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Researching at the National Archives of Ireland

Back in 2020 I was doing a series on the Best Genealogical Sites for Online Irish Research, I did two blogs on the National Archives and rather than repeating the information here are the two links. If you haven't used their online sources you should do that prior to your trip.

As this series focuses on Researching in Ireland I’m going to discuss using the information that is NOT online…information you’ll only get if you visit Ireland.

The National Archives (formerly, the Public Records Office) is located in a relatively new building on Bishop Street. The first time I visited, I must have walked past Bishop Street four or five times. In Dublin it’s not uncommon for street names to change. On my first visit in the 1990s, I was staying in a B&B on Great Georges Street. A map (this pre-dates digital maps and directions) appeared to show if I walked up Great Georges, I would come to Bishop Street. What I didn’t realize was that Great Georges changed names and became Aungier Street and if I asked people for directions to the National Archives, no one seemed to know! If you run into this problem, look for the Technical Institute at the intersection of Aungier, Whitefrier and Bishop. Also, look for street names on the sides of buildings, not street signs. Head down Bishop and the National Archives is the last building on the right.

There have been a number of changes because of COVID. Although there are currently no restrictions as to capacity, it is still recommended that you book a slot. If you do not have a Reader’s Ticket or if yours has expired, you will need to complete the application. You can now apply online which is new. Note that you need a photo iD as well as something with your home address. If you use your passport, you will also need your driver’s license or some document that contains your current address. You will receive your Reader’s Ticket when you arrive at the National Archives so make sure you bring along your forms of ID. If you have lost or forgotten your Reader’s Ticket it costs €5 to replace it. It’s important that you read all of the information about Using the Reading Room prior to your visit.

Much of what I discussed for both the National Library and PRONI also applies to the National Archives. You will need to use the catalogue, the slip indexes as well as the finding aids to identify the material you want to review. The finding aids are especially important when trying to identify a microfilm to view. Here’s something I wrote a few years ago about using the finding aids

I wanted to find records of the Battle of Ballynahinch during the 1797 Rebellion. There were a set of finding aids referred to as the Rebellion Papers. I started with a "slip" index (slips of paper with handwritten names and numbers copied onto a page and bound together). The books are alphabetical, sort of, with names, places events, etc., all mixed together I found a slip marked Battle of Ballynahinch with the number 727. OK, now what?
That takes you to another set of books (five volumes) that are organized by date. Luckily the Archivist was able to tell me it's probably in volume 4 or 5. It was volume 4. Page 727 listed a document on the Battle with a series of numbers, 620/40/140. The next step was to find out (by asking) that the microfilm series was MFP 6. Off to another set of books to find MFP 6 620/40/140. Success! Now I just have to fill out an order form to get the microfilm. Once I had the microfilm I quickly found document 140 and was able to view it. I ended up taking a photo of the microfilm screen so I could blow the document up to transcribe it. I have about another 15 references, but now that I have the process down, it should be fairly easy. That's the thing. Finding the first document can be painful, but once you learn how, you can easily repeat the process. Bless the Archivists, in this case who patiently walked me through this.

You can identify information you want to review and (as long as you have the correct references) request the material you want to use so it’s important to use the catalog before you arrive. I have to say that the new version of the catalogue is a huge improvement. Review the document on the website titled Referencing archives for a better understand of how the Archives are organized. I would recommend you review most of the information on the website as it will answer many of your questions. Think about events that might have happened during your ancestor’s lifetime in the locality where they lived. You will also find a document title Sources for Family History on the National Archives Website. When you receive the material, there will be a form attached to it with two parts. You must return this when you are finished with the documents and the bottom section will be returned to you. You should keep this in case you need to refer to the document again. It will also provide you with the information for your source citation.

I have found the Calendar of Wills and Administrations to be a great resource for my research. The Calendar of Wills is on the National Archives website and can be searched from 1858 to about 1922. Indexes by year are also available on the open shelves at the National Archives. If you have a death date for an individual, you can begin searching the indexes for that year. Keep in mind that Probate sometimes occurred years after the death. Wills are not kept at the Archives but have to be ordered from Four Courts. In the past wills and administrations have usually arrived within a day or two, however the website is currently stating to order them five days in advance. Most of the original probate documents prior to 1900 were destroyed in the PRO fire, but if you are following a family into the 20th Century they can be very valuable. This Administration for Ellen Moughty, a spinster who died in 1933 listed her next of kin as a sister, Anne Carle in Buenos Ayres.

To order a probate document you need to know the name, the date of the probate and the Registry in which it was filed. That information is contained in the Calendar of Wills. James Moughty, Probate of Will16 Mar 1905 in Dublin (Principal Registry).

Here are two things that are very helpful at the Archives…the Archivist on Duty and the Genealogy Advisory Service. The Archivist is especially helpful when you’re not sure how to find and order a document. The Genealogy Advisory Service can help with general questions about your research.

Happy Hunting!

Are you getting excited about the opportunity to research in Ireland? There is still space available in both May and October of 2022. Information can be found here.

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