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Day 5 - PRONI

   Today was the first day of research at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.  After obtaining their Reader’s Tickets, the group received an orientation to PRONI by Dr. Desmond McCabe, one of the Archivists.   Before touring the facility, Des provided a history of public records going back to the Norman period.  Unfortunately for us, as most know, we lost 1,000 years of history with the fire at Four Courts in 1922.  He pointed out, however,  that some of the very old records, such as early land grants from the King, might survive in the National Archives at Kew.

   For most of us, making a connection back to these early records is not possible and we might get to the point where no civil or religious records survive.  That’s the time, according to Des, to become a historian and learn everything we can about the place our ancestors lived.  

   I frequently talk in my blogs about research in Ireland being dependent on time and place.  In order to successfully research in Ireland you need to know the place where your ancestors lived…preferably the townland.  If you don’t find your ancestors named in specific records, but others are named in the same place at the same time, Des pointed out that your people likely knew them.  The  experiences of these neighbors were probably the same as your ancestors.  Using the catalog at PRONI search for localities rather than names.  If you do search for names, look for the name of the landlord.  The description of the documents might not name your ancestor, but if you look through the records, you may find your ancestor named in rental lists or leases.  Or if your ancestor was a tradesman, you might find them in an estate account book.  

  Finally Des took us to the Reading Room to view various examples: a rental book which named the individual tenants, along with detailed maps showing the holdings; books of photographs of Belfast showing row houses in the early 1900s.  These documents were found by searching localities and are not likely to be online in our lifetime, if ever.  The point here is after you’ve looked at all of the databases and put together your pedigree chart, researching in these original documents adds meat to the bones of your family history.  

   The researchers spent the afternoon working in some of these new records.  I think it represents a change in the way they’ve thought about research.  It’s not like looking for a name and date, but absorbing lots of information which may reveal a nugget of information that might not otherwise be found.  

   We’ll be back at PRONI toward the end of the week to continue.

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2018