Northern Ireland's Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Carál Ní Chuilín, has launched an index of more than 13,000 coroner’s inquest files for the period 1969 to 1999. The index files include information on 3,169 people who died as a result of The Troubles and most are not yet open to the public.
Making the announcement, the Minister said: "The creation of this catalogue will allow the public to identify what is held on file and in particular it will be of tremendous benefit to families who wish to find out for themselves if the inquest record of their loved one is held by PRONI. For some this will be an important step forward.
“I realise the need for both transparency and sensitivity in relation to these files and all requests to access the files will be the subject of detailed consideration before determining what should be publicly released. This is a painstaking and time consuming process and will take a number of months to complete in each case.”
These inquest records include varying levels of detail such as the inquest verdict, post mortem report, witness depositions, police report and in some cases photographs of the scene of the incident.
Where the file is closed, PRONI will respond to a written/emailed request under the Freedom of Information Act (2000). This legislation allows for any individual to request access to information held by a public body.
The online index is part of the eCatalogue. You can search it by typing ‘inquest’ and the name of the person, which should bring up the relevant results.
Historical Coroners' Reports
The above news announcement seems a good time to remind family historians that PRONI already holds a collection of coroners' records dating from 1872. Admittedly, there are relatively few reports pre-dating 1960 and The Troubles, but it's always worth checking because if you find a historical report relating to an ancestor, you may be able to discover some serious detail.
Some 6,206 sets of Inquest papers from 1872 to 1920 can be located by using PRONI's online Name Search. The documents themselves are not online. To view the papers, researchers must either visit PRONI in person or order copies.
The database entries contain details of the surname, forename, address, date of death and date of inquest of the deceased. The actual inquest papers themselves record much more information than what is listed on Name Search, such as the name of the coroner, the circumstances of death and names of the jurors.
Additionally, coroners' records relating to murder, manslaughter or other criminal prosecutions are not included in the Name Search facility but can be searched using the eCatalogue (link up above).
Bear in mind that PRONI does not give a permanent home to every inquest record created by the coroners. Consequently, if a record does not exist, don't assume an inquest did not take place! By personal experience, I can recommend searching local newspapers for details of Inquests. These won't usually include gory details (but you didn't want those, anyway, did you!), but will typically provide some idea of the circumstances surrounding an unexpected/sudden death.