Irish Roots

December 13th, 2010

John Grenham

When the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland announced more than a year ago that it was closing to the public from September 2010 until May 2011 to move from Balmoral Avenue to new premises in the Titanic Quarter, there was quite a bit of negative comment on the length of the closure. Then it emerged that PRONI was to keep all of its microfilm holdings available in a self-service facility in Cregagh public library, less than a mile from Balmoral Avenue. And now PRONI has announced that it will reopen to the public on March 30, almost two months early, the full 40km of archives packed, moved, unpacked and re-shelved. A classic case of an under-promise over-delivered, and full credit to everyone involved.

The closure appears to have given the Office a chance to complete its very impressive digitisation of surviving official testamentary material for the Registries of Armagh, Belfast and London/Derry, covering areas now in Northern Ireland, as well as many parts of southern border counties, especially Donegal, Monaghan and Louth. The records consist of the summaries of wills and intestacies originally printed in the official Calendars of Wills and Administrations, as well as the full copies of wills kept in the “will books” of the local registries, which were set up in 1858. Although the original wills were all destroyed in 1922, full scanned and indexed transcripts of any that passed through these local registries are now at www.proni.gov.uk.

Of all the documentary sources used in family or local history research, wills are by far the most poignant. Surprisingly often, they were made just as death approached and they offered a last chance to express affection or settle old scores. For anyone with ancestors from the northern third of the island of Ireland, the PRONI transcripts could provide a vivid piece of the family jigsaw.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.


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