Updated: Sep 26, 2020
I took my first trip to the National Archives recently. The main reason for going was to accompany one of my genealogy class colleagues who was researching Fenian history and to discover for myself what information was available, and I was not disappointed. Located on Bishop Street, the Archives occupies the former Jacob's Biscuit Factory, site of intense fighting during the 1916 Rising. The building houses some incredible information about Ireland's past. (For full list of records click here). In addition the Archives are responsible for the preservation, restoration, arrangement and description of records as well as many other functions.
The main purpose of this blog is to impart the lessons I learned during my visit with the aim of helping other visitors to make the best use of their time at the Archives.
Figure 1: Jacob's Biscuit Factory and National Archives, Bishop Street, Dublin.
The National Archives was established on 1 June 1988 under the National Archives Act. Under this legislation, when records of Government Departments and their agencies are thirty years old, they are transferred to the Archives. It took over the functions previously performed by the State Paper Office (1702) and the Public Record Office of Ireland (1867).
The State Paper Office, established in 1702 and situated in Dublin Castle until 1990, was a repository for records relation to the Lord Lieutenant’s administration. The Lord Lieutenant was the English King or Queen’s representative in Ireland. Previous to 1702 each Lord Lieutenant took their records with them on leaving office.
Figure 2: Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, former Lord Lieutentant, executed for treason, 1601.
Located in the Four Courts complex, the Public Record Office of Ireland was established under the Public Records (Ireland) Act, 1867 to acquire administrative, court and probate records over twenty years old. During the Civil War, the Four Courts was seized and the repository building destroyed by fire in June 1922, along with most of the records, some dating back to the 13th century.
Figure 3: Attack on the Four Courts, 1922.
VISITING THE ARCHIVES
The National Archives is located at west end of Bishop Street, Dublin 8, with Dublin Institute of Technology at the east, meaning very economical eating options at lunchtime. The National Archives has a very useful search function available on their website which gives an indication of the treasures that can be discovered, and it is advisable to do some reconnaissance before your visit. The Archives are open Monday to Friday 9.15 to 17.00 (exceptions here), including lunchtime.
To enter the reading room, you will need a reader’s ticket. This ticket is valid for three years and does not incur any cost. To obtain the card, you can fill out the form available here in advance; alternatively you can get a form at reception. In addition, you will need photographic proof of identity and of address (bring your driving licence or passport and a recent utility bill). The Archive staff are very efficient in processing the application and it only takes a few minutes provided you have all your documentation present.
The Reading Room and Application Office for the Reader's Ticket is on the fifth floor. Before getting there however, on your first visit you will need to show your documentary evidence of identity and address to the person at reception (on the ground floor), who will inspect your documents, ask you to sign the attendance book (you need to sign in and sign out every time you visit the Archives) and show you to the cloakroom.
Figure 4: Reader's Ticket for the National Archives of Ireland.
The cloakroom provides a secure location for your belongings. The only personal items allowed in the reading room are materials for taking notes i.e. laptop, digital camera, notepaper and pencil. Pencils are available in the reading room, as is a pencil sharpener as you are not allowed to bring your own. Suffice to say food and drink is not allowed in the reading room. For a full list of rules click here.
If you are taking photographs, make certain you obtain permission from the Reading Room Supervisor and the Duty Archivist. The relevant pink Photography Permission forms must be obtained and signed (Duty Archivist’s office is the glass office on the opposite side of the reading room from the front desk. Also available in the reading room is a Genealogy Advisory service. There is no charge for consulting records, the only charge will be for copies of archives made by staff or for print-out copies from microfilm readers (for charges click here). It is not necessary to book in advance, however be aware, some records are stored offsite and will not be accessible on the day of your visit.
WHAT INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE?
The archives hold a vast amount of information so it is advisable to know as precisely as possible what information you want to consult before visiting the Archives. Detail of records held can be found here and in addition several reading guides on the subjects can be found here. In addition, in the cloakroom, you will find printed leaflets outlining information about each record.
Figure 5: Page 1 of leaflet explaining about National School Applications and Registers.
In the reading room itself you will notice a vast array of Finding Aids, including:
Lists of records, including census records, valuation office records
Indexes of records, including card indexes to testamentary records, and National Schools records (by county)
Registers and indexes prepared by the bodies which accumulated the records, including those to the Registered Papers of the Chief Secretary's Office.
Location lists and indexes which indicate the locations of particular records, for example, the Miscellaneous Index.
Shelf lists describing records kept at particular locations, for example, the 1A shelf list.
Staff in the reading room are very helpful and rather than wasting time if you are uncertain about the location of a record, a quick consultation will set you on the right path. Once you have found the information you require, fill in a call docket, a yellow A6 form which is found to the left of the front desk in the reading room. You will need to include your name, reader number, table number (circular desk located on your table) and the reference of the document you require. You can request three items at a time. When the records are available, a staff member will bring one record to your table along with a perforated slip (pink and white). To note you can only request files between 9.15 to 12.15 and 13.30 to 16.00.
When you have finished with the record, take it and the perforated slip to the records room (right of the entrance/exit of the reading room as you enter the reading room), go to the desk facing and the staff member will scan the document to record that you have returned it, they will retain the pink part of the slip and return the white part to you. This now enables you to get your next record. Go to the desk on your left, and the staff member will give you the next document with a new pink/white slip.
Figure 6: Lower half of the perforated form which will be returned to you when you return the archive.
In addition, you also have access to computers which are located towards the back of the room, which is useful, if you want to check the online records of the National Archives, including Census records, Tithe Applotment books and Soldiers Wills.
My research at the National Archives of Ireland focused on National School records which are very easy to follow based on the referencing system and the index cards (organised by county, by school name) which are located in the right-hand corner as you enter the reading room.
Figure 7: National School Records available.
The information to be found is incredible. My search focused on the records of Upper Glanmire National School in Cork which I knew had been formed some time before 1849 as that was the year it was received into 'connexion' by the Board of Commissioners. I found that the school had been established in 1844, the building materials, the dimensions of the school, desks, windows, blackboard, number of fireplaces and so much more.
I would encourage anybody to take a trip to the Archives and discover for themselves the rich history awaiting them. While it is incredible that so much information is available at our finger tips, it is hard to beat the smell of old books, including some that still retain the smell of soot from a turf fire!
Figure 8: ED/2 Register that I consulted.