Monday 9 May 2022

Belfast City Cemetery records: free enhanced access coming soon

I attended a presentation hosted by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland this lunchtime and learned that the £2.8million Belfast City Cemetery Heritage Project will not only see some of the burial ground's outstanding architectural features restored and the creation of a new visitor centre, it will also provide family historians with a new digital and interactive resource.

The burial ground, which was opened in 1869 and now covers more than 80 acres, is the final resting place for an estimated 225,000 people.

For some years, burial records have been available via the Belfast City Council website (here), which provides images of records over 75 years old at a fee of £1.50 each.

However, as part of the Heritage Project's remit to introduce new and improved digital experiences, – a Ballymena-based company specialising in Management Software & Mapping For Cemeteries – has surveyed, photographed and mapped the cemetery plot by plot and carried out a full audit to verify the digital data for each burial matches the Council's historical documentation.

Researchers will recognise Plotbox as the company behind (Discover) EverAfter, a free site hosting burial details for many cemeteries in Northern Ireland. The businessnow has a 80-strong team across its NI HQ and offices in Boston and San Franscico.

Today's brief presentation was given by Plotbox's Solution Consultant Niall Adams. He ran through various features of how genealogists will be able to search the Belfast City Cemetery site, zoom into its map to identify the exact location of each plot, view the headstone, and find out whether the plot is shared (and if so, with whom). Niall said the new database is not quite ready for public access, but its launch is not far off. All the records will be free, and registration will not be required.

I understand the physical architectural restoration and new-build elements of the Heritage Project, which has been partially financed through the Heritage Lottery Fund, are due to be completed and opened this summer, so it may be that the digital elements have to wait for the official launch before the button is pressed.