Day 15 - Presbyterian Historical Society

Presbyterian Historical Society, Fisherwick Place, Belfast

Only two more days of research for 2022 and today researchers headed in different directions, with the new repository being the Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS). This is not a place where everyone needs to go. PHS is a membership organization with a very reasonable Associate Membership fee of £12 and membership provides access to the material on their website. Even if you have Presbyterian ancestors, the majority of the registers are on microfilm at PRONI and you can check the PRONI Guide to Church Records for details. PHS has a few records that are not available at PRONI as well as a unique collection of books and pamphlets including congregational histories. The records can be extremely helpful if you have a Presbyterian minister in your family.


Some researchers continued their work at PRONI working in Estate Papers and manuscripts. I had an opportunity to look at the Land Commission Papers. These are the documents that were created at the time when the estates were broken up and land sold to the tenants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The good news is that they exist at PRONI for the 6 counties of Northern Ireland (unlike to Republic where they are sitting in a warehouse and not accessible). The bad news is they are minimally cataloged. For example you can request a box of papers from the Downshire estate but there are hundreds of boxes and no one knows what's in any box. I just randomly selected a box to see what was in it and now am depressed that I can't get to my family! The box I selected had papers from three different estates with perhaps 20 different packets, as well as maps. One of the packets included a recitation of the deed to the original deed for a widow who had recently inherited the estate. The widow was 21 years old and there was one child. Another listed all of the tenants in two townlands on the estate (so close to mine but not the correct townland) and another included the will of the father of the current landlord, listing out all of his children. These three estates were in Down, Antrim and Fermanagh...no indication of this in the Catalog.


For additional information on the Land Registry records at PRONI, you can check out their YouTube Channel. Here is a link to a lecture done by Dr. Desmond McCabe this past summer.


Sample from the Land Commission Box

Happy Hunting!



Here are some comments from today.


From Pat T...

Today at PRONI, 200 miles north of where they had lived on the Blessington Estate, I found the entry in a ledger of Rentals and Accounts for the Downshire Estates which memorialized when my emigrant ancestors gave up their holding in Co. Wicklow and received "a gratuity from the Marquis to assist him to Emigrate to America." So far, I have found no other entries like this one.


From Karen...

Donna, thanks so much for setting up our visit to the Presbyterian Historical Society. With her knowledge of church history and the townlands, the librarian, Valerie Adams, identified alternate church congregations our ancestors may have attended. We spent the day happily going through their material. We feel it was a productive day.

Presbyterian Historical Society with Karen and Valerie Adams, Archivist

From Pat and Bill...

Bill and I saw the red and green lights on the river while we had dinner tonight. The cutest little bicycle boats, skittering like water bugs! I'd almost be tempted to try it. Almost. The riverwalk outside the restaurant windows is really a happening place in the evening, walkers, big groups of runners, rowing teams zooming up the river and the lights of the ferris wheel behind PRONI, dwarfed by Samson and Goliath who tower above everything, and wait for work at the shipyard that built Titanic. And dinner at the Hilton was really good, with excellent staff. I agree with the taxi driver this morning who had moved here from Canada and told me what he likes most about Belfast are the kind and caring people who live here. Oh, and I had a great, productive day at PRONI today too, following 200-year old footprints.

The Hilton Hotel on the River Lagan in Belfast

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