The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland
The only dedicated archive service in Northern Ireland
The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) is the only dedicated archive service in Northern Ireland. Open to the public without appointment, it holds 35km of archives, comprising millions of documents. The earliest document in PRONI dates back to 1219, but most of the archives are from the seventeenth century to the present day. PRONI aims to select, preserve and make available for consultation and research those archives that provide a legal or historical record of the past, for information, enjoyment and education.
PRONI is not only the official place of deposit for public records (those from government departments, local authorities, the courts and non-departmental public bodies) but holds an extensive collection of archives from private sources. Among its private collections are papers relating to the great landed estates, businesses, including solicitors’ papers, records of the linen industry, families and individuals including those who held prominent positions in society, charitable and sporting organisations, transport, from railways to canals, and individual churches and their governing bodies. Here are a few examples of the subjects covered in PRONI’s archives:
If you are interested in how the poor were treated in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the effect of the Great Famine on such communities, you can consult the archives of Northern Ireland’s 26 workhouses, from 1838 to their demise in 1948. These include registers of inmates who entered the workhouses, and minutes of the Boards of Guardians who administered the workhouse system.
You will also find archives relating to how the great landed estates were managed, the leasing of land to tenants, and the role and influence of the landlord in the local community. These include the Earl of Antrim’s estate in Co Antrim, the Belmore estate in Co Fermanagh, the Downshire estate in Co Down, the Brownlow estate in Co Armagh, the Caledon estate in Co Tyrone and the Drapers’ Company estate in Co Londonderry.
If you want to find out about the history of sport in Northern Ireland there are archives relating to football, rugby, cricket, tennis, athletics, rowing etc, the details of which can be found in the ‘Guide to Sporting Records’.
If you want to explore the history of a local linen spinning, weaving or bleaching mill, then PRONI can provide you with many relevant books and accounts, recording everything from the cost of flax seed to the exportation of damask to Peru, as well as photographs of all aspects of the industry.
If your interest lies in transport history, then PRONI contains photographs of tramcars in the archive of Belfast Corporation (now the City Council), and thousands of railway records, including plans of stations in the Ulster Transport Authority archive.
Other subjects covered by the archives include local history, wars and rebellions, the Plantation of Ulster, emigration, education, politics, women’s history, and crime and punishment.
If you want to trace your family history, a visit to PRONI is a must. Here you will find the most comprehensive and extensive range of archives for the family historian available in Northern Ireland. The 1901 census returns give the names, ages, religious denomination, occupation etc, of every individual in Northern Ireland on the night of the census. Church records, containing registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, date back to the seventeenth century to the period before civil registration. All wills from 1858, as well as many pre-1858, are available, and family members may be mentioned in a will as inheriting money, goods or property. Tithe books, valuation books and maps from the early nineteenth century are an additional useful resource.
If you are researching a particular town, village or townland, you will certainly want to look at the extensive range of Ordnance Survey maps held in PRONI, including large-scale town plans. These are a useful starting point for any local history study. For the period before the beginning of Ordnance Survey, there might be surviving estate maps that can be surprisingly detailed.
Many of the most popular archives—for example church records, the 1901 census, and the copy wills from 1858 to c1900—are available for consultation in the self-service microfilm room.
There is no charge for consultation at PRONI if you are pursuing personal research. Assistance is available at the Help Desk if you are unsure how to find out what documents to use, how to order out a document, or need help with alternative sources to consult. You can also search and access on-line the 500,000 signatures of those who signed the Ulster Covenant in 1912, and the Freeholders’ records of the late 18th and early 19th century, recording the names of those who voted, or were entitled to vote, at elections.
The Public Record Office is part of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and is situated at 66 Balmoral Avenue, Belfast. PRONI can be contacted on +44 (0) 28 9025 5905 or via their website at www.proni.gov.uk.