The latest PRONI (www.nidirect.gov.uk/proni
) stakeholder forum was held today, and, for the first time, it was via Zoom (and therefore no 4.30am rise to get the ferry over to Belfast!).
PRONI has now re-opened in a limited manner - see http://scottishgenes.blogspot.com/2020/08/proni-to-re-open-on-august-24th-with.html
. The following are the latest developments, including one very exciting development for family historians!
Covid-19 has led to many changes at PRONI for the immediate future. All group visits have been cancelled, as have all on-site events, but it is now possible to visit the facility for research purposes, albeit with some restrictions in terms of the documents available.
There are five slots available per day, and nine tables which can be used. Visitors have to book three weeks in advance - new slots are announced every Monday morning, and are booking out fast. Visitors can only make one visit per week, to maximise access to as wide a pool as possible. Those visiting must place orders for productions within one week of a visit, with a maximum of ten items possible to consult (including microfilms) - productions are actually quarantined for 24 hours prior to a visit, and once a visit has ended, they are then further quarantined for 72 hours, before going back to storage. The philosophy is very much "who has touched which bit of paper and when?" in a bid to prevent any potential contamination by the coronavirus. Even the way materials are handled has changed, for example, if documents are stacked, it can take twice as long for any potential virus to become inert.
An unfortunate consequence of the current restrictions is that PRONI cannot accept new readers to the facility, as they are unable to process the necessary registrations. No cash payments are being taken on site at present either, and the cafe has been closed (a vending machine is on site, and there is a Mace shop nearby). The public reading room is now closed, and as the four terminals offering access to the BMD records platform of the General Register Office are hard wired into that room, and as there are issues with cleaning down the keyboards etc, there is currently no alternative access to this service on site. The General Register Office for Northern Ireland has recently re-opened however in Belfast. Microfilms from the self-service area can be ordered in advance of a visit, but the self-service area itself is not in use.
In terms of ongoing work, PRONI has been challenged by the current circumstances, but has been flat out moving many previously scheduled events online, and continuing with digital projects.
- The Prisons Memory Archive has 62 new recordings, and most of those who have particpated in the project have now given permission for their contributions to be viewed not only on-site at PRONI, but through the catalogue, with work ongoing to facilitate this. The main website at www.prisonsmemoryarchive.com has been updated just a few weeks ago, and is well worth a visit.
- The project to digitise the UTV collection has been disrupted, but cataloguing work on materials continues on some 500 items already digitised in 2019-2020, as well as responses to enquiries. There will be no further digitisation work on this in 2021, to facilitate other demands, but work will continue in due course.
Genies of the world, brace yourselves - PRONI is currently indexing all the names contained within the FIN/5/A Northern Ireland tithe applotment books! When lockdown was announced, many in PRONI were given the task in the first few weeks to work on this as a project from home, and a massive boost to this occurred when a previously created index to many of the records was submitted to PRONI by a private individual, allowing the archive full permission to use it as they could. To date, about half of the tithe applotment books have now been indexed, and this work will continue, although we were advised that as PRONI has now partially reopened, the pace of this project has by necessity slowed down again - so the end product may not be imminent, but it is on the cards.
I raised a point again about the actual digitised tithes records, which can be downloaded at home now from the online catalogue (see my post at http://scottishgenes.blogspot.com/2020/03/pronis-digitised-northern-irish-tithe.html
for a step-through guide on how to do so). Although the records have been beautifully digitised, I have found that the file sizes for many of the tithe applotment books are so large that they cannot be opened by Adobe Acrobat Reader after they have been downloaded, and I have been contacted by other readers who have had the same issue. The work around for now is to view the records instead with an internet browser - after download, right click on the file name and select which browser you wish to open them with. I was asked to email through more about this, which I have done following the meeting, and this has been forwarded to PRONI's Head of IT for consideration.
PRONI's outreach to users has recently expanded with its new Twitter account at @PRONI_DFC
, but it is also now on Instagram (www.instagram.com/publicrecordofficeni
) and it continues to add material to YouTube (www.youtube.com/user/PRONIonline
There was a brief discussion of the current Beyond 2022 project (https://beyond2022.ie/
) in partnership with the National Archives of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, TNA and others, which is attempting to digitally recreate much of what was lost in the Four Courts fire in 1922, at the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. Although digital surrogates are being sought, in particular from PRONI and TNA, it was noted that a lot of material was actually saved at the fire which was damaged, which thankfully had not yet been conserved, as the techniques that can be used to do this now have been massively revolutionised in recent decades. (NB: I have no idea what is being worked on specifically, but the 17th century Great Parchment Book project for Co. Londonderry, which was almost destroyed by fire, was amazingly conserved and restored in recent years by London Metropolitan Archives - see www.greatparchmentbook.org
. Are we soon to see some previously lost gems re-emerge from Dublin?!)
One interesting point that was made was that PRONI itself is a 'son of the civil war' - perhaps not something that many in Northern Ireland would assume to be the case, from a period where it is often thought the emergent Free State's conflict did not impinge (it did, but that's another story). If the Four Courts had not gone up in flames, there may never have been a PRONI, the materials may have continued to be held in Dublin. It was pointed out that Beyond 2022 in many ways is therefore a precursor to the centenary commemorations of the founding of PRONI itself in 2023.
It was great to hear the latest from PRONI, and to hear that the archive remains just as busy and dedicated as ever!
(With thanks to Stephen Scarth and all at PRONI)
My next 5 week Scottish Research Online
course starts August 31st - see https://www.pharostutors.com/details.php?coursenumber=102
. My book Tracing Your Scottish Family History on the Internet
, at http://bit.ly/ChrisPaton-Scottish2
is now out, also available are Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet (2nd ed)
and Tracing Your Scottish Ancestry Through Church and State Records
. Further news published daily on The Scottish GENES Facebook page
, and on Twitter @genesblog