Irish historical records emigrating online

image captionOnline resources give an insight into Irish life in days gone by

On St Patrick's day it can seem that everyone and their dog wants to be Irish.

It is estimated that about 80m people across the world are actually of Irish descent; more than 17 times the current population of the island of Ireland itself.

Walt Disney, John F Kennedy, Ned Kelly and Rihanna are just some of the famous names whose ancestors came from the Emerald Isle.

So there is bound to be a lot of interest in two new collections of Irish historical records which have been made available online.

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland at Titanic Quarter in Belfast has launched an updated online name search.

The Public Records Office holds millions of documents dating from the early 13th century to the present day.

Its name search provides an invaluable resource to genealogists and historians, both amateur and professional.

It includes indexes to pre-1858 wills, surviving fragments of the 1740 and 1766 religious census returns, 1775 dissenters' petitions, as well as an index to coroners' inquest reports.

The latest update added 53,000 entries to the existing records, including eight additional pre-1858 will indexes for the dioceses of Armagh, Clogher, Connor, Down and Kilmore.

The Public Records Office said its online resources had "already generated significant international interest".

"The Will Calendars database launched at the end of November 2010 was used by nearly 9,000 people in December alone," a spokesperson said.

image captionAn undated picture of the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare

The organisation is in the final stages of moving to its new headquarters in the Titanic Quarter which will open to the public on 30 March.

Culture Minister Nelson McCausland said the Northern Ireland Executive had committed around £30m to the new state-of-the-art facility to protect the archives.

"The location of the new building will mean much easier access for local, national and international visitors and will formally put the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland on the map as a 'must experience' tourist attraction," he said.

'At the click of a mouse'

Other online resources provided by the organisation include records of the Ulster Covenant, Freeholders' Records, street directories and wills.

It has also released over 50 years of wedding and family portraits, taken between 1900 and 1952, on the photo-sharing website Flickr.

The photographs were taken by the Allison Photographic Studios in Armagh and released by the Public Records Office in November.

They were transferred from fragile glass plate negatives commonly used by photographers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries prior to the advent of photographic film.

Aileen McClintock, director of the Public Records Office Northern Ireland, said it was a "milestone in this digital age to see that images created using such old technology can be revived in a totally new format and be made available to anybody at home through the click of a mouse".

image captionPatrick Kennedy, great great grandfather to JFK, lived in Wexford

There are currently 790 digital images on the Flickr gallery and more are added each month. Eventually, 1,530 images will be posted on the site.

The family history website,, has also launched a new collection of Irish historical records in time for St Patrick's Day.

The collection, which now contains 35m records, includes details from before, during and after the Great Famine, probably the single most significant event behind the creation of the global Irish Diaspora.

It includes Griffith's Valuation of Ireland 1848-1864, which features the names and addresses of more than 2.5m people living on the island at the time.

Documents such as these are especially valuable as most of the 19th Century censuses of Ireland were destroyed during the Civil War.

More than 20,000 photographs of Irish people and scenes taken between 1870 and 1910 by Robert French are also being made available to the site's subscribers.

French was commissioned by William Lawrence, himself an amateur photographer and entrepreneur who opened a photography studio in Dublin in 1865 and saw the potential in selling photographic portraits and landscapes.

The collection also contains Ordnance Survey Maps and historical maps of Ireland featuring early geographical details of the whole country.

The emigration which followed the Irish potato famine led to Irish communities establishing themselves across the globe. The descendants of these original immigrants heavily influenced politics, history and culture in their adopted home nations, although their influence appears to have been more significant abroad than at home.

In North America for example, Irish immigrants have been very successful in achieving political influence, with 27% of American Presidents claiming Irish roots.

Famously this includes John F.Kennedy, whose ancestors are listed in the collection as resident in County Wexford and US President Barack Obama, whose 6th great-grandfather, Joseph Kearney, born around 1698, sired a family of wig-makers and of course, politicians.

Other online resources for researching your Irish roots include the National Archives Census of Ireland 1901-1911, the Queensland Convict transportation registers database (State Library of Queensland), Boston College's collection of 19th Century advertisements by Irish people seeking missing friends or relatives at Information Wanted -- Home, and Thinking of Geneology Ireland

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