Anybody who wants to find out about a relative’s time in the RIC needs to start with their service record and find the service number, according to Michael Guilfoyle.
“Once you get a man’s service records, it opens up so much stuff,” said the administrator of the Facebook group dedicated to the RIC.
Mr Guilfoyle had to visit the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast to find service records for his grandfather, granduncle, and great-grandfather. Further trips to the registry office in Dublin were required to put together more pieces of the family jigsaws.
But things have been made far easier for other researchers by the recent addition of more than 500,000 records of men’s service, their pension arrangements, and annual directories of who served in which barracks across the 32 counties policed by the RIC.
The online release of records by the Military Archives and National Archives of Ireland in recent years — military pension files, Bureau of Military History statements, 1901 and 1911 Census records — have helped to democratise basic historical research of the Irish revolution currently being remembered in the Decade of Centenaries.
That research can now be widened beyond those who served on the republican side, to the thousands of mostly Irishmen who were in the RIC during the War of Independence. They include the 13,000 members when the force was disbanded in 1922.
While access is not free in the same way as the Military Archives and National Archives files, those RIC files posted in recent weeks to the Findmypast.ie website will prove invaluable to those researching the force.
Annual subscription ranges from the equivalent of around €9.50 to €15 a month, depending on whether you wish to have access to Irish records only, or to all the service’s files. For focused shorter research periods, one-month subscriptions are also available.
This will also give access to annual directories and other documents indicating where each officer was based in a given year, all searchable by name or the all- important service number of a constable or officer.
Findmypast researcher Alex Cox says one of the most significant places to start is by finding an RIC member in the general registers.
This will give not just their service number, on which further digital searches of other documents can be based, but their native county, age when they joined and — if they married — where their wife was from.
Also provided in these registers are the counties they served in and when they retired, resigned, were dismissed, or if they died in service.
Armed with these vital clues, anybody can begin a much wider trawl through other RIC files, as well as national census files, newspaper archives (many also available online, or free in many public libraries), and court registers which may help to build up a picture of a relative’s police career and the communities in which they served.
Many RIC descendants can find their ancestors’ signatures if they had been the local census enumerator for the area around the barracks in which they served in 1901 or 1911.
They may not show up automatically in the search function of the National Archives’ census website because most men were only listed by their initials in the forms filled out for each barracks.
But the Findmy-past site should give assistance on their location in the years of these two census exercises, leading researchers to the appropriate town or village in which to look.
A list of search results showing several initials usually indicates men serving in the local RIC station.
Further information may be available in local libraries and other institutions which may hold records and directories for the area where RIC men were posted.
Earlier this year, the Findmypast site uploaded British War Office files relating to military involvement in Ireland from the 1916 Rising through to 1922.
Like most of the online RIC records, they have been digitised from files held in the UK’s National Archives at Kew, London.
These are also hugely valuable to researchers of the Irish revolution, including court martial records and operational correspondence for the British Army national and local commands.
Often on the receiving end of IRA violence during the same period, many police accounts of events and suspects are also to be found.
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