1911 Census
  • Records of the British Armed Forces
  • Adoption records
  • Land Registers of Northern Ireland
For location of these records, visit Records Not Held in PRONI. 

*Note: The PRONI website uses the controversial term "civil disturbances" which was originally used in this blog posts.  However, after further research and reader communication we have chosen to use the more accurate term "civil war."  See comments for reader communication.   

Kathleen Brandt


  1. from Jennifer Geraghty-Gorman
    date Sat, Mar 5, 2011 at 3:39 PM
    subject Re: Blog Post of 1 March 2011 "Irish Family Research"

    hide details Mar 5 (2 days ago)

    Dear Ms. Brandt,

    I am writing this email in response to your blog post of 1 March 2011, entitled "Irish Family Research". With respect to records destroyed in the fire of the Four Courts Complex you state the following,

    "Many historians already know of the civil "disturbances" of 1922 which resulted in a fire destroying historical records and archives held at Four Courts, Dublin.".

    As an historian of Early 20th Century Irish Conflict, and as a family historian, I feel I should let you know that the fire in the Four Courts Complex was not a consequence of "civil disturbances", but rather of the Irish Civil War. Historians have produced a wide body of modern scholarship focussed on the Irish Civil War, and continue to do so. The history of Ireland in this period is a touchstone which has set off a firestorm in more than one quarter, and some may view the characterization of a Civil War as merely "disturbances" to be disrespectful to the memory of those Irish persons who were killed on either side of the battle during the war itself.

    Respectfully Yours,

    Jennifer Geraghty-Gorman

  2. Many Americans have issues with the term "Korean Conflict" when again it carries every characteristic of a war(ok...never really declared). But in conversing with Jennifer (via email) she further stated below:

    The presence of the deep divide which remains between these two separate states is something to which we must be sensitive. The fact of the Irish Civil War is not my "view", but rather an historical event which took place in the Irish Free State (of which Northern Ireland was not a part) from June of 1922 until May of 1923. In the February 1, 2011 post on my own blog I detailed in layman's terms the divide between the State of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the need for sensitivity when conducting research on the island of Ireland. I believe what serves the family historian best is to familiarize him/herself, to the best of his/her ability, with history of the country from which their ancestors came, in order that they might be able to contextualize family history within world history.

    Jennifer Geraghty-Gorman