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What should I do first?

Family group Tithe applotment book Parish church
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 sources

Always check out printed sources first, such as:
  • Family histories

    The Local Studies Units in Northern Ireland’s public libraries Opens a new browser window. and the Linen Hall Library Opens a new browser window. will hold printed copies of family histories that have been researched already.
  • Newspapers

    Libraries 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 Opens a new browser window.. 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 directories

    Other 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 Opens a new browser window..

Family and friends

Start 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 inscriptions

Find 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) Adobe PDF formatted document Opens a new browser window. and Family Tree Leaflet 22 - Understanding the Stones (69KB) Adobe PDF formatted document Opens a new browser window.


See 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.


Family Bibles are a useful source as they may sometimes have details of births, deaths and marriages of the family written inside.

Family Papers

Check 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 records

If 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.

Civil registers of births, marriages and deaths

Civil registers are held by the General Register Office of Northern Ireland (GRONI) Opens a new browser window.. 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

Record all information you find

Start writing down information and begin to build a family tree.  In this way you can start to see where you have gaps and what specific information you want to find from PRONI’s archives.
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Further Information