The best websites for Northern Irish family history
We explain how you can trace your family history in Northern Ireland like Liz Carr on Who Do You Think You Are?
Silent Witness star Liz Carr used archival evidence to solve the real-life mystery of her 3x great grandfather’s involvement in an attempted murder in Northern Ireland when she appeared on Who Do You Think You Are? Researching Northern Irish family history can be tricky, but these websites will help you get started.
At the start of the Irish Civil War in June 1922, Dublin’s Public Records Office was destroyed by fire and bombardment. Centuries of valuable documents were destroyed, including Ireland’s 19th century census records, creating a gap in Irish family history research that plagues many researchers today.
Fortunately, surviving records include parish registers, civil registration records, the 1901 and 1911 censuses and 19th-century tax surveys. If you’re tracing your ancestors before Northern Ireland was formed in 1921, many Northern Irish family history records are stored in the Republic of Ireland.
One very helpful free website is Irish Genealogy, which relaunched in 2016 with the historic birth, marriage and death records of the General Register Office for Northern Ireland (GRONI) – joining the BMD indexes that were already here. It also has various church records from south of the border, and the site’s search engine will trawl various external sources, such as the National Archives of Ireland’s census site, which offers free access to surviving census records and fragments from 1821 to 1911 from across the island.
Other material on the National Archives of Ireland’s family history website includes census fragments for 1821–1851; tithe applotment books (1823–1837); soldiers’ wills (1914–1918); calendars of wills and administrations (1858–1922); diocesan probate material; indexes to marriage licences (1623–1866); Catholic qualification and convert rolls (1700–1845); and valuation records.
The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), located in Belfast, holds material from across Northern Ireland. A number of useful record sets are now available to search on PRONI’s website. These include an index to will calendar entries for the District Probate Registries of Armagh, Belfast and Londonderry covering the period 1858 to 1965, and around 5,500 sheets of pre-1840 freeholders’ records, which list freeholders - men who either owned their land outright or who held it in a lease for the duration of their life. Other useful collections include street directories, old maps and Londonderry Corporation records.
Griffith’s Valuation, the nearest to a complete census for Ireland and one of the most important 19th-century Northern Ireland family history sources, is available at Ask About Ireland and on Ancestry and Findmypast.
Another useful Ireland family history resource is Irish War Memorials, which lists those killed in internal conflicts such as Ireland's historic rebellions and the civil war, as well as the First and Second World Wars and modern conflicts such as the Falklands war and the Iraq war. You can search by name, regiment/service, conflict or county. Select ‘Antrim’, for example, and the first entry in a long list is a memorial at Belfast Central Station.
The National Library of Ireland has made available digitised microfilm copies of Catholic parish registers. There’s no index, but you can search transcribed datasets drawn from the images via both Findmypast and Ancestry.
Commercial Irish family history website RootsIreland is well worth investigating, and you can browse via county to get an idea of what’s here. Antrim resources, for example, include 658,644 baptism and birth records, memorial inscriptions and Griffith’s Valuation records.
The Ulster Historical Foundation website boasts more than two million birth, marriage and death records, plus memorial inscriptions, cemetery records, election records, directories and more.
Other Northern Ireland family history websites include Belfast City Council's database of burial records; the Digital Theatre Archive; the Northern Ireland Literary Archive; Postcards Ireland; and last but not least Irish research expert John Grenham’s blog Irish Roots.