Search PRONI's eCatalogue
Search or browse over one million catalogue entries in PRONI’s archives for free.
Before you start
The most common search is a text search, however you can also search by date, PRONI reference or a combination of these fields.
There are over one million entries in the eCatalogue, so results may not be returned if your search is too general, that is the search will not work if more than 5,000 results are found. For example, a text search for ‘Belfast’ will not work, however, you can refine this by adding more words or by using a date.
You can also use the browse facility to navigate through the contents of an entire archive.
When searching, be aware that subjects may be described in different ways (see ALL Words example below). So you may wish to try several of the word searches or combination searches explained below.
The text search defaults to ‘description and title’ and searches for the text you have entered within both of these fields. If you wish, you can change this to search in description only or title only.
Match all words
An ALL Words search is the default search option because it produces the best results for general searching. For example, Bessbrook Spinning Mill may be recorded as Bessbrook Spinning Mill, Bessbrook Flax Mill, Bessbrook Mill or the mill at Bessbrook. The words Bessbrook and Mill are common to all four descriptions, therefore an ALL Words search using Bessbrook and Mill would produce the most relevant search results.
However, using an ALL word search may bring back results which include all your keywords, but are not relevant to your search. For example, an ALL words search using ‘housing executive’ would find PRONI reference D2704/A/5/11, described as follows:
This policy statement, authorized by the Executive Committee, set out Northern Ireland Labour Party's aims and policies, on agriculture, land, fisheries, minerals, water, industry, transport, housing, education, health, legal aid, and recreation facilities.
In this instance, you may want to change to match Match Phrase.
Match phrase will find entries containing words in the exact order entered. For example, a Match phrase search using‘ housing executive’ would NOT find PRONI reference D2704/A/5/11 (see above) but would find PRONI reference HLGP/4/2:
Northern Ireland Housing Executive meetings: Ministry and Executive, 1971-1974.
Match any word
Match any word will find entries containing any of the words entered. This is useful when the same thing/person may be described in a number of ways. For example, Arthur Wellesley is also known as the Duke of Wellington, so you may wish to try an ANY Word search for Wellesley and Wellington.
Searching by title only
Searching by title may produce a smaller number of results and may be useful if you want to search for a particular archive. For example, if you are looking for the Abercorn Papers (D623), a 'Title and Description' word search for Abercorn will get thousands of results, including Abercorn Street and Abercorn National School. However a title search for Abercorn will reduce the number of results to a more manageable number.
* is a wildcard. You can use this at the end of text if you are unsure of the spelling. For example, Tand* would find results for Tanderagee, Tandragee and so on. Note that * must be the last character in a word.
The wildcard (*) can be used in both text search and PRONI Reference search. In text search, use the wildcard when you are unsure about the spelling of a particular word. This is particularly useful for difficult place names or personal names. Many Irish townlands were spelt phonetically until the twentieth Century. For example, Tanderagee is also recorded as Tandragee. Therefore, a search for Tand* will return results for both spellings. However, beware of shortening words too much, for example, Tan* will bring back results such as tank, tandem and tanner.
A wildcard can be used at the end of any word in both an 'All Words' search and an 'Any Word' search. However, it can only be used as the last character in the last word of a Match Phrase search. For example if you were looking for John Neilly, a Match Phrase search for John Neil* would return the relevant results.
You can also use the wildcard if you are unsure of an exact PRONI Reference number, for example SCH* will restrict your search to the School Records archive.
Things to consider when using word searches
Note that some words may be abbreviated, for example
- Co (County),
- Col (Colonel),
- Jas (James)
- Thos (Thomas).
Take this into account when searching.
Names and titles with apostrophes will only be returned if an apostrophe is included in the search. For example, a search of St Malachys or ONeill will not display results for St Malachy’s or O’Neill. You may wish to try both variants if you are not sure how a word may have been recorded.
The search facility does not support searches using hyphens. If you want to look for a double barrelled name, for example King-Harman, you should input King Harman and use the 'Match Phrase' search.
Some entries include text contained within square brackets to show that the cataloguer is providing additional information. For example, Tom H is referred to in the Abercorn Papers (D623/A/98/23), however in the catalogue description, the cataloguer has provided additional information to show that Tom H. is actually Tom H[amilton]. As a search for Tom Hamilton will not return results for Tom H[amilton], in this instance it would be best to do a 'Match Phrase' search using the wildcard for Tom H* or search for amilton as a word.
You can search using a single date or a date range. When using the date search, the minimum requirement is a four digit year. This can be made more specific by selecting a month or a month and day.
PRONI Reference search
It is often quicker to input a specific PRONI reference number than do a word search. You can search using a PRONI reference number.
You can either input a full PRONI reference number or part of the reference plus the wildcard (*). The later is useful if you are unsure of a specific PRONI reference number but know an archive or section of an archive, input the first few characters of the reference followed by the wildcard (*). For example, D623* will return results within the Abercorn Papers only and CR1/3* will return results for Holy Trinity parish church only (within the Church of Ireland archive (CR1)).
Mix different fields to do more refined searches:
Text and Date
If you know the time period for your searches, you can achieve better results by combining a date search and a text search. For example, a text search for Richard Robinson and a date search for 1760-1790 will produce a smaller number of results than only a text search for Richard Robinson.
Text and PRONI Reference
If you are only interested in searching for a subject within a particular archive, you can achieve better results by combining a text search with a PRONI Reference search. For example, a text search for Richard Robinson and a PRONI Reference search for DIO* will produce results for Richard Robinson only within the Church of Ireland Diocesan Records.
Date and PRONI Reference
This is useful if you want to search for specific dates within a particular archive. For example, the Tennent Papers (D1748) contain references to the 1798 Uprising by the United Irishmen. Therefore, a date search for the year 1798 and a PRONI Reference Number search for D1748* will bring back material dated 1798 within the Tennent Papers only.
Search results and display
The fields in the search results include PRONI reference, date(s), title/description, item indicator and a view option. If the item indicator is ‘Y’, the entry describes an individual document or volume which is orderable in the PRONI Search Room. Item indicator 'N' is not an orderable level.
The search results displayed default to sort by PRONI Reference number. You can change this to sort by ascending date.
The number of results per page defaults to 10 but you can choose to display up to 50 results per page.
How the results are displayed
The results overview includes:
- PRONI Reference
- item - that is if the record level is an 'item', a 'Y' will display, or else 'N' will display
- a link to 'detailed view'
In the 'detailed view', each catalogue entry is made up of 'fields':
- repository name - name of organisation/institution, for example PRONI
- PRONI Reference - unique alpha-numeric code particular to an item or level
- level - archives can be sub-divided into related areas or topics which in turn can be further sub-divided.
These sub-divisions are classified using international cataloguing terms such as, fonds, series, file or item. Items are the lowest level of an archive - usually an individual document or volume. Note that only items can be ordered on-site.
- access - indicates whether the actual record is open or closed to the public on-site
- title - the title of the catalogue entry (which may be a shortened version of the description)
- dates - either a single date or date range
Navigating the results
You can see the full catalogue description for any search result by selecting ‘view’. You can navigate search results via the search results overview and the search results detailed view.
You can use the browse facility to navigate through the contents of an entire archive.
PRONI reference numbers are grouped together in alphabetical order. To look for a particular archive select the initial letter of the PRONI reference number from the A to Z menu. You can navigate from page to page of the browse results to find the archive you are looking for using the first, previous, next and last buttons. For example, to browse the Board of Guardians archive, select B from the A to Z menu, then select BG from the browse results.
If a reference number is blue and underlined, this indicates there are further levels of the catalogue below. When you open an underlined PRONI reference, the catalogue tree for this archive is displayed above the browse results. You can navigate through an archive using the catalogue tree and/or the browse results.
If a reference number is grey and not underlined, this is the lowest part of the tree currently available. If the item indicator is ‘Y’, the entry describes an individual document or volume which is orderable in the PRONI Search Room. Item indicator 'N' is not an orderable level.
Contact details for the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
More useful links
- About PRONI catalogues and the eCatalogue
- PRONI - Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
- Family and local history records
- Family history, heritage and museums