Facing the Future

The core aim of the Foundation has been to provide a genealogical service to people whose ancestors hailed from Ulster. The Foundation has secured the reputation of providing such a service at reasonable commercial rates and we plan to expand our team of searchers to cope with demand. The stimulus behind the interests of our clients in genealogical research ranges from a desire to visit the actual places where their forebears lived and to contact their relatives, to a commitment to find out more about their ancestral family and its background.

We are able to draw on the knowledge and goodwill of many people throughout the province who support our objectives and appreciate what we are trying to achieve. As an educational charity and a non-profit organisation we shall continue to encourage and co-operate with individuals, societies and other organisations in this work. In2007–08 UHF undertook genealogy workshops in local neighbourhoods under the government’s Renewing Communities strategy.

Research Conference Graphic

Because the Foundation was planted in the heart of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland under the stewardship of its Director, it has always pioneered genealogical research in its collections. Since joining the staff of PRONI in 1956 Brian Trainor pursued and brought in many private archives that were overlooked by archivists in other record offices.

Office staff toured university extra-mural classes and the increasing number of local history societies, alerting many people to the potential value of papers in private hands, notably emigrant letters. We explored the value of this new material and stimulated interest and local history publications, making many Ulster people more aware of the rich history of the province.

Interest in local history and genealogy continues to increase. As many individuals among our staff, trustees and committees nourish a deep interest in Ulster history and traditions, the Foundation will always seek to promote conferences and publish books about the province. We have provided specialist lecturers and representatives for many conferences.

The Foundation itself can now draw on the experience of over 60 years in promoting the study of the history of Ulster and its families. To acquire some sort of appreciation of the skills and expertise that have been gained over these years by the staff of the Foundation, the reader cannot do better than examine its publications relating to genealogy and local history. Much of this research has been subsumed in Dr William Roulston’s Researching Scots-Irish ancestors: the essential genealogical guide to Early Modern Ulster, 1600–1800 (2nd edition, 2018) which should command a place on the bookshelf of every serious genealogist. For the more recent centuries, examine Ian Maxwell’s Researching Down Ancestors (2004)

Almost 30 volumes of gravestone inscriptions edited by Professor Richard Clarke, have set a high standard for many family history groups working in their own localities. The destruction of the late nineteenth century census records has taught many genealogists to direct their searches to the many hundreds of attendance registers salvaged from national (elementary) schools throughout Ulster: the earliest registers date from the 1860s. Still awaiting thorough exploitation are the great collections of estate papers along with the printed rentals of the Encumbered Estates Court and its successor, the Landed Estates Court.

Researching Scots Irish Reduced

In 2006, Dr Brian Trainor retired as Research Director and was succeeded by Dr William Roulston, who had joined the Foundation in 1997 and been Research Officer since 2002. Dr Trainor continued to work with the Foundation on specific projects, lecture tours and conferences. His last lecture tour of North America was in 2013, shortly before his 85th birthday, and he assisted with our family history conferences until 2016. In May 2017, the Foundation organised a special day to celebrate his decades-long contribution to archives and research. Dr Trainor passed away in 2018 at the age of 90.

In 2008 Sir Denis Desmond was appointed Chairman. A successful businessman, with a deep interest in Irish history as well as his own family history, Sir Denis has been an energetic Chair who is fully committed to supporting the work of the Foundation. In 2022, the Foundation published the story of his family firm: Desmonds: Fashioning the Future of Garment Manufacturing by Jonathan Hamill.

The development of the internet encouraged many people to undertake genealogical research online. For our members among them we shall continue to create databases by unearthing and processing primary materials (especially in newspapers and archive collections held in PRONI and elsewhere ). As an entirely self-sustaining educational charity, the need to generate income has been paramount.

Working with BRS Systems, the Foundation pioneered a new online pay-per-view system in 2005, giving greater access to its transcriptions of birth/baptisms, marriages and deaths/burials. This new facility was subsequently rolled out to other IFHF centres throughout Ireland, leading to the creation of the Roots Ireland website (www.rootsireland.ie), now regarded as one of the essential Irish genealogy sites.

In the last 20 years we have been much more active in developing historical research projects alongside local and central government and with community and historical groups across Ulster. These have led to the production of exhibitions, publications and websites. You can find out more about these initiatives in our Portfolio.

Probably the Foundation is best known to the general public for the promotional tours undertaken originally by Dr Trainor in North America and Australasia and now led by Fintan Mullan and Gillian Hunt. We intend to maintain that tradition and co-operate more closely with societies there. We have now spoken in 45 of the 50 states in the US, most of the Canadian provinces and most of the states in Australia.

2015 Lecture Tour 15

For many years the Foundation had been searching for a permanent home to which it will be able to welcome members from every part of the world and provide them with access to our library collections. After leaving our premises in College Square North in 2006, we were based successively in Cotton Court off Waring Street, the Malone Road and the Corn Exchange on Gordon Street.

In late 2019 we identified suitable premises to rent at Kiltonga, on the outskirts of the Co. Down town of Newtownards. The detached building, named Bradley Thallon House, offered sufficient space to accommodate our staff and provide storage for our books for retail, as well as ample parking. Most attractively of all, it included a large room upstairs which could be transformed into a library. Though for the first time in our history we were no longer based in Belfast, we were still only 20 minutes from PRONI and not far from a bus route to the city. (One interesting detail about the building's history is that it had been used as the set for a television drama.)

The move to Kiltonga was completed at the beginning of March 2020. Two weeks later the Covid lockdown was imposed, severely hampering our activities and resulting in the abandonment of our lecture tour to North America and cancelling of our family history conferences in 2020 and 2021. Eventually, however, as restrictions eased we were able to resume normal working arrangements and resurrect our conferences and tours. The library was installed and we have been able to welcome individual researchers and visiting groups to our premises.

Kiltonga Research Library 1