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Family history: key sources

Family group Tithe applotment book Parish church

Key Archives in PRONI for Family History

There are a number of archives in  the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) that will be the starting point for anyone wanting to trace their family history.  Wherever your ancestors may have come from in Northern Ireland some of these series' will almost always exist.  These include:

Church Records

These are by far the most important records for family history as they will help identify relationships and dates of baptisms, marriages and burials.  Most are on microfilm (main PRONI Reference MIC) but some have been deposited or xeroxed and will be found under main PRONI Reference CR.
PRONI’s Guide to Church Records (available in the Search Room) will help you identify what churches exist in each parish, what records exist for each church and whether the records are available in PRONI, either on microfilm or in original form.  The main PRONI reference numbers for each archive are also listed.
The registers of baptisms, marriages and burials will be the first set of books that you should consult, however, don’t neglect other series' such as pew registers and vestry minutes which may date much earlier.
Unfortunately, there are large gaps in the records of almost every denomination for a number of reasons:
  • the destruction of many Church of Ireland records in the Public Record Office in Dublin in 1922;
  • many records in local custody have been destroyed over the years by fire, flood and neglect;
  • many were not kept at all as it was not compulsory for churches to keep records;
  • the political and social conditions prevailing in Ireland discouraged record keeping.
Nevertheless much has survived, although most records don’t begin until the early 19th century.
Family Tree Leaflet 3 - Church Records (48KB)Adobe PDF formatted document Opens a new browser window. will give further details for each denomination

The 1901 Census

PRONI holds the returns for Northern Ireland on microfilm (main PRONI Reference MIC/354).
While there were some returns missed in the original filming you should find that virtually every town, street and townland is covered, listing details of the families who were living in the household on the night of the census.
The 1901 census is the first complete census for the island of Ireland to survive. It is a vital source as it will record details of those who were born before the Famine and of the movement of population within the island.
The 1901 census for all of Ireland is currently being comprehensively indexed and digitised as part of a joint project involving the National Archives of Ireland Opens a new browser window. and Library and Archives Canada Opens a new browser window..
Family Tree Leaflet 2 - 1901 and 1911 Census (124KB) Adobe PDF formatted document Opens a new browser window. will provide more details about the content of the 1901 census and how to access the microfilmed returns.

Valuation books and maps

PRONI holds records relating to the valuation of every property in Northern Ireland from 1828 to 1993 (main PRONI Reference VAL).
Valuations were carried out to value buildings and land in order to determine what rates should be paid.
Apart from the 1st Valuation books (which only record the names of people who had a house initially worth £3 and later amended to £5 in value), the following information is given for each property:
  • the name of the occupier,
  • the name of the person from whom the property was leased,
  • a description of the property,
  • the acreage of the farm and the valuation of the land and buildings.
The accompanying maps for each Valuation and following revisions allows you locate every property.
In the absence of 19th century census returns, these valuation records are an invaluable resource for tracing the existence and movement of families.
Family Tree Leaflet 4 - Valuation Records (81KB) Adobe PDF formatted document Opens a new browser window. will give more details on the content of these records and how to access them.

Tithe Applotment books

The tithe applotment books for Northern Ireland, 1823-37, record the valuation of titheable land in order to assess the amount of tithe to be paid (main PRONI Ref FIN/5A).
Tithe was a tax payable to the Church of Ireland which was then the Established Church.  There will be a tithe applotment book for virtually every parish and townland in Northern Ireland. In some instances there is no information because:
  • the land was of such poor quality that no tithe could be levied;
  • the land was owned outright by the Church and therefore not subject to tithe;
  • the land was outside the jurisdiction of the Church.
For each townland the following information is given:
  • the names of the occupiers (tenant farmers but not landless labourers and generally not town dwellers);
  • the size of their holdings;
  • the valuation of the property and the amount of tithe to be paid.
  • sometimes the quality of the land (arable, pasture or bog land) is also recorded.

National School records

PRONI holds the most extensive collection of national (later known as ‘public elementary’ and then ‘primary’) school records anywhere in the island of Ireland (main PRONI Reference SCH).
The records of over 1,500 national schools in Northern Ireland, mainly from the 1860s to the 1940s, are accessible.  The national school system was introduced into Ireland in 1831 but is very rare to find any records that pre-date the 1860s.
The school registers are the most important series of records for the family historian as these record:
  • the names, ages and addresses of pupils enrolled
  • details of the parents’ occupation
  • name of the previous school attended by the newly enrolled pupils.
An index to the schools whose records are in PRONI is held with the catalogues in the PRONI Search Room.
Family Tree Leaflet 1 - How to Trace your Family Tree (88KB) Adobe PDF formatted document Opens a new browser window. will give you more information on how to get started on family history. Other leaflets in the Your Family Tree Leaflet Series will explain the different types of archives that you can use for tracing your family history.
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