If you've always wondered about your roots, it's time to mix research and pleasure and come to your ancestral homeland for some heritage digging.

It may seem like a needle in a haystack when you consider there are 25 million people of Northern Irish descent in the United States and Canada alone.

But you'd be amazed what our professionals can find.

There are many local organisations and tour guides who can assist with your search of your family tree. Click here for a list of these organisations and resources.

With luck, you may be able to go directly to your ancestral home on arrival.


Getting started

To start your family research, gather as much family history information as possible. Speak to relatives and record as much information as you can regarding birth dates, places of birth, maiden names, etc.

Next, visit the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). Visit their new state of the art building in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, where you can search online archives (all Northern Ireland’s unique archival heritage is accessible to visitors) and browse information leaflets. If you are unable to visit in person, you can still make use of the PRONI eCatalogue – complete with guides, indexes and databases.

Look at other genealogical websites - the 1901 and 1911 Census for Ireland and Griffith’s Valuation, a record of householders from c. 1860 for useful free information. Alternatively check out www.rootsireland.ie for another great starting point.

The Ulster Historical Foundation is another non-profit organisation, specialising in family history research and who can assist with tracing family records (including birth, death and marriage records).


Types of information to research



  • Civil registration
  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificates
  • Death certificates
  • The indexes



Civil registration

Basic family history information, such as births, marriages and deaths, can be found on civil registers. However, their usefulness depends on the period being researched. Civil or state registration of all births, deaths and marriages began in Ireland on 1 January 1864. Non-Catholic marriages, including those conducted in a government registry office, were required in law to be registered from 1 April 1845. 

Civil registration was a result of the administrative divisions created by the Poor Law Act of 1838. Under this act, the country was divided into over 130 “Poor Law Unions”. The Poor Law Unions were subdivided into dispensary districts, each with its own medical officer.

The area covered by a Poor Law Union was used as the basis of each superintendent registrar’s district, while the dispensary districts corresponded to the registrar’s districts. In some cases, the medical officer also served as the registrar. In overall charge of registration was the Registrar General in Dublin. Certified copies of all registers compiled locally were sent to his office and, from these, master indexes covering the whole of Ireland were produced.


Birth certificates

Birth certificates record the date and place of birth of a child. Normally the name of the child is also given, but in some cases not - such would be the case if the child had not been given a name when the birth was registered. 

The name, occupation and residence of the father is given. Although the residence is usually the same as the place of birth of the child, in some cases it shows that the father was working abroad or in another part of Ireland when the child was born. The mother’s full name, including her maiden name, is also provided. Finally, the name and address of the informant is given, together with his or her qualification to sign. This will usually be the father or mother or someone present at the birth, such as a midwife, or even the child’s grandmother.


Marriage certificates

Marriage certificates normally give fuller information than birth and death certificates, and are the most useful of civil records. Information on the individuals getting married includes their name, age, status, and occupation. The names and occupations of their fathers, the church, the officiating minister and the witnesses to the ceremony are named. In most cases the exact age of the parties is not given, and the entry will simply read ‘full age’ (i.e. over 21) or ‘minor’ (i.e. under 21). If the father of one of the parties was no longer living, this may be indicated in the marriage certificate by the word ‘deceased’ or by leaving the space blank, but in many cases it is not.


Death certificates

Civil records of death in Ireland are rather uninformative in comparison to other countries. The name of the deceased is given together with the date, place and cause of death, marital status, the age at death, and occupation. The name and address of the informant is also given. Usually this is the person present at the time of the death; this may be a close family member.


The indexes

Indexes to civil marriages 1845–63 were hand-written, but thereafter all indexes were printed. From 1864 to 1877, indexes for births, marriages and deaths consist of a single yearly volume covering the whole of Ireland. From 1878, the annual indexes are arranged on a quarterly basis. In each index the surnames will be arranged alphabetically, followed by the first names. The name of the superintendent registrar’s district is also given, followed by the volume number and page number of the master copies of the registers in Dublin. In the indexes to deaths, the age of the deceased will be provided. 

These civil registration indexes are now available online, from 1845 to 1922 for all of Ireland, and up to 1958 for the Republic of Ireland.


The General Register of Ireland

The administrative headquarters of the General Register Office in the Republic of Ireland is in Roscommon, but there is a research facility open to members of the public in Lower Abbey Street in Dublin. The GROI holds master copies of births, death and marriages for all of Ireland up to 1921 and thereafter for the Republic of Ireland only.


General Register Office of Northern Ireland

The General Register Office of Northern Ireland, based in Belfast, holds the original birth and death registers recorded by the local district registrars for Northern Ireland from 1864. Marriage registers for Northern Ireland are also available from 1845 for non-Catholic marriages, and from 1864 for all marriages. 


Ancestral journey

Northern Ireland has a fascinating history spanning from early Christian times, so why not take an ancestral journey to discover your family heritage?

Visit some of Northern Ireland's historic abbeys and monastic sites or take a heritage tour. Tours are a great way to learn about your family's history.

Take a guided tour at the newly refurbished Guildhall which was first built in 1887, or immerse yourself in the story of Irish immigration on a self-guided tour at the Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh.