Public and private archives
Many of the key archives for family and local history are in fact public records. However, PRONI’s private archives are also a rich source of information.
Interested in tracing your family tree? Church registers of baptisms, marriages and burials are a good place to start, however do consider other series such as pew registers and vestry minutes which may date earlier. PRONI’s Guide to Church Records 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.
Unfortunately, there are gaps in the records of almost every denomination either through the destruction of many Church of Ireland records, or that records were not kept at all as it was not compulsory for churches to do so. Other types of records will help you fill in such gaps.
Valuation books and maps
PRONI hold valuation records from 1828 onwards covering every property in the six counties that make up Northern Ireland. Valuations were carried out on buildings and land in order to determine what rates should be paid. Each book usually provides details such as the name of the occupier, the person from whom the property was leased, and a description of the property. The corresponding maps can help you locate a property.
In the absence of 19th century census returns, subsequent revisions to the initial valuations are an invaluable resource for tracing the existence, location and movement of families.
Tithe applotment books
Tithe was a tax payable to the Established Church (Church of Ireland). There will be a tithe applotment book for virtually every parish and townland in Northern Ireland from 1823 to 1837.
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)
PRONI’s extensive collection of estate records can help you explore the nineteenth century and earlier. They record details on landholding, tenants, farming, towns, transport, emigration, politics and local administration, as well as the building of schools and churches.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the majority of the population lived on large estates. The administration of these estates produced a large quantity of records, including maps, rentals, and account books. Rent rolls, leases and maps listing the tenants on the estate, may be the only source available for the period before 1830.
Are you interested in the history of your local area? Maps can be a good starting point, as they can convey a very clear and immediate picture of changes that have taken place in an area over time. Historic maps show fields, farms and roads which might have disappeared. They record local area names that may no longer be used, and often show parish, townland or other area boundaries.
PRONI holds maps dating from the 17th century up to the present day including various editions of the Ordnance Survey (OS). OS memoirs covering most of the province of Ulster, dating 1830 to 1840, also provide fascinating descriptions and commentaries of local areas.
The records of over 1,600 national (later known as public elementary or primary) schools in Northern Ireland, mainly from the 1860s to the 1940s, are accessible at PRONI. The records may include:
- the names, ages and addresses of pupils enrolled
- details of the parents’ occupation
- the name of the previous school attended by newly enrolled pupils
Boards of Guardians records
PRONI holds records for 28 Poor Law Unions. The poor law system was introduced to provide relief to the poor if they entered a workhouse. Due to a demand for accommodation, outdoor relief was eventually introduced. The workhouse system lasted until the introduction of the Welfare State in 1948.
The indoor relief registers contain the names, addresses, religion and occupation of those who entered the workhouse. Registers of births and deaths in the workhouse survive for some Poor Law Unions. The minute books contain the names of those who failed to comply with the workhouse rules, who absconded or who were given assistance to emigrate.
Boards of Guardians records are closed for 100 years after the date of the last register entry.
PRONI holds patient records for mental hospitals, committal papers, case books and admission registers. Hospital records are closed for 100 years after the date of the last register entry.
The earliest criminal files and the accompanying crown books summarising each case and recording the sentence are to be found in the records of the Crown and Peace Courts for each county in Northern Ireland. Some criminal records date back to 1822, with the majority dating from the 1880s and 1890s.
The order books of the Petty Sessions’ courts, which record minor misdemeanours, and Grand Jury Presentments, which are the chief records of the county administration prior to 1898, contain valuable information.
Wills and testamentary papers
Before 1858, wills were proved and letters of administration were issued by the Church of Ireland courts. Unfortunately, these records were lost when the Public Record Office of Ireland (Dublin) was destroyed in 1922. An index to pre-1858 wills and administrations survived and PRONI holds those for dioceses in Northern Ireland. Copies of some pre-1858 wills have been uncovered in privately deposited archives held by PRONI and an index to these is available on request.
From 1858, wills began to be proved by the Supreme Court of Judicature (the High Court). Only copies of wills have survived for the period 1858-1900.
A fully searchable index to the will calendar entries for the three District Probate Registries of Armagh, Belfast and Londonderry, for 1885-1943 is available on the PRONI website. PRONI holds original wills and grants of letters of administration for deceased persons in Northern Ireland from 1900 to 2004.
The business records held in PRONI range from the archives of the large industries that have made Northern Ireland famous - linen, engineering, shipbuilding - to smaller businesses such as bakeries and flour mills. They provide information on customers, suppliers, employees, directors and shareholders. Wage books give information on employees’ names, hours worked, and wage rates.
- 18th and 19th century census substitutes
- 17th century census substitutes