Saturday, January 29, 2011

Guest Post - Researching your Northern Irish Roots

Today we have a quest post from my friend Suzanne who lives in Northern Ireland.  We started chatting a little over two years ago through RootsChat and found out we had a lot in common!  Outside of Family History we are both avid readers and knitters. 
She's helped me tremedously with my Irish Ancestors!  Just before Christmas I asked Suzanne if she would be interested in writing up a guest post about Researching in Northern Ireland..

Without further ado...


At the age of 29, a long term health condition forced me to “slow down” and take life at a much easier pace than I had previously done before. Family History was not an obvious hobby to take up at my age, as in the past I had quietly chuckled at those who were genealogy enthusiasts, secretly thinking it was a bit dull and boring and “only for old folks and Americans”. My mother had begged me for years to look into her tree, but I simply was too busy with a hectic social life and work and just wasn’t really interested.

Until one day, five years ago I was browsing the net. I came across a website containing birth death and marriage transcriptions for my county. I suddenly thought about my mum’s eternal request and her mother’s name popped into my head. Now, I thought, I bet there’s no way on earth she’ll be found here…… so I typed in the name and….. I got the shock of my life when her name appeared in the results. It was the only result, so I knew it was her. In a trice I had bought the record and I’ll never ever forget that thrill of excitement I felt when I read the information! That was me- hooked on the spot and still hooked five years later!

From there, things progressed quite quickly. As most genealogists are aware, a tree with Irish ancestors is not easy to research! Our precious records were mostly burned in a fire in Dublin in 1922- including most census information. The first complete surviving census was taken in 1901. 1911 also survives today in its entirety. Aside from that, the most valuable resources are Birth Death and Marriage records, The Griffiths Valuation, Street Directories, and Wills and of course parish records, where they exist.

Civil registration of Non-Catholic marriages began in 1845, whereas all births, deaths and marriages were required to be registered from 1864 onwards. Of course, it was several years before this law was properly observed by all. So, whilst it is a great place to starts looking for that elusive Irish ancestor, sadly not all such events were registered with the authorities. For example, the deaths of my great great great grandparents Arthur and Maria Magee do not appear to be registered, even though I am certain they died after 1864.

The most useful resource to anyone researching in Northern Ireland, is the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.  The website contains various resources such as The Ulster Covenant, which is a list of names of those who signed Carson’s petition against Home Rule in 1912. It also has a wealth of information contained in searchable Street Directories, as well as the newly launched digitised images of wills in the Wills Calendar section.  Note that the actual PRONI building (which holds the microfiche copies of old Parish Registers) is currently closed as it has relocated to the prestigious and more accessible location of the new Titanic Quarter in Belfast.

The Griffiths Valuation was the first full scale valuation of property in Ireland, carried out by Richard Griffiths and published between 1847 and 1864. It is one of the most important pre-civil registration resources as it lists the names of every head of household. It can be found here:
Griffith's Valuation 

In the five years of researching my family tree on both my mother’s and father’s side, I feel like I have been on a journey round the world with them! On my mother’s side they originated from lowland Scotland, then to County Tyrone and then, in the 1860’s they came to Belfast to find work in the rapidly expanding city. The women mainly worked in the mills and factories whilst the men worked in foundries or laboured at the shipyards.

On my father’s side, his grandfather’s entire family immigrated to Australia, leaving him behind. That was one of the most exciting discoveries, tracing their family from deepest darkest County Fermanagh all the way to Yan Yean, Victoria, Australia! In both families there have been joys and tragedies, scandals and secrets. The most wonderful part of researching your family tree is that it will never be finished, and there is always another elusive ancestor out there just waiting to be found.

Thank you so much Suzanne!


  1. Sounds like a really interesting process to go through. :)

  2. Thanks a mil for this post. I just finished an article and have had to do a bit of delving into No. Ireland.