I took an early train this morning from Dublin to Belfast. The trip a bit over two hours arriving at Belfast Central Station at 9:45 a.m. (Cost €36.) There is a free bus that takes you to the City Centre. I wanted to drop my bag off at the hotel before heading out to the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). It was bright and sunny when I left Dublin, and cool and overcast when I arrived in Belfast. The weather has included sun, clouds and rain (the rain usually happening just when I need to be outside). PRONI is currently located outside of Belfast Centre on Balmoral Avenue, about a 15 minute bus ride. Once you get off the bus (on the Lisburn Road) it’s about a 15 minute walk. Unless you plan on visiting before September, you can forget all that. PRONI will be closed from September 3rd until May of 2011 as they move to their new facility in Belfast at the Titanic Quarter on Queens Island.
PRONI has a great deal to offer, but I always find that it takes me a while to get settled...I need a brief refresher course on where everything is. Like the other facilities, you need to obtain a Readers Ticket. When you sign in, they scan your card and put it in a lanyard for you to wear. That comes in handy, as you’ll be referring to your ticket number each time you request a document or film.
The microfilm reading room contains most of the parish registers for northern Ireland (and some for the Republic, especially the northern counties of Monaghan and Leitrim). I began by checking the large binder with all of the church records listed by civil parish. Then you find the appropriate film, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian or Roman Catholic. Note the dates and if appropriate, write down the number of the film, i.e., MIC 1/38. You can then check another set of binders by microfilm number that will tell you the order of the records on the film (it’s helpful to know if the parish you’re looking for is the last set of records). You then fill out a request form, with your ticket number and microfilm number that must be stamped by the archives assistant. Your receipt is put into a plastic wallet which you then insert into the microfilm drawer when you remove your film. During step one of this process, I discovered that there was a typescript index to the Church of Ireland records I was looking at. That required a trip to the computer to request the document. You put in your ticket number, and the item number, and you’re assigned a desk in the reading room. Wait about 15 minutes, then walk across the hall to the reading room, pick up your material and view it. This probably saved me hours as it gave the specific page numbers where each of the “Smith” individuals were located (we’re talking records from 1796 - 1850 and other than one short period where the writing was beautifully done in block letters it was very difficult to read).
One of the other to-dos for today was to find information on a minister, born in Scotland about 1730. His son was born possibly in Ireland about 1750. He was Protestant, most likely Presbyterian. The Fasti of the Irish Presbyterian Church 1613-1840 is a compilation of all ministers with some biographic information. It’s divided into periods, and I checked from 1721-1777, and from 1778-1840 and did not find my man. In Dublin I had checked Clergy and Parishes by Canon J. B. Leslie, a similar resource for the Church of Ireland, and struck out there as well (the copy I viewed was a reprint, divided by Diocese and I checked Raphoe where I believed him to be). Later this week I’ll visit the Representative Church Body Library, where I understand they have an alphabetical index for the entire country. In the Preface of the Fasti (you should always read the introductory material rather than just check the index) it stated that the author had modeled his book after Hew Scott’s Fasti of the Scots Church. There’s another resource to try...perhaps this person never ministered in Ireland.
If you’re researching Scots-Irish ancestry in Ulster, I would recommend you read Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors: the Essential Genealogical Guide to Early Modern Ulster, 1600-1800 by William J. Roulston. He does an excellent job of presenting the records available at PRONI.