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.
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, in spite of the failure of third level education providers to satisfy the demand. The success of the Centre for Migration Studies at the Ulster American Folk Park indicates what can be done.
The Foundation itself can now draw on the experience of fifty 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 (2005) 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 thirty 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 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.
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. We intend to play an even more active role in assisting local groups to appreciate the experiences of their ancestors and to celebrate the traditions of their community. We plan, for example, to continue to develop the History from Headstones project demonstrating the benefits of the care and study of local graveyards in our communities.
In fact, in 2007–08 UHF is undertaking genealogy workshops in local neighbourhoods under the government’s Renewing Communities strategy.
The Foundation welcomes serious researchers as members of the Ulster Genealogical and Historical Guild which publishes annually its Directory of Irish Family History Research to keep members informed about each other’s interests, and a journal Familia: Ulster Genealogical Review containing information, relevant articles and book reviews.
The development of the internet has 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 throughout the British Isles). We have plans to digitise information from our collection of warranted search reports. Our most recent database has placed at their disposal the essence of Professor Johnston Liik’s History of the Irish Parliament 1692–1800 as MPs in Dublin. We have prepared also an introduction to the merchants involved in the linen trade in the eighteenth century. Probably the Foundation is best known to the general public for the promotional tours undertaken by Dr Trainor in North America and Australasia. We intend to maintain that tradition and co-operate more closely with societies there. Several younger members of staff have attended conferences in the United States, Canada and New Zealand. For some time, too, we have been investigating with several active friends and supporters the feasibility of establishing an American ‘friends’ association of the Foundation.
For several years the Foundation has been searching for a permanent home to which it will be able to welcome members and inquiries from every part of the world. The Trustees have confirmed their intention to co-operate with parties preparing to conserve an old school at Sussex Place near St Malachy’s Church in the centre of Belfast. We have been advised that the renovation scheme will take two years. Because the property that we have occupied for the past 15 years at Balmoral Buildings in College Square, no longer meets current health and safety standards, we have taken a lease for two years of accommodation at Cotton Court in Waring Street, not far from the famous Albert Clock, and recently moved to this new address. Working with the Belfast Buildings Preservation Trust and local people in the Markets/Cromac area of the city, we hope to create a community-based heritage resource at Sussex Place, with Ulster Historical Foundation as the anchor tenant. Developing closer working relationships with like-minded bodies, such as the Federation for Ulster Local Studies, will be a crucial part of the plan. The Foundation hopes to realise this bold and forward thinking initiative – establishing in the heart of Belfast, a heritage quarter to mirror that which has already been developed for the creative arts. With the help (either practical or financial), of friends and supporters at home and abroad, the Foundation can contribute to the future cultural life of the north of Ireland. Sussex Place offers what has not existed before – a permanent home for Ulster Historical Foundation, and a bespoke facility that everyone interested in the history of Ulster can use for years to come.