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Best Genealogy Sites for Irish Research: Ulster Historical Foundation

If you are researching ancestors in Ulster (which includes the six counties of todays Northern Ireland plus Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan) you should look into membership in the Ulster Historical Foundation at AncestryIreland.  Perhaps you’ve had the opportunity to attend one of their seminars across the US during their annual lecture tour.  In March of 2019 five societies in my area jointly sponsored their Tour in Tampa (which sold out very quickly). Unfortunately this year's tour was interrupted by the COVID crisis. If you are interested in sponsoring a tour you can contact the Foundation


   The Ulster Historical Foundation (AncestryIreland) was founded in 1956 and at one time was part of the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. It has been independent since 1988.  They provide research assistance and consultations, conduct seminars, publish books and provide online databases for their members.  

UHF is the Heritage Centre for Down and Antrim, and as such, created the database of church records found at for these two Counties. Their pay-per-view databases therefore provide an alternative to RootsIreland for Antrim and Down if these are the only localities you are searching. The cost of the credits used to purchase these records is dependent on whether you are a member of the Guild and the number of credits purchased and range from less than £1 to £2.66 ($1.31-$3.49 at today's exchange rate). Most records cost 2 credits. Even without a membership, you can search the database to get an idea of what records might be available. I like the fact that I get the father's name as part of the results which helps determine the correct record.

One of their free databases is members’ interests. Here you can discover if anyone else is researching the same ancestor. Although UHF publishes a Directory, not everyone wishes to have their name published. You can email and they will connect you to the other person.

   I’m always emphasizing the importance of knowing as much about your ancestor as possible such as their townland, their occupation and education.  The databases offered to members run the gamut.  Some are quite small such as Derry Insurance Agents 1860 (56 names)  to the Index to Printed Will Calendars 1878-1900 (151,800 names).  No matter how small, if your ancestor is in the database it's a win for you. Although the majority of the databases cover Northern Ireland, they include the counties of traditional Ulster, including Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan.  But there are also some databases for the Republic of Ireland such as the Alumni of Trinity College, Dublin or the Cahir Directory of County Tipperary.  There are also some occupational databases such as Apothecaries Licensed to Practise, 1791-1829 which cover all of Ireland. Try a free search for your ancestor and it will note any matching names in the various databases. Only Guild members however, can access the information. Here's an example of the results on a search for the surname King.

The results for the Agricultural Census of Down, 1803, appears to list my John King in Ballymaginaghy. I need to know more about this record and although it doesn't appear to be a link, if you click on the bold title at the top, it will take you to an explanation of the record and where the original is located.

The original papers are contained in the Londonderry Papers at PRONI.

   So if you have ancestors from Northern Ireland definitely take a look at the list of databases.  If your ancestors were from the border counties, check it out as well.  Even if your ancestors were from elsewhere in Ireland, take a peek and see if there are records of interest. Rather than add a separate video, you can find videos on the AncestryIreland site.

   A great way to stay up to date on new records is to “Like” their Facebook page, or to follow them on Twitter @UlsterHistory.

   One other thing to check out is their BooksIreland site with all types of research books.  They also provide some of their books in ePUB format.  I am collecting as many of my reference books as I can in digital formats so they are always with me. In October of 2018, William Roulston published a new edition of Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors which is twice the size of the original. There was no digital version, so I purchased the paperback edition. (Note: the Kindle version shown at Amazon is the old version.) Just last month, the ePUB version became available and I purchased that as well, so I can have it on my iPad when I travel (it does open in Kindle). I also like to have it on my computer as I can easily search the digital edition for a location or event. If your ancestors are from Ulster, whether Protestant or Catholic I recommend this book. It is a must if you will be traveling to Ireland to research at PRONI as it includes the call numbers for many of the records.

   Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!

One of the stops on the Belfast Research Trip is at the Ulster Historical Foundation. Here's a link to a blog about our 2019 visit. Information is posted on the website for the 2021 Research Trips. There is only one space left for the Dublin Trip, but still about five slots left for Belfast. You can download the registration form and mail it to me if you are interested.

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