Saturday, 5 December 2015

PRONI user forum meeting report - December 2015

Yesterday I travelled to Belfast to attend the latest user forum meeting of the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland ( A lot was covered, so the following is a quick summary:

Lorraine Bourke appraised us of the latest major acquisitions to the archive, which are as follows:
  • The private papers of Dr. Bill Crawford, a former assistant keeper at PRONI.
  • The private papers of Jimmy Crawford, a former member of the Communist Party of Ireland - this includes personal papers as well as some records on the party itself
  • The Ulster University Schools Cultural Project, which sought to address the Troubles in a school based context
  • The Workman-McNaughton estate papers from Bushmills, including rentals, deeds etc
  • Down parish church records and the records of Hollymount church, catalogued under CR1/33 - these include preachers books from 1733 onwards and poor registers from 1839 onwards.
  • Reformed Presbyterian Church records, catalogued udner CR5, including from Brady 1790 onwards (session and marriage registers), Londonderry session papers from 1955 onwards, and the Western Presbytery, minutes from 1811 onwards. These should be more fully catalogued online by the end of January 2016.

On the digitisation front, some registers have been called in to be digitised. These include baptismal and marriage registers for St. Mary's and St. Patrick's from Donegall Street (from 1798 onwards), some Methodist records, and records from Drumcree parish, with the microfilm of the register already held now almost unusable.

On the cataloguing front, records from 1898 onwards for the West Ulster farmers Union in Fermanagh are currently being worked on. An exhibition on the Londonderry Papers, which the archive has been working on for some time as a major cataloguing project, has recently taken place in Bangor Library and Holywood Library.

Hugh Campbell then updated us on some future developments on the digitisation of records. The National Education Commisioners Grant Aid Application forms for Ulster, catalogued under ED/1, are currently being digitised, and will start to go online next year, likely starting with those for County Down. PRONI is also looking to digitise the Northern Irish version of the Parliamentary record, HANSARD.

In my previous user forum report I mentioned that PRONI has a new GIS mapping system platform (see pic, right), which will host historic Ordnance Survey maps, and additional optional data layers which can be placed over the top, carrying useful info such as the locations of churches, graveyards etc. This is going to be a great resource and game changer for many folk doing ancestral research, and it is hoped that this might be online by the end of December.

There are some major changes taking place with PRONI itself now, which will unlikely be noticed by day to day users. The archive is currently a part of the Depart for Culture, Arts and Leisure, but in four months time it will be integrated into the Department of Communities, which I think is a new construct under Stormont. Before this however, there is another major change which users will notice - the PRONI website is on the move migrating to the Northern Ireland Direct (NIDirect) platform on which you can already find the GRONI website now. I asked whether this means that the URL currently under use ( will still be usable, or whether there will be a new URL, but this info could not be confirmed at the meeting, nor whether individual URLs for specific parts of the site will change, for example, the all important Church records guide. This content will still be accessible, that was certainly confirmed, but not whether the present URLs will be preserved, which may be of concern to folk who may have bookmarked specific areas of the site for personal use. The front page will certainly change to the site, we had a chance to see a printed page of the new design, but not to see how that works online as yet. The change to the new site may occur before Christmas or in January, so if you see the wallpaper suddenly change, this will be why! I did ask if the old site would run in parallel for a time, but was informed that it is likely to be a straightforward switch over. In answer to a question from the Ulster Historical Foundation's Gillian Hunt, it was further confirmed that this will be an instant switch over, there should be no downtime during the process.

On the forthcoming changes to fees, and new endeavours such as permission to use our own cameras, etc, this may now not happen until April, a slight delay from March. There is a lot happening on this front, so much so that we may be having an additional meeting early next year to be briefed, so I will hopefully be able to announce more on that in due course.

On events, there's a lot happening next year:
  • An Easter Rising themed exhibition looking at Constance Markiewicz and her sister Eva (which will travel), and a half day conference.
  • Talks tied in with the Battle of Jutland (end of May)
  • A Sommes event, to be worked on in collaboration with the Western Front Association
  • An event on the 75th anniversary of the Blitz in Belfast
  • A Queens University exhibition in the atrium of PRONI on the theme of poverty
  • A series of talks on research in County Armagh (following on from recent series on Down and Antrim)
  • Another Foras na Gaeilge series of Irish language talks
  • A conference in June looking at the subject of temperance
  • A possible family history conference involving grass roots stakeholders

A couple of further points to note:
  • PRONI has suspended Thursday evening extended opening hours in December and January, though this will resume in February. 
  • The Ulster Historical Foundation ( is moving premises at the end of January to the Corn Exchange in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter, a welcome move that will see the body more centrally located. They have a Buy a Brick campaign just now to seek financial support for the new facility - please see for further details.

Finally, here's Belfast City Centre in festive mode - sorry, bit of a blurry pic! (There was a KFC shop to the right with my name on it!)


For details on my genealogy guide books, including my recently released Discover Irish Land Records and Down and Out in Scotland: Researching Ancestral Crisis, please visit My Pinterest account is at

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