The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have been (relatively) generous to family historians. The Republic of Ireland has a number of excellent free resources available through their National Archives site. These include, most importantly, the two surving Irish Census – for 1901 and 1911 covering the whole of Ireland. They are extremely useful in providing information about the religion of individuals (vital in researching Irish family history), literacy status, knowledge of the Irish language, and, in the case of the 1911 Census, the number of children a woman had given birth to and the number surving. They also provide addresses, including (where relevant) townland. Disability is also included in a question asking if an individual were ‘deaf, dumb, blind, idiot, imbecile or lunatic.’ The original form is included along with the House and Building Return, a good indication of the kind of building and the general living environment of the household.
A useful new addition to official Irish resources is the Calender of Wills and Administrations 1858-1922. Not the most user-friendly search, but a very valuable resource which includes information about the executors and the primary beneficiary.
In Northern Ireland, the Public Record of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has excellent resources on a reasonably user-friendly site. Will Calenders for Ulster from 1858-1943 are mainly available, some entries include images of the original will so a vast amount of information can be accessed . The Street Directories for Belfast and Ulster up to 1900 are available and offer an accessible search facility. Other ‘goodies’ include the Ulster Covenant of 1912, signed by Unionists. There is a Declaration signed by women, who at that time were not able to vote. The signature folders provide an image file of the original signature – maybe the only occasion where a searcher will find an example of their ancestor’s hand writing and evidence of the form of name they used. The site also has a selection of images which include the archive collection of the Allison Photographic Studios, Armagh that resources photographs of life in County Armagh from 1900 to 1950.
Free, searchable, authoratative resources for family historians not always available, but when official resources are made available to us we should be grateful. Some of this material is also available through Ancestry links – so if you use Ancestry you will be able to search without leaving the site.