It was a rainy morning in Belfast...not surprising so the entire group ended up in taxis to the Public Records Office. We really have been lucky with relatively good weather but I always remind people to carry your umbrella. By the afternoon the sun was out and we were able to walk back to the hotel.
The first order of business was obtaining Visitor Passes to the Library. You can download the form from the website and complete it prior to your arrival. You present it with your photo ID and then have your picture taken. Like the other repositories, there is no charge for the Visitor's Pass. You use it to "tag into" the Archive when you arrive, and it allows you to access both the Search Room and the Reading Room.
Next you load your backback, coat and other non essential research items into a locker. Good news...you don't have to have a £1 coin any longer. The tokens are back. PRONI also provides a clear plastic bag to put your items in to carry into the Search and Reading rooms. As the names imply, the Search Room is where you use the catalog to order manuscripts which are delivered to the Reading Room for you to review. When using the catalog you sign in with your Pass number and place the documents you want to view in your electrinic basket. You can order five at a time and the rest will remain in your basket to release as you need them. In about 15 minutes you can go down the hall to the Reading Room where a staff member will give you the documents and assign you to a Table...one document at a time. It's an easy process, one you get the hang of it.
Microfilms of Church Records are self serve in the Search Room. You should identify the records you want prior to arriving by using the Guide to Church Records. Look up the civil parish, then review what records are available. If your ancestor married about 1820 and the records start in 1826, looking at microfilms isn't going to be useful. The quality of the microfilms varies from good to awful to unreadable. The unreadable one is always the page where your ancestor should be. Keep looking for other family members to confirm you have the correct location. You then have the option of writing to the church to see if they can provide the information. The records on RootsIreland.ie were done from the original registers rather than microfilm, so their index might be better. Again, check to make sure they have indexed the place and time.
The real gold at PRONI is in the manuscript collections. 99% of the time, you are not going to be searching in the catalog for your ancestor, but for their landlord, the locality or an event they might have participated in. Once you find something of interest, you will be reading the document...you'll read through a lot of "stuff" before you find that nugget of gold. It is time consuming! You've done the easy work at home...now it is the "tough stuff." This will be the fourth year I've been working through one set of estate records.
Once I had everyone settled and working, I was able to check for births, deaths and marriages outside of the online records. The General Register Office of Northern Ireland (GRONI) has terminals in the Search Room that allow you to search up until last week! The privacy requirements for online records don't apply when you are in Ireland. The system is the same as the one you use from home, with the additional access. You should have your log in and password available to log into the terminals (along with enough credits to view the full copy of the records. You can transcribe the information, but cannot take a photo or copy. If you need a hard copy, you can order it from GRONI. If you've been following my preparation, I was looking for a male Johnston in my line to do a Y-DNA test and my last hope was the unknown children of William Ernest Cecil Johnston. I had his marriage record to Maude Farrell in Aghavea, Fermanagh in 1936, and his death due to an accident in 1942, but I needed birth records for any children born between 1936 and 1942. Those records are less than 100 years old, so I could only get them in Ireland. The results...he had two daughters...no male Johnston.
I just heard from Mirta about her day...
"Hey donna. Seems like the time just flew by today. What I did first was order the items that I didn’t get to see during my first visit in 2018. Time went by quickly then also. And guess what? I was able to find a letter written 1910 in which the sender had copied down the descendants of my Maziere (Huguenot) family from their family bible with birth and death dates: All thirteen children. Fantastic Find No. 1.
Fantastic Find No. 2: At 3:45 pm, last call and I talked the clerk into letting me see one last document: a small, fragile will of my 5th great uncle Wm McCabe from Newry, which I quickly photographed and handed back. I just finished reading the will and found a new thread to check out. There is mention of a freehold in Lurgan of which he owned a third with his brothers, Thomas and James. I’m hoping this freehold will tell me more about my McCabe family tale.
I have several wills, documents, and reels of microfilm that I will have to re-order on Wednesday since I ran out of time today. Looking forward to Fantastic Find No. 3."
We'll be back at PRONI on Wednesday and Friday.