The Lanyon Building, at Queens University Belfast, County Antrim.

AnceStory NI provides in-depth archival expertise, and help in tracing roots and building family trees, for anyone wanting to know more about their family history in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Illinois native, Jessica Toops, could never have imagined when she took up a place at the Study Abroad International Summer School at Queen’s University Belfast in 2012 that she would eventually end up living and starting her own business in Northern Ireland.

Fast forward six years and Jessica is the brains behind a brand new business, a professional genealogy service called AnceStory NI. The service provides in-depth archival expertise, tracing roots and building family trees, for anyone wanting to know more about their family history in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“I completed my under-grad degree in History at Western Illinois University and then decided to go on the Study Abroad Irish Studies International Summer School at Queen’s University Belfast as I was really interested in Irish history. During my time on the summer school we explored different parts of Ireland and I just fell in love with the country, the people and the history. I knew I had to come back,” said Jessica.

The stunning buildings of Queen's University, in Belfast city.

After enjoying her experience at the summer school, Jessica decided to stay in Belfast and study for her Master’s degree at Queen’s University. “I applied to study for an MA in Irish Studies at the university after getting a taster during the summer school. I did my dissertation on exploring second-generation return migration “home” to Ireland from North America and the performance of Irish identities in public and private spaces,” adds Jessica.

While undertaking her Master’s degree, Jessica took up a public history internship through the university at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and this is where her love for researching family histories all began. During this same internship, she also worked as a researcher on a six-part documentary series on the restoration of Mount Stewart, a ‘big house’ on the outskirts of Belfast.

After completing her Master’s degree and graduating in 2015, Jessica returned to the United States and worked in archives, before moving back to Ireland to work in Dublin for a period and eventually moving back to Belfast.

Jessica Toops of AnceStory NI.

Talking about starting her business, Jessica said: “My experience working at PRONI and researching family histories, like I did for the Mount Stewart documentary, gave me the idea for AnceStory NI. I knew there was a huge appetite for tracing family roots, especially here in Ireland. I now work with clients from the United States, Australia, even here in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“Starting my own business was never really something I thought I would do with a background in history, but I saw a gap in the market and a huge demand for this type of service internationally, as well as locally. It was a way for me to do have a career in the field I was passionate about in the city I had fallen in love with. I applied for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa through the Graduate School at Queen’s and was successful. The Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa route is for non-EU/EEA graduates who wish to extend their stay after graduation to establish a business in the UK.  Applicants under the scheme must be endorsed by a Higher Education Institution, like Queen’s, as having developed genuine and credible business ideas and the entrepreneurial skills to establish a business in the UK. 

Discover your story with AnceStory NI.

“Starting your own business in a different country is not without its challenges, especially when it comes to visas. Oftentimes, it means meeting a lot uncertainty and self-doubt with blind determination.  In that regard, support I received from the university, particularly from The Graduate School, has been unparalleled.

“I am hopeful about the future of AnceStory NI and I am constantly exploring different possibilities to continue growing and working within the fields of history and genealogy,” explained Jessica.

Currently working with clients across the world researching their family histories, Jessica couldn’t be happier: “I am so lucky to be working professionally as an historian. Family history to me is all about storytelling. It’s my job to conduct archival research and weave together the facts I uncover to tell your story. It’s about learning as much as you can about those who came before you, and feeling connected to them through that story.”

To find out more about AnceStory NI, please visit