Wednesday, 13 July 2011

1939 National Register for Northern Ireland

I've just read in the latest issue of Family Tree magazine ( that for 1939 Northern Irish National Register entries there is as yet no formal procedure to apply for the information. The author, a genealogist from Dublin, suggests that "given that cataloguing is ongoing, delays are inevitable and readers should delay applying for data until more information about the procedure is posted on the PRONI website:".

It is great to hear that PRONI is cataloguing the material, but it is worth pointing out that in Scotland and England, where the equivalent information has been formally made available through payment schemes, there is, as that suggests, a payment - £13 for Scottish enquiries (for individuals) and a whopping £42 for English and Welsh applications (for households).

Under the Freedom of Information Act, you have a right to apply for information at no cost where there is no formal publication scheme in place. This is currently the situation at PRONI. You are therefore perfectly entitled to make an application to PRONI under the FOI Act, and it will not cost you a penny, whether it is inconvenient for PRONI (indeed for any archive) or not. So my advice is, yes, there may be a delay, but get the application in now - or you may well end up paying in due course if you decide to wait!

I have previously made a successful application to PRONI myself for information from the register for both of my grandparents in Belfast, with the information on my grandfather in particular proving crucial in identifying his exact birth date in Brussels, for which there had been a couple of possibilities. For details of the procedure, and the web address with details on FOI applications to PRONI, see my blog post from March 2010 at

Just to add, when Yorkshire based genealogist Guy Etchells secured access to the English and Welsh register a couple of years back, he went to a great amount of effort to inform people that they must get their applications in quickly before the NHSIC implemented a payment scheme. I was able to secure an entry for a family member in St Albans from the English register by following his advice, and therefore saved myself £42. If PRONI implements a payment scheme - and it is by no means certain that it will, as it does provide some free digitised material online through its site - I have no idea what might be charged. But I do know that in Northern Ireland, civil registration certs are the most expensive in the UK! My advice is therefore better safe than sorry - get those applications in now!

Details on how to access all UK National Register entries, and the history on how they were made available, are also available through an article I wrote for issue 75 of Irish Roots magazine (3rd quarter 2010), available online or as a back issue from

Good luck!


Chris Paton said...

I have received the following comment from Steven Smyrl, the Dublin based genealogist who has written the article as mentioned in my post above. The comment is as follows, and will be followed in a subsequent post by my response:

Readers of Chris' Blog should be assured that in my opinion they should not inundate PRONI with applications for information from the NI National Register under the UK Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The set of registers held by PRONI are the 'transcript' set compiled in late 1939 for use by the NI rationing authorities. For whatever reason, the approx 700 volume set is not organised in geographical order. It was always meant to be accessed via an names index, which unfortunately is no longer extant.

Given this, PRONI is having to create (within budgetary constraints) a topographical catalogue to use to process future FOIA requests). Currently, they are about halfway through the process. They will be in a position to answer FOIA requests (free of charge) once the topographical index is completed. My advice is NOT to swamp PRONI with premature requests for data but rather to monitor to PRONI website for more information as it becomes available.

The UK's National Register holds untold potential for use in genealogy and we should all be encouraging the various UK authorities to be brave and - within the confines of current data protection legislation - make the best use of it for genealogists.

Chris Paton said...

COMMENT: The above is completely true, and was in fact the case when I applied for information myself at the beginning of 2010. As readers will know from many previous posts on my application, due to the difficulties I was advised that my application would take longer than the statutory 28 days within which a reply had to be given, as required under FOI legislation, and something that I was only too happy to agree to. As luck would have it, again as described in previous posts, I was told over the phone that the entry I was seeking was in fact found in the very first box that was opened, but the procedure did in fact go beyond the 28 days, for which I had no problem at all, as I had agreed to the delay.

This, however, is not the issue. Getting an application in now means that whatever delays may or may not be negotiated, the application will still have been made prior to the implementation of any potential publication scheme, which, if implemented, would mean that FOI requests would no longer be accepted. A Freedom of Information Act request costs the applicant nothing. Mr Smyrl asserts that once the topographical index is created, PRONI will then be able to deal with FOI requests free of charge. That may be the case. It may also be that, as with England and Wales, they go for the implementation of a publication scheme instead.

When a publication scheme is implemented, a charge is made, and the free FOI procedure can no longer be used. If an application is made now – even if you are advised it cannot be dealt with within the 28 days (and if you are happy to agree to that) – that application will still have to be dealt with through the FOI procedure, even if a payment scheme is subsequently implemented at a later date. Your application will have been made prior to the implementation of such a scheme and therefore cannot be subject to it, and must continue to be deal with through the FOI apparatus through which it was first applied. If, however, Mr Smyrl is right in his assertion that requests will be free after the index is created, then what harm is there in making an application now anyway? You will have merely made an application which, if you are willing to wait beyond the 28 days as laid out in legislation, will merely be placed on hold until PRONI is in a position to deal with it using its new index.

As described, I have already made an application for such information from PRONI which was successful, with the search conducted in a way that was mutually convenient to both PRONI and myself. Readers should decide whether they wish to try to secure information in the same way, or take the chance that no publication scheme will in fact be implemented.

The PRONI website does not appear to have any information on how it intends to make the 1939 records available itself, and so until it does, I can only advise readers of a method which I have already found to be successful. But I am more than happy to publish Mr Smyrl’s recommendations as above, and invite readers to make their own minds up!


Steven Smyrl said...

Thanks for yor comments Chris. I can only advise that I do not believe that PRONI intends to introduce a 'publication scheme'. By not inundating PRONI with FOIA requests researchers will be freeing the two PRONI staff members (available to create the much needed place names index) from having to spend their time pointlessly processing FOIA requests! It's really as simple as that!

I have been advised that at this time about half of the approx 700 NI National Registration volumes have been catalogued and the streets and townlands in them noted.

Readers must make up their own minds whether they consider it to be in the best interests of all researchers to assist PRONI in their work by holding back on FOIA requests for just a few more months!