To those unfamiliar with the long and violent history of the island of Ireland, it may seem as though it has always been one big happy place populated with fairies and leprechauns; however, this is most certainly not the case. When you are doing family history research, if any of the limbs of your family tree cross the border from the Republic of Ireland into the state of Northern Ireland, or vice versa, then there are a number of options about which you will want to be aware when seeking documents which will help you in your research.
First of all, a quick look at the geography.
View The two Irelands in a larger map
The odd little purple line which I have put in place on this map approximates the border between the state of Northern Ireland and the country of the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland is bordered by the Republic on both the south and west sides. Northern Ireland is made up of six counties, Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry/Derry, and Tyrone. The Republic of Ireland comprises twenty-six counties. (Look here for a complete listing of all counties on the island of Ireland).
One thing about which you must be keenly aware when you are either corresponding with organizations on the island of Ireland, or conducting in-person research, is the fact that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remain TWO distinct entities. Despite the 1998 Good Friday Accord which established the Northern Ireland Assembly with its devolved legislative powers, and changes in the constitution of the Republic of Ireland which acknowledge Northern Ireland as a legitimate state, Northern Ireland remains under British rule.
The Republic of Ireland is an entirely separate country. Citizens in the Republic began dissolution of its connection with Britain in 1916, although that dissolution was not recognized until 1922, with the establishment of the Irish Free State following the Irish War of Independence. Although Ireland has had its own constitution since 1937, Ireland has been a constitutional Republic only since 1949, with a President and Taoiseach (pronounced Tea-shock: equivalent to Prime Minister), and no political connection to the English crown. It is very important to understand these facts, and be sensitive to them when conducting research.
If you are conducting research in person, one thing which serves as a good reminder of these separate entities is the legal tender. The Republic of Ireland is part of the European Union, thus the legal tender is the Euro(€). Northern Ireland uses the British Pound Sterling(£).
"So what does this all mean when I'm looking for records?"
Searching in the State of Northern Ireland
If you have ancestors who were born, lived, and died in any of the SIX counties in the State of Northern Ireland, in addition to going directly to the parish which may hold the records of their life's passages, you will want to visit the following:
GRONI and PRONI
The General Register Office of Northern Ireland. It is responsible for the registers of births, marriages and deaths in Northern Ireland from 1864, and non-Roman Catholic marriages from 1845, to the present day.
This LINK includes a list of registration indexes for births, marriages, and deaths in Northern Ireland.
The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. It holds documents which relate chiefly, but not exclusively, to Northern Ireland. There are also some records from counties in what is now the Republic of Ireland. These records cover a period from c.1600 (with a few dating back as far as the early 13th century) to the present day.
This LINK will tell you which records ARE held by PRONI.
This LINK will tell you which records are NOT held by PRONI.
This LINK for PRONI's page of Online guides and indexes is also very helpful, and includes an excellent guide to Church Records.
PRONI also has an excellent 'Useful Links' page which provides with links for research for the entire island of Ireland.
Searching in the Republic of Ireland
If you have ancestors who were born, lived, and died in any of the TWENTY-SIX counties of the Republic of Ireland, in addition to going directly to the parish which may hold the records of their life's passages, you will want to visit the following:
The GRO, The National Library of Ireland, The National Archives of Ireland
The General Register Office of the Republic of Ireland, located in the Irish Life Centre, Dublin. It is responsible for the registers of births, marriages, and deaths in the Republic of Ireland from 1864, as well as a long list of other records as detailed in the link below. It also holds records dating from 1864 to 31 December 1921 for the six counties which comprise Northern Ireland.
This LINK will tell you which records are held by the GRO.
This LINK will tell you how you may order certificates of birth, adoption, stillbirth, marriage, civil partnership or death. Be sure to check the information about exactly which dates are included for online ordering.
The National Archives of Ireland
The National Archives of Ireland, located on Bishop Street in Dublin, holds records which they describe in the following way, "the records of the modern Irish State [i.e. The Republic of Ireland] which document its historical evolution and the creation of our national identity". The NAI also offers a free Genealogy Advisory Service for those visiting in person.
This LINK provides information about the family history and genealogy materials held by the National Archives, as well as a list of its most popular online genealogy resources.
The National Library of Ireland
Located on Kildare Street in Dublin, the National Library of Ireland (NLI) is an important stop for anyone conducting in-person family history research. Library material includes the microfilms of Catholic parish registers, copies of the important nineteenth century land valuations (the Tithe Applotment Books and Griffith's Valuation), trade and social directories, estate records and newspapers. The NLI also offers a free Genealogy Advisory Service for those visiting in person. Also, important to note, that on 8 July 2015 the NLI will be releasing online digitized copies of the microfilm images of the Catholic parish registers.
Visit this LINK for more details.
Using the resources of National Archives United Kingdom
In addition to the resources on the island of Ireland, make use of the resources available through the National Archives UK at Kew, England. Ireland was under British rule for over 700 years, so if you are looking for information which is held by neither Northern Ireland nor The Republic of Ireland, then you may find it here.
The LINK provides a summary of family history information available through NAUK.