Saturday, 4 June 2016

Latest PRONI user forum news from Belfast

Yesterday I travelled to Belfast for the latest stakeholder forum at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (, and also to carry out some research. The following is a short summary of latest developments from PRONI:

Following the recent reorgainsation of government departments in Northern Ireland, PRONI now sits within one of five divisions of the Department of Communities, called 'Community Cohesion'. Other organisations now found under Community Cohesion include Historic Environment (the NI equivalent of Historic Environment Scotland and English Heritage); Culture; Sports, Libraries and Museums; and Voluntary and Community.

In terms of an update on PRONI itself, last year there were 22,000 visits, and 13.5 million website hits. The recently announced public consultation on services and fees ( has now closed, and received an above average number of responses. The report on this is due towards the end of this month or early July, and it is hoped that any revised legislation as a consequence will be in place later this year. There was also a run through of forthcoming events - see

Wesley Geddis gave us an update on a new statutory rule concerning privileged access to certain court records, including coroners' inquest files, court records and closed files - the idea being to provide access in such a way that the viewed material does not end up being placed into the public domain. The rule was set up in particular with regard to materials concerning the recent Troubles, though not exclusively so, for folk who may have been bereaved or who witnessed incidents covered. The new rules cannot be used by academics or any other interested researchers (which will include genealogists) to gain access to such restricted materials, they will continue to have to try to do so through Freedom of Information requests.

With regards to PRONI's online holdings, the recent lecture series concerning the Easter Rising of 1916 is now available on the archive's dedicated YouTube channel at In the foyer of PRONI an exhibition on Constance Markiewicz and her sister Eva Gore-Booth, called suitably enough Con and Eva, is currently on display, and it was stated that a duplicate of this exhibition is also currently being presented in Sligo.

A major development that is going to happen this summer at PRONI is the provision of access to four terminals linked to the full holdings of the General Register Office of Northern Ireland's GENI database ( These will be based in the main public search room, but on what exact terms access will be provided is still being discussed. This is likely to be an extremely popular service, however, being at the heart of the search room, next to various other genealogical records, although unlike the Scottish registrar service equivalent, you won't pay a flat out fee for unlimited daily use, it will be on the basis of £2.50 per digitised record - as it is when you use the site from home - but without the online closure periods. I shared with the group just how popular the Scottish equivalent of this is in the ScotlandsPeople Centre, the Mitchell Library, and other registrar/archive based family history hubs located across Scotland. This new PRONI/GRONI initiative is potentially one of the most exciting onsite developments in a while, particularly as the main GRONI search room is moving out of the city centre very soon. The unique point of this at PRONI will be for those wishing to seek more recent records within the online closure periods. Will four terminals be enough? Possibly, bearing in mind the difference in Scotland is that you get unlimited access for a set daily fee, which won't be the case in Belfast, and which isn't the case at the current GRONI search room.

Representing Historic Environment at her first PRONI stakeholder meeting was Rhonda Robinson, who told us a bit about the Monuments and Buildings Records archive for Northern Ireland. Considering how valuable the RCAHMS site has been here in Scotland, it never occurred to me that I had never really looked into the equivalent across the water. There are a few websites online, at and, including a Buildings Database at I've already spent some time today exploring my home town of Carrickfergus on the sites, for which there are many interesting entries! The agency is hoping to open up a new public search room soon, which can cater for 2 or 3 visitors at a time, in the ground floor of the Klondyke Building at the Gasworks, Ormeau Road.

So, with the meeting over, I carried out a couple of hours research - and just as I was leaving I was able to prove the old Ulster adage that everyone knows everyone through everyone else, albeit now with an overseas dimension. As I was in the locker room retrieving my coat and bag, a lady there called my name - I turned around to find it was a lovely woman called Pat Bourgeois from Qualicum, Vancouver Island, Canada, who had attended a series of talks that I had given there just four weeks ago. One of the talks was on how to carry out research at PRONI in Belfast - I guess we scheduled that one right! :)


For details on my genealogy guide books, including A Decade of Irish Centenaries: Researching Ireland 1912-1923Discover Scottish Church Records (2nd edition), Discover Irish Land Records and Down and Out in Scotland: Researching Ancestral Crisis, please visit


  1. Oh, Chris...keep it up, you are a wonderful name-dropper to plug our beautiful Qualicum Beach. How much we all enjoyed your seminars when you were here! Lola Cook

  2. I think I was as surprised as Pat was Lola! I was only in Northern Ireland for 9 hours!!!