Saturday, 2 December 2017

Latest developments at PRONI in Belfast

Yesterday I attended the quarterly stakeholder meeting at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland ( It was a cold but beautiful day in Belfast, and
a great ferry crossing from Cairnryan, despite the 4.30am start to get there! It was also a slight odd experience for me as my wife was also heading to Ireland, to Kilkenny, at about the same time, so I had to give her a quick wave from the other end of the island!

The following were some of the items discussed:

i) On cataloguing, the following records are currently being worked on:
  • Belfast Natural Field Club D4614
  • As part of the Londonderry Papers from Mount Stewart, records concerning the Women's Legion, and the fight for suffrage, are being made available via D3099/14.

ii) Acquisition strategy – PRONI's last collection policy was created in 2013, and so the archive is currently working on a follow up, to update some aspects. Amongst the issues it will cover will be the types of records that the archive will accept, the records it won't accept, and discussions on digital accessions, a massively changing and ever increasingly important area.

iii) Annual records release - the next batch of government records to be released under the now 20 year rule will take place in a few weeks, with records mainly from 1992, some of them on political issues from the day, but not all. As usual, there will be an event tying into this in a couple of weeks time at PRONI.

iv) The digitisation of church records was deemed a success this year, and new collections are already being identified for next year. 51 Belfast churches have been identified as on a wish list to work on, for records up to 1900, with some a re-recording of previously poorly filmed microfilm records, but others completely new. They are from a variety of denominations – Church of Ireland, Non-Subcribing Presbyterians, Reformed Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists. The archive has also contacted some external bodies with holdings to see if they might be willing to participate, including a further 64 Church of Ireland parish churches in County Antrim,, and the Methodist Historical Society of Ireland.

v) PRONI volunteer policy – PRONI is hoping to take on 3 volunteers for a 6 month period to assist with efforts at the archive, for which expenses will be paid. If you are interested, application forms are on the PRONI site at – but get in quick, as December 8th is the closing date!

vi) Strategic vision – PRONI is intending to start work on a new strategic vision document. A key anniversary is coming up for the archive in 2023, which will be the 100th anniversary since the Public Records Act which created the body. The archive will look at various issues, such as the role of digital records, collaboration, and statutory goals. There will be three themes, based on trust, memory and engagement. Since opening at Titanic Quarter, PRONI has evolved dramatically in terms of its popularity, its ambition, its collaborations, and knows that this evolution will continue in the years ahead. As one staff members stated, "The days of us just being a place where you come and look at records are over!"

vii) PRONI is planning to commemorate People's Representation Act 1918 with an event on 6th Feb, and intends to turn its Suffrage resources online into an interactive experience. There will also be an exhibition on the theme of suffrage next year.

viii) Archive accreditation – no Northern Irish institution has yet gone through the process of archive accreditation, and so PRONI hopes to be the one of the first, submitting its application next March 2018. A visitor from the English based National Archives will be at PRONI next Friday 8th December to speak to bodies which might be interested in doing likewise. For more on this, visit

ix) PRONI has just launched a fantastic new exhibition on site, entitled Medieval to the Modern: Reformation, Transformation and Continuity, produced in collaboration with Libraries NI. The exhibition will be at PRONI for another week, will then move onto Belfast Central Library for a month, before travelling around libraries across the Province. I managed to grab a few snaps of the exhibition, and although I was only able to spend a few minutes looking at, it definitely looks worth the effort to make a trip into the archive or the city centre to see it.

Finally, after completing some client work yesterday, I managed to briefly explore some of the new digitised repositories at PRONI yesterday. First, the church records that the archive has digitised are accessible through its on-site catalogue (not from home), and once located, are accessed in the form of full colour PDF documents which must be browsed. For the most part the quality was quite good, although I did notice that there seemed to be quite a bit of compression on the quality, which I presume may present some potential issues with smaller text and handwriting. I'm not sure if a higher resolution version is available to staff if this were to happen (there will clearly be a high quality archive standards digital version for conservation somewhere on site).

Secondly, I spent some time on the one of the computers providing access to GRONI's GENI platform, for civil registration records of births, marriages and deaths. The provision at PRONI (and at GRONI itself) allow you to access records to the present day, unlike the online platform at An emotional find for me considering it was the fourth anniversary of my mother's death a few days ago was a copy of her birth registration, which I had never actually looked at before (Whit?! What kind of genie are you?!). I also discovered for the first time some of the names of my granny's siblings who had not survived infancy. The set up is the same as that you use at home, and you will need your log-in details – do remember to do so, PRONI can't help you if you don't, as they are merely hosting GRONI's system. I can actually envisage a trip to Belfast in the near future just to use this again – the indexes are so detailed that you can achieve a lot before paying a penny, but of course you can also see the original records there for £2.50 each. Note though that even if you access the recent records at PRONI, they will not be available to see on your account when you return home if they are within the closure period, even if you have paid for them.

Overall, another great visit to my favourite archive on Earth, and it was great to catch up with people including Ann Robinson from NIFHS, Stephen Scarth, Tom Gribben, and Gillian Hunt from the Ulster Historical Foundation (pictured right).

A quick word to end with on how to get there from Scotland by ferry if you choose to do so! Right now, Stena is offering a midweek deal for Tuesday to Thursday of a return trip to Belfast for foot passengers from Cairnryan at just £5. If you don't book in advance, it is still possible to get a midweek deal for £10 return. For Fridays to Mondays, the cost goes up for foot passengers to £26 return. See for details. The 7.30am ferry gets you to PRONI or to Belfast city centre for 10am, and you can do a full day's work before heading back home on the 7.30pm ferry, getting in to Cairnryan just before 10pm (and you'll have tme to quickly visit the German market at City Hall - see below!). If taking a car to Cairnryan, parking is £5 for the day. It will never be cheaper, so why not treat yourself to a wee research trip before Christmas?! But if you do, remember that there will be no productions available from December 11th-15th, with access only available to self-service microfilms, the catalogue and digital collections - and do remember your visitor card. Heck, I might even try and get back again before Christmas!

(Thanks to all at the meeting, and to all the wonderful staff at PRONI for another great year's work!)


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