The Development of the Centre for Migration Studies Irish Emigration Database

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The Development of the Centre for Migration Studies Irish Emigration Database

In 1988 the Ulster American Folk Park (UAFP) near Omagh in Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland began to set up a computerised Irish Emigration Database (IED) in its library. This was a ground-breaking project at that time and was immediately beset by problems of all kinds, the details of which will be explained later. By 1997 the Folk Park’s library had expanded to become the Centre for Emigration Studies and eventually the Centre for Migration Studies (CMS). The latter is now funded jointly by the Scotch-Irish Trust of Ulster in partnership with DCAL (Department of Culture, Arts & Leisure) and the five Education and Library Boards of Northern Ireland. In this paper I recount the experiences we had and the positive results that arose from them in the hope that this will help others who are planning to set up similar databases (1).


The concept of a computerised IED had been discussed in the early 1980s at the UAFP. In 1987, Graham Kirkham, of the new University of Ulster in Coleraine, had completed a feasibility study in various archives which held material on Irish emigration. These were the Linenhall, Central & Queen's University libraries in Belfast, the Public Record Office, N. Ireland (PRONI) and the Public Record Office (now the National Archives), in Kew in London. This feasibility study covered only a small percentage of the material available as time allotted to do this research was limited to three months. Initially, the project was funded by a company named Digital and organized by the Department of Education. Digital donated hardware and provided software solutions for the project. John Gilmour, the Education Officer at the UA...

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...Human error is always possible in the transcription of our documents. Therefore to have both copies available whether in PRONI or the Database is important. If quotes are to be used it is always best to consult the original. However the numerous advantages of using a Historical Database far outweigh any negative issues and this is what has kept the project moving forward over the past sixteen years. In future there should be easier methods of collecting information. We have always tried to be innovative over the years and will continue to be so in the future.


(1) Tennant, Lorraine, “The Irish Emigration Database,” Journal of Scotch-Irish Studies, Vol 1, No 1 (Spring 2000) pp120-124

(2) Des McMorrow Former ICT Manager at the Centre for Migration Studies

(3) Ibid

(4) Patrick Morgan of Morgan Software.

(5) Bryan A Follis, PRONI, June 1988

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