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Family history: printed sources

Family group Tithe applotment book Parish church
The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is not a library but we do maintain a small collection of printed material, some of which will be useful to the family historian.  The following will certainly be of interest:

Street Directories

Street directories are of particular value to the family historian as they contain a great many names of persons in Belfast and other towns and villages throughout Northern Ireland.
They are particularly useful for identifying the gentry, the professional classes, merchants, traders and manufacturers.
Each directory usually begins with a description of the town and surrounding countryside as well as the names and location of churches, schools and other public buildings.
This is followed by the names of those who held an official office, for example, magistrates, Poor Law Guardians, town commissioners and ministers of religion.
Next is a list of names and addresses of the various traders, merchants and manufacturers in each provincial town or village.  However, for Belfast the listing of names is for every household and there is also a listing of names by street and by trade.
The earliest street directory held in PRONI is for 1819 (for Belfast and Lisburn only).  The most comprehensive series doesn’t begin until 1858 with the ‘Belfast and Province of Ulster Street Directories’, which runs right through to 1996 with only a few gaps.

Gravestone Inscriptions and Memorials of the Dead~

Gravestone inscriptions are a wonderful source of information for the family historian.  As many church registers do not begin until the early to mid 19th century and civil registration of births and deaths was not introduced until 1864, gravestone inscriptions are an alternative way of tracing a family back beyond the middle of the 19th century.
They will often record not only the date of death but the date of birth or the age at death.  Often, several generations of a family are on the one headstone as well as their relationship to each other.
  • Memorials of the Dead

    The earliest attempts to record and publish gravestone inscriptions are captured in the ‘Memorials of the Dead’.  These were published annually under the aegis of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead, Ireland, and span the years 1888 to 1934.  The contents were made up of submissions by voluntary contributors, who transcribed whatever took their interest and often include illustrations.  Entries are arranged alphabetically by county and subdivided by parish, also in alphabetical order.

  • Gravestone Inscriptions

    In more recent years the Ulster Historical Foundation has been very active in publishing a series of books entitled ‘Gravestone Inscriptions’.  While the burial grounds sited in County Down have been substantially covered, only some of the Belfast and County Antrim graveyards have been published.  These and many other gravestone inscriptions can be accessed on the History From Headstones Opens a new browser window. website.

  • Other Transcriptions

    Other transcriptions have been done by individuals or by family history societies.  Some of these are available in the library in PRONI.

Ordnance Survey Memoirs

The Ordnance Survey Memoirs, compiled between 1830 and 1840 under the general direction of Lieutenant (later Sir) Thomas Larcom, were written descriptions intended to accompany the Ordnance Survey maps.  They are a unique source for the history of the northern half of Ireland before the Great Famine and at the beginning of the industrial revolution.
The Memoirs, which are largely for the Province of Ulster, are arranged on a parish basis.  They record a great wealth of information about the landscape and about society in the 1830s and provide much more detailed information on the daily life of the inhabitants than any census could hope to do.
The only listing of names is for emigrants leaving Counties Londonderry and Antrim, usually giving their townland address and ages.
The Memoirs have all now been published and are available in PRONI and in local public libraries Opens a new browser window..

Emigration Passenger Lists

Almost all passenger lists are to be found at the port of arrival rather than departure due to the fact that the authorities were more concerned with recording those entering a country rather than those leaving.
Most emigrants from Ulster left for the United States, Canada or Australia, so passenger lists will tend to be found in the archives in these countries.
Unfortunately, the early North American passenger lists do not record the precise place of residence of the emigrant and will simply record the nationality and the port of departure.  It was not until 1893 that it became compulsory in the United States to record the former residence of passengers.  The Australian passenger lists are much more informative and will generally give the actual addresses of emigrants.  The keeping of official passenger lists in Canada did not begin until 1855.
Published 19th century passenger lists for emigrants from Northern Ireland that exist either in Ireland and England are available in the PRONI Library (aside from the Ordnance Survey Memoirs):
a number of sailings for 1803-06 from the ports of Londonderry, Belfast and Newry as well as Dublin and Sligo found in the Hardwicke Papers in the British Library Opens a new browser window. and published in ‘Irish Passenger Lists 1803-1806’ (Genealogical Publishing Co.)
shipping lists of the Londonderry firms of J & J Cooke, 1847-67, and of William McCorkell & Co, 1863-71, held in PRONI but also published in ‘Irish Passenger Lists 1847- 1871’ (Genealogical Publishing Co.)
For further details on emigration, see the Emigration Series of leaflets.
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