The Government Information Group (GIG) hosted a visit to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) on the 8th of March, 2017. PRONI is the official archive for Northern Ireland. It holds over 3 million historical records, including church registers, emigrant letters, workhouse records and files created by government departments and courts of law. PRONI relocated to their new state of the artbuilding in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast in 2011.
To start our visit, we were lucky to get to see behind the scenes and visit the stores. PRONIs’ stock is just shy of 100,000 boxes and 30,000 volumes which are allocated unique box numbers and stored in state of the art electronic shelving. Our guide Glynn explained how the box files are stored in a controlled temperature and humidity environment.
Glynn demonstrated the online catalogue which holds 3.5 million archival materials. This room has a fabulous view of the iconic Harland & Wolff cranes. PRONI deals with 33,000 queries each year; staff guide users in searching and using the materials. Cultural tourists visit to research family history and some are fortunate to go back to the 1400s’ depending on records that survive. Glynn explained how searches can be run by surname, townland, parish and time range. Church records are available on microfilm. Census, birth, marriage and death certificates and school records can all help readers on their search. Retrieval time is approx 13 minutes when you request a document. Readers move into the reading room to access the materials. Glynn explained the complexities of copyright and reprographic restrictions.
We were very lucky to get to see some fascinating examples of the material that PRONI hold such as:
D1071/H/B/D/139/1 - Letters from Charles Dickens to Lord Dufferin about Dickens’s forthcoming visit to Belfast, and inviting Dufferin to dinner, 1868.
BG/24/GJ/1 – Offence and Punishment Book, Newry Board of Guardians, 1850-1910.
D3838/3/7 – nine letters and cards written by Séamus Heaney, to John Hewitt, together with a bundle of newspaper cuttings and papers relating to Heaney’s career, May 1966-August 1972.
Glynn talked us through the various archives and gave us an insight into how life was like in those times.
Our visit concluded with many attendees registering for PRONI, which is free and lasts for ten years. We concluded with coffee and networking in the coffee shop.
Thank you to Glynn Kelso and the staff of PRONI for this fascinating tour. You can find out more information on PRONI on their website: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/proni
Leona Burgess, NICS Libraries.