Tuesday 26 March 2013

PRONI's Valuation Revision Books now online

I spent a few hours last night playing with the new digitised Valuation Revision Books collection from PRONI, which will be officially launched tomorrow at a reception in Belfast. To sum up the experience - simply brilliant.

The Valuation Revision Books (catalogued under VAL/12/B) are the follow up to Griffiths Valuation, and the digitised collection contains the books from the point where each county was originally surveyed up to 1930. They are not searchable by family name - instead you need to search by county and parish, unless you know the townland of interest, which you can simply do a keyword search for (match all words, any words or an exact phrase). Once found, you will find a series of links for the individual books, which you will then need to browse. Sounds a bit of a nightmare, but in fact searching through them is very easy - you can start with the index at the front of each edition to see on which page the townland of interest is found in the book (note the page number is given for each in the book, usually written in the top left and top right corners of each facing page - when searching it is this you are looking for, not the number of the digitised page). In browsing to that point you can skip a page at a time, or skip ten pages at a time. Once you find a person of interest in one book, in most cases he or she will likely be close to that same point in subsequent editions (although in the final book leading up to one Londonderry region I saw last night, the order of the townlands appeared to be reversed).

Viewing the images is best done with your computer in full screen mode. You can print or save each page, and you can zoom in or out - the mouse when it hovers over gives an enlarged window of what is underneath, but you can zoom in and out with the wheel of your mouse also. And just to add, the digitisation is of an exceptionally high standard. First rate stuff.

Did I make any progress last night? A heck of a lot. The books show when previous occupation and/or ownership of land has been cancelled and conveyed to a new person - a coloured line is drawn through the name, and you then look to the far right of the entry for the year in the same colour. If 1872 pops up, it does not necessarily mean a person died in that year, simply that that was the year in which the change occurred. There may be several cancellations in one book - if so, each has its own colour. Using the search in two townlands of County Londonderry, I discovered a forty year occupation from the point of Griffith's to the point when the house and land (separate entries, the land was obviously acquired later) was given up. Indirectly I also found enough evidence for me to consider another search for the death record of a three times great grandfather which I have been unable to find in ten years - and I finally found him (twenty years younger than he should have been, and indexed name spelt wrong on Belfast City Cemetery database, but a newspaper intimation later found on the Belfast Newsletter from 1902, via Ancestry, confirmed it was him).

There is one major advantage to not having a keyword search, and it is something I commented on a few months back in a Family Tree article. You actually have to look through the pages for your target, and in the process, gain information on others in the same townland or nearby who may well be related or connected in some way. You can also see some interesting wee gems - such as one reference I saw to the imposition of 'magnetic telegraph poles'!

There's an official bash for the launch tomorrow (Wednesday), so expect these to be online shortly. But trust me, it is going to be one of the biggest advances for many people in a long while with online Irish research. Here's hoping an equivalent can be constructed for the south - this database only covers the Northern Irish counties of Antrim, Down, Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Derry.

UPDATE: The Revision Books are in fact now available online at www.proni.gov.uk/index/search_the_archives/val12b.htm - happy hunting!


My new book, Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet, is now available from Pen and Sword. For my other genealogy books, please visit  http://britishgenes.blogspot.co.uk/p/my-books.html; whilst for my online Scottish based genealogy courses please visit the Pharos Teaching and Tutoring Ltd site.

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