What should I do first?
To make the most of your visit to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), you should first gather as much information as possible on your family.
Printed sourcesAlways check out printed sources first, such as:
Family historiesThe Local Studies Units in Northern Ireland’s public libraries and the Linen Hall Library will hold printed copies of family histories that have been researched already.
NewspapersLibraries also hold large collections of newspapers, either in original form or on microfilm. Belfast central library has an extensive collection in its dedicated newspaper library . Newspapers will often contain, for example, marriage and obituary notices or give details of how a person came to die, particularly if they died as a result of an accident or during a war.
Street directoriesOther useful printed sources are street directories, especially the Belfast and Ulster Street Directories. PRONI holds a very comprehensive set of street directories, the earliest of which will shortly be available on the PRONI website. Many street directories can also be accessed in Northern Ireland’s public libraries .
Family and friendsStart by asking family and friends what they can remember. Ask about dates of births, marriages and deaths. Also ask for any stories they know about the lives of members of the family. Make sure to either keep a written record of everything you find out, or record the individuals speaking about their recollections on cassette or video.
Gravestone inscriptionsFind out where the family burial ground or cemetery is and check the gravestone inscriptions for names, ages and dates of births and deaths. Many gravestone inscriptions have been published or are available on the Internet. See also Family Tree Leaflet 21- A Guide to Understanding Gravestone Inscriptions (56KB) and Family Tree Leaflet 22 - Understanding the Stones (69KB)
PhotographsSee if you can find any old photographs - these are often annotated with the names of those in the image as well as the place and the date the photograph was taken.
BiblesFamily Bibles are a useful source as they may sometimes have details of births, deaths and marriages of the family written inside.
Family PapersCheck for any family papers that might survive - for example, wills, birth, marriage and death certificates, obituary notices, wedding invitations, funeral notices, letters and military service records. All of these can give you lots of clues about your family.
Emigration recordsIf you are living overseas you should check for emigration records or other evidence in the country the Irish emigrants moved to, such as:
- passenger lists;
- naturalisation records;
- cemetery records and gravestone inscriptions (to find out where the family came from in Ireland);
- family papers surviving.
Knowing that your family came from Ireland is usually not sufficient to trace your ancestors, unless your family has a very unusual surname.
See also PRONI's Emigration Series of Leaflets.
Civil registers of births, marriages and deathsCivil registers are held by the General Register Office of Northern Ireland (GRONI) . This is a very useful place to start if you are looking for the following documents (or information contained within them):
- marriage certificates for non-Roman Catholic families after 1845 and all marriages from 1864 onwards
- birth and death certificates from 1864 onwards
Family Tree Leaflet 25 – General Register Office of Northern Ireland (113KB) will also provide further details.