PRONI stands for the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. Wait, don't stop reading! You should know that there are resources for places in Ireland other than just the six counties of Northern Ireland. It's all dependent on time and place (I think I'm going to settle on this as my tag line).
Let's start with the history. PRONI was set up after the partition of Ireland to be the repository for the six counties of the new Northern Ireland. The first Deputy Keeper of the Records had worked at the Public Records Office in Dublin and was familiar with the records held there, as well as the records that had been lost in the fire in 1922. He made sure that the charter for PRONI allowed them to bring in not just government records, but other documents relating to Northern Ireland. He contacted private sources including solicitors, politicians, businesses and the landed aristocracy to encourage them to provide copies of their records. By doing this, he was able to recreate some of the records lost in Dublin. Unlike its sister organization, the National Archives of Ireland, PRONI has extensive private collections.
The other thing to understand is that Ulster and Northern Ireland are not the same thing. Ulster, one of the four Provinces of Ireland, consists of nine counties; Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry (Derry) Monaghan and Tyrone. Three of the Counties of Ulster, Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan today are part of the Republic of Ireland, so records for these three counties can be found both in Dublin and in Belfast. Most of the government records for these three counties such as civil records and valuation records will be in Dublin, however, private records, such as church, estate and business records as well as historical information can be found at PRONI and other repositories in Northern Ireland. One large collection of estate records at PRONI is for the Kenmare Estate in County Kerry. Many landlords in the North also held properties in southern Ireland.
Having said that, many of the online collections focus on Northern Ireland though there are exceptions. The Name Search for the 1766 Religious Census includes data from 15 counties in the Republic though none are complete. If you click on Search Archives Online from the home page you will find a list of the online resources.
I'll come back to the eCatalog in a few minutes, but before you search in any of the databases, read all of the material provided about each one. Remember, that no database prior to 1864 is complete and that goes for all these records. Some of the records such as the Name Search and Freeholders Records date into the 1700s and as such will contain primarily Protestant ancestors.
Freeholders were those who could vote which required they own or have a long term lease on their property. Information in these records are transcribed as they appeared in the original so be flexible with spelling. Also records prior to the 1830s may use locality names that no longer exist as the records were prior to the creation of the standardized locality Name Book.
I can't say it enough, please make sure you read the description of the database to both make sure you understand the records and discover any anomalies in the data. For example, within the Name Search for the 1740 or 1766 religious census, the records for the locality of my ancestors in County Down are not included...not because they weren't there, but because there are no records for that locality.
I do find them in the Freeholder's records beginning in 1786. They appear with two spellings: Moag and Moak. The earliest one was in Carr in 1786.
Some of the images are transcribed and printed and others are handwritten.
Of all of the databases, my favorite is the Valuation Revision Books. These are the follow-on books to Griffith's and in Northern Ireland go to 1929. PRONI did a great job of digitizing them and making them available online (the ones for the Republic are only available on site at the Valuation Office in Dublin). Rather than explain them here, I'm just going to refer you to an earlier blog I wrote in 2019.
Now let's look at the eCatalog. A catalog entry could be anything from a single piece of paper to a huge archive with thousands of documents. If you haven't worked in an Archive, the numbering system can be a bit intimidating. Make sure you read the explanation. When you search the eCatalog I find it most successful to search for a locality. Occasionally a surname search will turn up a record, but when searching for an individual I usually look for the landlord. A search for Moag did turn up two Coroner's Inquests. The records were not online however I was able to view one at PRONI. The other was a closed record.
A search for Annahilt, the parish of my Moag ancestors displays 130 records. If I was looking for something specific, such as the Tithe Applotments for Annahilt, I could add that to the search typing Annahilt Tithe Applotment in the search box. I then get just one record.
Notice on the bottom, it says, Digital Record, then View. Although this record doesn't show up in the online databases, there is an image online. When you click View, it downloads a 60Mb PDF document of the 1829 Tithe Applotment listing all of the townlands in Annahilt parish. Although there are some documents within the eCatalog that can be viewed, most will only be available at PRONI.
PRONI has extensive resources for Family History. From the Home page, click on the Information Leaflets link under Your Research and explore all of the resources. In addition, PRONI has a YouTube Channel with classes and lectures.
Also under Your Research is a list of Significant privately deposited archives where you'll find detailed introductions to the holdings. Here's where you should check for estate papers for the landlord of your ancestor. For the Downshire Papers there is a 29 page PDF document explaining the contents of the archive. There are over 5800 individual entries for these in the e-Catalog. Many of these are large (very heavy) ledgers containing a list of all of the tenants. Remember that these archives cover not only Northern Ireland but also estates in the Republic. Check for your ancestor's landlord.
Check out the resources on this excellent site—even if your ancestors were from the Republic.
Information on the 2021 Ireland Research Trips is now posted. Register soon as there are limited slots available.