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Day 8 and 9 - Belfast

Research Room at PRONI

   After having the orientations to the various repositories, Thursday and Friday were days for open research…or sightseeing, whatever the researchers preferred.  Most spent at least part of two days at PRONI.  One researcher went out and took pictures of the area where her ancestors lived in Belfast, including the churches where marriages and baptisms occurred.  

   I encourage people to use the online resources before they leave…you want to focus on the things that aren’t available in the US.  Sometimes, however,  you find information that will lead you back to those resources.   The release of the civil records database at IrishGenealogy.ie has been a wonderful resource.  Many of the consultations I did encouraged people to search the indexes and purchase certificates while in Ireland.  Now, most of those certificates are online.  Even for Northern Ireland researchers, records up through 1921 are available (with some exceptions) for free at this site.

   To the consternation of many, the research room at GRONI (General Register Office of Northern Ireland) closed this year, but they moved terminals to PRONI.  I’ve written in the past about GRONI and praised their online system, which covers births, deaths, and marriages for the six counties of Northern Ireland from inception of civil regisration (1864 for everything and 1845 for Protestant marriages) to the cutoff years (100 for births, 75 for marriages and 50 for deaths).  You register for an account, then can view the indexes for free.  Unlike the indexes for the Republic, the GRONI indexes provide additional information: the mother’s maiden name on births or the spouse name on marriages, making it easier to identify the correct individual.  You can then purchase the image of the register entry for 5 credits (about $3.00).  You can purchase up to 200 credits using your credit card.  At PRONI you need to log into your account (or create one if you don’t already have one), but the difference is there is no cutoff.  You can search up to the present and using the credits in your account, purchase the image.  I was able to identify living cousins in Northern Ireland that, because of the restrictions of the online system, I would never have been able to find!   I was able to follow the descendants of a great great uncle down to the living cousins!

   For those of us with Irish ancestry the loss of records in the fire in 1922 has had devastating results.  If you have your ancestors back to the early 1800’s you may not be able to go back any further on specific lines.  But learning about the history of the area where your ancestors lived can help you understand their lives.  As Des McCabe pointed out the first day, the people who lived in the same time and place as your ancestors, had the same experiences and were probably known to them.  Learning about what was happening at the time your ancestors emigrated might provide insight as to why they left.  Was the landlord encouraging emigration to clear the land?  Did a factory close putting your ancestor out of work?  Using the estate records of the landlord, for example, might not name your specific ancestor, but will tell you what was happening.  Reading the Ordnance Survey Memoirs of the 1830s tells about the quality of the land in the townland where your ancestor lived and provides information on the social customs. These books were published for Northern Ireland by Queens University in the 1990s but are not published for the Republic of Ireland.  If you’re planning a trip to Northern Ireland to research come with an open mind and don’t be disappointed if you don’t find a specific record on your ancestor.  There are amazing manuscript sources to search.

   On Friday evening the entire group, along with Des McCabe and his wife Anita, had dinner at St. Georges Restaurant.  I met Des about three years ago when he provided the orientation for a group I had at PRONI.  Last year, to my surprise, I met a new cousin, Anita Gallagher, who turned out to be Des’s wife!   St. George’s Market has been in Belfast since the 1890s and is a delight to visit.  The stalls contain fresh vegetables, fish, meat, backed goods and crafts of all kinds.  The restaurant is upstairs, overlooking the market.  Even though the market was closed, you could look down over the hall and get a feel for what it is like.  The dinner was a great culmination to a week of researching.  Tomorrow I head for Dublin.  Five of the Belfast researchers will also be coming to Dublin to continue their research journey.


© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2017