Your ancestors in Northern Ireland

Your ancestors in Northern Ireland


Irish family history records have been a challenge in the past to family history research. This is changing rapidly due to online records and Family History Societies dedicated to supporting you with your understanding of the records available and supporting your research. There are more than 70 million people alive today who claim Irish ancestry; maybe you are one of these?


Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom (UK) and is described as a Country, province or region. Northern Ireland makes up 30% of the population of the island of Ireland; 3% of the population of the UK.

The Northern Ireland Assembly (established in 1998 as part of the Good Friday Agreement) is responsible for devolved policies, and cooperates with the UK and Republic of Ireland Governments. Northern Ireland was created in 1921 through partition with the south. The vast majority of the population were unionists (the majority of unionists were Potestant descendants of colonists from Great Britain) and wanted to remain within the United Kingdom. A significant minority of Catholics wanted a united Ireland independent of the UK. ‘The Troubles’ were a period of violence lasting for 3 decades from the 1960’s, claiming over 3,500 lives. Sporadic violence and sectarianism, plus religious segregatation remain problems.

Northern Ireland is historically thought of for its six counties (County Antrim, County Armagh, County Down, County Fermanagh, County Londonderry, County Tyrone). For local government purposes there are now eleven districts.

In 2011 42% of the population identified as Protestant/Non-Roman Catholic. 42% as Roman Catholic and 1% as non-Christian. 17% identified as no religion (or didn’t state a religion). The Presbyterian Church and Church of Ireland are the biggest denominations (Non-Roman Catholic).



In 1922 a devastating fire in the Irish Public Record Office destroyed many records suitable for Family History research. Half of Anglican Irish parish registers were lost. Many probate records and most Census records were also lost. Civil registration records survive.

The starting point for any Irish research is the Irish Genealogical Society


Hatched, Matched and Despatched (Birth, Marriage and Death) records for Ireland begin in 1845 for Non-Roman Catholic marriages and from 1864 for all denominations. You can search these records for free at You can view an index plus the scanned copies of the full register. Note that birth records are indexed on the website until 1916, marriage until 1941 and deaths until 1966.

Another option is GENI: The website states for data protection reasons the following records are available:

  • Birth records over 100 years old
  • Marriage records over 75 years old
  • Death records (including World War II death records) over 50 years old

Certificates at the time of press were £15 each.


A snapshot of a family, on one night of the year; the Census gives an invaluable insight into our ancestors lives.

The Census records that have survived are for 1901 and 1911; these are available on for free. All other census records were destroyed in 1922, although partial records exist for 1821-1851 on Findmypast.


If you are looking to trace family who left Ireland then passenger lists could be the answer. These list departures from Nortern Ireland as well as arrivals to Northern Ireland. Indexes can be studied on Ancestry, Findmypast and TheGenealogist. Check out the following for background reading:



Parish Registers

Roman Catholic Parish Registers are freely available at Ancestry and Findmypast also have transcriptions and images of these registers, some of which maybe in Latin.

Church of Ireland Parish Registers are available at Check this website for the parishes and dates currently available.


Key contacts and useful websites

General Register Office (Northern Ireland). NISRA, Colby House, Stranmillis
Court, Belfast BT9 5RR.

Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. 2 Titanic Boulevard, BELFAST BT3

North of Ireland Family History Society.


Recommended text:

Paton, C Tracing your Irish Family History on the Internet, a guide for family historians. Pen and Sword, 2013.

Research ancestors in other countries








New Zealand




Family Tree Magazine, 2016

Wikipedia, accessed 2019


Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See for further details. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.

What stories might your ancestors tell?

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