Genealogical Records

House of Lords written question – answered on 19 March 2007.

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Photo of Lord Laird Lord Laird Crossbench

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will bring the computerised recording of genealogical records in Northern Ireland up to the same standard as in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming and Food), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming and Food), The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

Genealogical research in Northern Ireland requires searching in a more diverse range of sources, both public and private, than is the case in the rest of the United Kingdom. The starting point is substantially different owing to the almost total absence of 19th-century census returns and of an official set of pre-1858 wills. These are available in England and Wales and in Scotland and have been the subject of extensive digitisation projects. Only the civil registration records for Scotland have been computerised, but the digitisation of those for England and Wales is now under way.

Indexes of civil registration records on births, deaths and marriages in Northern Ireland have already been computerised and are available for use by members of the public in the General Register Office (GRO) Belfast. The GRO (Belfast) is also taking forward plans to digitise all civil registration records and to widen public access to them. This will bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has completed two significant digitisation projects of interest to genealogists. It is currently engaged in two further projects with plans to develop other digitised sources. Some of the primary sources that have already been digitised will act as substitutes for the destroyed census returns, thereby improving access to genealogical records in Northern Ireland.

At the same time, PRONI has been engaged in a project to put its extensive and detailed descriptive catalogues online. This will open up a vast resource to genealogists, who, for the first time, will be able to undertake comprehensive searches using personal names in the same way as genealogists can do at present in England and Wales and in Scotland.

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