Sources for Family History in the Public Record Office of Ireland

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Article by Breandan Mac Giolla Choille in World Conference on Records, 1980

Born in Ireland, Resides in Dublin, Ireland. Deputy keeper of the public records of the Republic of Ireland and keeper of state records, Dublin, Ireland.

Like most archival institutions, the Public Record Office of Ireland has two broad functions. One is concerned with the care, control, and safety of the records of the Irish central administration, and the other with the communication to the public of the records brought into archival custody. It is a recognized part of the communication services incumbent on the archivist that students with particular interests should receive, as far as resources permit, guidance to the material likely to assist them in their researches. In that sense I welcome the opportunity given to me to fulfill a basic archival duty by addressing the World Conference on Records on the sources for family history which relate to the holdings of the Public Record Office of Ireland. My purpose, then, will be to offer an illustrated introduction to the sources, particularly those for the nineteenth century, the dominant century in emigration to northern America.

The Public Record Office of Ireland was established in 1867 to provide a safe repository for the Irish records then widely scattered in a number of premises and locations. It undertook the accessioning of records from the courts then in existence, from the probate registries, from parishes of the Church of Ireland, from official bodies which had ceased to function, and from the State Paper Office which since 1702, had been gathering the records of the central administration under British rule. Fifty years after its foundation, the office had accumulated a vast body of records dating from the thirteenth century and ranging geographically from one end of the country to the other, including many classes which the family historian would regard as of primary value and importance. The extent of the holdings can be seen in the 300 printed pages of the Guide to the Public Records of Ireland published in 1919. Unfortunately, within a period of three years, a civil war with disastrous results for Irish archives engulfed the newly independent state.

The office became the center of military action and on 30 June 1922, its repository, comprising six floors of accessioned records, was reduced to ruins and rubble. Comparatively little of its documentary wealth was salvaged by the dispirited Irish archivists, but they soon recovered and set about the search for documents to substitute, as far as possible, for the losses incurred in the disaster. As a result, thousands upon thousands of documents were acquired through purchases, or through donations by persons who, without seeking monetary reward, helped to initiate the recovery of our national archival heritage. These accessions covered a wide range of documents, especially wills, court records, and deeds. Indeed, the destruction of 1922, an unfortunate fact of Irish life for archivists and for users alike, had at least one beneficial effect in that it opened the archival door to a wide variety of record material not public in the sense of having been created and kept in the custody of a public office.

As a logical extension of the gathering in of substitute documents, the office began to accept, and has continued to accept, documents from private sources which are deemed to be of utility to the research public and which in many cases would otherwise have been destroyed as unwanted by their owners or custodians. The records of trade unions and of business firms can be cited as the latest extension of accessioning activity in the private, as opposed to the public, sector.

Side by side with searching for substitute material, the office resumed the accessioning of public records and has since been extending its services to an increasing number of public departments and offices. The normal sources from which the Public Record Office of Ireland now derives its accessions can be summarised as:

  1. Offices of the departments of state forming the Irish central government.
  2. Probate or testamentary registries.
  3. The Circuit Court and all courts of superior jurisdiction including the Supreme Court.
  4. Parishes of the Church of Ireland, in so far as relates to pre-1871 records.
  5. Private persons and bodies who present or sell materials.

The cumulative effect of the increasing accessioning activity has led to the filling of over 38,000 linear feet of shelving, and present holdings are larger in volume than at any time since the foundation of the office, one hundred and thirteen years ago.

Not all the records received from the sources outlined will be of interest to the family historian or the genealogist. It is unlikely, for example, that records relating to the building of harbors, records occurring in the accessions from the Office of Public Works, will be held to be of interest. On the other hand, any record which names individual persons will be of potential utility to the family historian, and despite our archival history, there are more than several millions of such records in our custody. To describe all of these records even by classes and in the briefest manner would not be possible within the confines of a single communication, and therefore, some measure of selection must be adopted. Accordingly attention will be drawn to the records of family history or genealogical interest which are found in the Public Record Office, if not uniquely and exclusively then at least to a pre-eminent degree.

As can be readily understood, no single repository has the absolute monopoly of the Irish archival heritage. For example, the Public Record Office is the official place of deposit for wills and other testamentary papers, but many other repositories also have wills - - the Genealogical Office, Dublin Castle; the National Library of Ireland; Trinity College Library, Dublin; the Society of Friends; the Registry of Deeds; and of course the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. The student of Irish family history will find a fuller list of potential sources in the Index to Manuscript Materials for the History of Irish Civilization by Dr. R. J. Hayes, and in the two volumes by Margaret Dickson Falley, Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research - - A Guide to the Genealogical Records, Methods and Sources in Ireland published in 1961 and 1962. This pioneering work still remains the best single guide to the material relevant to the study of Irish family history. No doubt, with the passage of the years, changes have taken place, and in presenting the account of the public records, attention will be drawn to accessions since the year of publication and to improved finding aids.

Other published aids to the contents of the Public Record Office of Ireland should be consulted by the students engaged in research into Irish family history. The lists of accessions printed in the reports of the Deputy Keeper should be examined closely for relevant records, particularly numbers 55 to 59 as they indicate the material which survived the destruction of 1922, or which has been acquired since then. The student should also read the Short Guide to the Public Record Office of Ireland prepared by Margaret C. Griffith, who was deputy keeper from 1956 to 1971 and who addressed the first World Conference on Records in 1969 on “How to Use the Records of the Republic of Ireland.”

What follows is to be taken as additional to the information contained in these published sources. It does not include information about the resources of a small number of repositories not mentioned by Mrs. Falley, or not in existence at the date of the publication of her work, but which should be brought within the scope of any inquiry into Irish family history. They are –

  1. Irish Land Commission, Merrion Street, Dublin.
  2. Cork Archives Institute.
  3. Dublin Corporation Archives.
  4. Mid-West Regional Archives, Limerick.
  5. Archives Department, University College, Dublin.
  6. National Trust Archive (for architectural records).
  7. Garda Siochana Museum and Archives (for police records).
  8. Irish Labour History Society Archives (for trade union records).

With these prefatory remarks, it is now proposed to speak about a small selection of the relevant record sources in the Public Record Office and to illustrate the sources by showing some samples from the classes mentioned.

If asked to select one class of records as ideal for the purposes of studying family history, the population or census returns would be a good choice. In the Irish context, the censuses were based on the family as the unit, and consequently they provide ready-made what the family historian would otherwise have to compile step-by-step from a number of records. Usually the census returns record the names and ages of all members of the family (and in some cases the religious persuasion) and the relationship of each to the head of the family. Not only are these details of direct relevance, but they are a sound foundation of authentic information on which other inquiries can be based. Unlike many other nineteenth century sources which record Irish people of wealth, property, social standing, and other distinctions, the census returns are all-embracing, and, therefore, as well as recording what were called ‘the upper classes,’ they include the poor, the men of no property, the laborers and the small farmers, so many of whom were destined to emigrate to the shores of North America. There is, of course, a difficulty in using them for family history because they were collected and are arranged on a precise territorial basis—parish by parish, townland by townland in rural areas, and street by street in urban areas. Indeed it may be apposite here to make a general observation on the feasibility of helping those who cannot come to the office.

Given that so much of Irish records are kept by county, parish, and townland arrangement, it is exceedingly difficult for the archivist to come to the assistance of correspondents who cannot provide precise information about the families or individuals under study. Apart from the loss of records, this is the greatest single obstacle both archivists and researchers meet in the line of genealogical research. To take an extreme case, the archivist could only provide a comprehensive answer for the correspondent totally unaware of the area of family residence if he examined census returns for 3,751 distinct divisions or, in the case of other classes, records for 2,428 civil parishes which in turn have 60,462 subdivisions called townlands. Most genealogical inquiries lack this information vital for a successful search and look to the archivist to provide it.

At present there is no simple solution to this dilemma. The researcher must pursue his or her studies to identify the location and thereby limit the search to manageable areas, preferably parishes.

In the future, with the development of computer facilities to provide overall indexes to family names, the problem may be reduced in magnitude, but, in the meantime, the onus must be carried by the researcher. This is true of records both in the Public Record Office and elsewhere in Ireland. For example, the General Register Office, Custom House, Dublin, had records of all births, marriages, and deaths from 1864, and of Protestant marriages from 1845, but to ensure a successful search, details of location must be given, as well as names and dates, particularly in the case of prevalent names like Gallagher in Donegal or McCarthy in Cork.

The earliest census record in the Public Record Office is dated 1749. Compiled by direction of the bishop of Elphin, Edward Synge, 1740-1762, it covers fifty-two parishes in County Roscommon, thirteen parishes in neighboring Sligo to the north, and nine parishes in County Galway to the south. Under divisions of the parishes roughly equivalent to modern townlands, the census records the Christian name and surname of the head of the family, and in many cases those of the spouse as well. It gives the numbers (but not the names) of children, distinguishing between those under and over fourteen years of age, and the number of servants, distinguishing between male and female. In all cases, the religious affiliations are shown, distinguishing between Protestant and Papist (or Roman Catholic). It is of course a unique source for the demographic study of the area, but it must be consulted in all cases by historians in search of families who lived in the parishes of County Roscommon or neighboring parishes in the mid-eighteenth century.

The Public Record Office also had, in part, the returns of another eighteenth century census, namely the 1766 Religious Census. This census was taken following a resolution passed on 5 March 1766 in the Irish House of Lords. The resolution desired the archbishops and bishops of the Established or Protestant Church of Ireland to direct their parish ministers to return a list of families residing in their parishes and to distinguish which of the families were Protestant and which were Papist. For the taking of this census, taken on foot, no single or standard form was prescribed (a standard form was usual in nineteenth century state censuses) and consequently the resulting returns vary considerably in detail or in lack of detail. Some returns record the Christian and family names living in the parish and some merely the numbers of families of each religion, Protestant and Catholic, living in the parish as a whole. Not all of the returns which have survived are in the Public Record Office, but among those deposited in that office, there are returns which contain Christian and family names of heads of households in 174 parishes. The bulk of the parishes for which there are family names occur in three dioceses—67 in Cashel and Emly (largely modern County Tipperary), 52 in Cloyne (modern County Cork), and thirty in Armagh (modern County Armagh and Louth).

The first of the two illustrations for this census, that for Creggan parish, which extends across the present political border from County Armagh into County Louth, gives only the names of the heads of households. The second illustration, that for the parish of Clonpriest in County Cork, gives as well as the names of the householders and account of the other persons (generally children) residing with them. The 196 householders in the parish represent a total population of 845 persons. Again, as in the cases of the Elphin diocesan census, the genealogical utility of the returns is obvious for research into any families who took their origin or lived in the areas covered by the surviving returns. Mention should be made here that returns for parishes in Counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, Derry, and Tyrone are preserved in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

The first national or government census taken in Ireland was for 1813, but, unfortunately, none of the original parish returns of any use for family history have survived. The next government census was taken in 1821. This census records the name of each head of household, the names of others in the same house, and their relationship to him. it also records ages and occupations, numbers of storeys in the house, and, in some cases, the number of acres held. These returns are preserved in the Public Record Office for fourteen parishes in County Cavan, two parishes in County Fermanagh, eight in County Galway, nine in County Offaly (formerly King’s County) and eighteen parishes in County Meath. After 1821, a census covering the whole of Ireland was taken at ten-year intervals until 1911.

The only surviving part of the 1831 census is confined to parishes in County Londonderry, but as an indication of its value, it should be noted that it extends to forty-five separate volumes. In passing, it must be stressed that as well as the surviving census records described here by areas covered, there are in the office many single returns, or copies or extracts from them, occurring among deposited private records.

Apart from fragments and returns for individuals, only one complete set of returns from the 1841 census survived-the returns for the parish of Killeshandra, County Cavan. In these returns, the details for each named person show age, sex, relation to head of family, marital status and year of the marriage, occupation, education (ability to read and write), and place of origin. A novel feature of the 1841 census, which makes its loss all the more to be regretted, is that it included similar details for members of the family absent on census day and information on members who had died since the previous census taken on 6 June 1831.

The returns for 1851 included details about persons absent and those residing with the family who had died since 6 June 1841, showing the cause of death and time of year. Otherwise, the details were as in 1841, but with the addition of information on deaf, dumb and blind members of the household. Of the 1851 returns, the only surviving areas represented are one townland in the parish of Drumkeeran, County Fermanagh, and a number of townlands in thirteen parishes in County Antrim, making twenty-three volumes in all.

Census returns were not preserved for 1861, 1871, 1881, and 1891. The decision to destroy them was made by the administrators and not by archivists, whose influence, one can only surmise, was not strong enough to insist on the preservation of such a wealth of detail for family historians, sociologists, and demographers, to mention but a few. As a result of the destruction of the returns of four consecutive censuses and of the 1922 destruction, the earliest surviving returns covering the whole of the 32 counties of Ireland are those for 1901. Happily they have been deposited in the Public Record Office, and a complete finding aid, based on the 3,751 district electoral divisions (the unit used in the making, taking, and arranging of the returns), has been prepared. The original census returns are open to the public, and they are among the records most frequently called for in the public reading room. Microfilm copies are available in the library of the Genealogical Society of Utah, but it must be pointed out that the microfilming was completed before the returns were checked and repacked in their original order of district electoral divisions to which the present set of finding aids corresponds.

The details recorded in the 1901 census are—

  1. Names, with relationship to head of the family.
  2. Religious profession.
  3. Education (reading and writing ability).
  4. Age and sex.
  5. Rank, profession, or occupation.
  6. Marital status.
  7. Place of origin (county in Ireland, country if born elsewhere).
  8. Language (ability to speak Irish and English).
  9. Details of disabled person (deaf, dumb, blind, imbecile, idiot, or lunatic).

It must be emphasized that the returns cover the entire country, both north and south, in the political as well as the geographical sense. Its utility for the study of any given family as it was in 1901, is obvious, as it shows the family unit as it then was, the occupation followed by each member of the family, his or her ability to read and write, and ability to speak one or more of the two languages in use, English and Irish. The 1901 census information can be used for studies of the family in earlier years, thanks to the recording of the age of each person in the returns. Using the ages shown, the members of the family alive at a given year, say 1850, can be derived from the returns and also their place of origin (by a county at least). Indeed, given the relative steadfastness of the majority of the rural Irish in their native area, the census may indicate a family connection with the address given in the 1901 return stretching back possibly to 1841 and beyond.

It is possible that brothers and sisters of those who emigrated in the years of the Great Famine and later years may be found in the 1901 census returns. For the study of families who emigrated, it may be essential to establish the family identification or the link between those who left and those who remained. In a sense, those who stayed at home may be regarded as the continuing extension of the original family root. The census returns for 1911 are also available for inspection in the Public Record Office.

So far, stress has been laid on the census returns as the ideal record for the study of family history in Ireland. While it may be discouraging for the researcher to find that so little has survived before 1901 and that even then difficulties stand in the way of easy utilization where the exact location is unknown, there is some consolation in the fact that alternative sources, though less complete, exist. These sources, described in the publication cited, will be indicated briefly, highlighting points not already made with appropriate emphasis.

Among the alternative sources are the records of the Valuation Office which have been deposited in the Public Record Office. Up to the nineteenth century, the administration of each county was in the hands of the Grand Jury which imposed a local tax, known as county cess, on householders to finance its work. The incidence of this form of taxation was far from satisfactory, and attempts were made in the first quarter of the century to find a remedy for the defects, discrepancies, and inequalities.

Arising from these attempts, an act of 1826 authorized the making of the first valuation. This work was continued and extended by amending legislation, and the 1852 Act provided the basis for the valuation of lands and buildings, rural and urban, still in use in modern Ireland. The results of this valuation, known as the Primary Valuation, or more familarly as Griffith’s Valuation, were printed. Though copies are available in many archives and libraries at home in Ireland, it should be pointed out that those in the Public Record Office constitute a full set for the whole country comprising thirty-two counties. The great merit of the printed valuation for the family historian is that it can be regarded as a partial census, recording the Christian names and surnames of each occupier of lands or houses linked to and exact address, which could well be the key to open other research possibilities.

Among the records received from the Valuation Office which may be useful for family history are the manuscript field books which, while being primarily concerned with type of soil prevailing in the townlands surveyed as a means ofdetermining the valuation of the land,also record houses over £ value and the names of their occupiers. Another classof Valuation Office records worthexamining by the family historian are thehouse books which, besides the occupiersname, give, for rural townlands, information about the nature of thebuilding (generally the dwelling house),its quality, measurements, and the amountof the valuation determined.

A further Valuation Office record class,the Quarto books, are worthy ofexamination as they record for houses inurban areas details such as names ofoccupiers, descriptions of the tenements,estimated value, rent, and finalvaluation. Recent accessions from the Valuation Office contain books in whichappeals against fixed valuation wereentered, and in them changes in the namesof occupiers are recorded. All in all,the family historian should be remiss ifhe did not consult the printed PrimaryValuation records of the Valuation Officenow deposited in the Public RecordOffice. There are 4,578 field books,4,262 house books, and 470 record oftenure books among them, to all of whichfinding aids are available in the readingroom.

Continuing to illustrate the sourcesalternative to the census returns, the researcher must be guided to the TitheApplotment books, 1823 to 1837.Opposition to the payment of tithes,endemic in Ireland since the Reformation,made them payable by the Catholicmajority of the rural population to theclergy of the Protestant minority,heightened in the first quarter of thenineteenth century. The first statutoryattempt to improve the system of tithepayment was made in 1823, when an actauthorized two commissioners to determinethe total composition or moneys to bepaid to the tithe owners by each parish.The act imposed on the commissioners theobligation of recording the proportionpayable by each occupier of land asvalued for the purposes of the act. In1832, tithe compositions were madeobligatory, and an act in 1837 convertedtithe payments into rent-charges payableby the occupier to the landlord with therent. The tithe applotment books,compiled on a parish basis, give detailsof the occupiers of land liable totithes, townland by townland.

While the primary purpose of the tithe applotment books was to record under the parish and townland the amount of moneypayable by the occupier, they haveacquired such a high degree of secondaryimportance that they represent the recordclass, after the census returns, mostfrequently consulted in the Public RecordOffice. They are so valuable because thelists of occupiers of land in them are inthe nature of a census of heads offamilies in a period (1823 to 1837) for which the census returns (except inlimited areas) are not extant. Theirvalue to the researcher is furtherenhanced when it is noted that the tithe applotment books relate to the period offrom ten to twenty years before the Great Famine which led to major changes in manyparishes due to death and emigration. Tofacilitate research into the TitheApplotment books and into the PrimaryValuation books, a county by county index has been compiled to the surnames in both these record classes.

Among the other record groups in theoffice which contain personal names on acountrywide basis, mention must be made of the quit Rent Office records. These records cover nearly the three centuriesafter the inception of Quit rents inIrelandwhich were acreable and perpetualrents payable on lands granted or decreedin pursuance of the acts of Settlementand Explanation in 1662 and 1665. Pride of place must go to the Books of Survey and Distribution of which there aretwenty large folio volumes covering thewhole country. In them are to be foundin parallel columns the proprietorship offorfeited lands at three distinctperiods—1641 when rebellion broke out,1662 to 1665 after the restoration ofCharles II, and 1703, by which year weresold all the lands possessed by KingJames II or by persons convicted orattainted of treason from 1688 to 1701.Thus, in these books can be seen the changes in landownership over a period ofsixty years involving a radical overturnof ancient ownership. The familyhistorian will find in them a record ofall the proprietors as they were in 1641and as they were displaced by newerowners. Again it must be stressed thatthey are arranged on a basis of parishand lesser divisions of land, making searches difficult where the area inwhich a particular family lived is notknown.

In recent times, the Public Record Officeof Ireland has been concerned with theappraisal, accessioning, arranging, andlisting of records held by the moderndepartments of state and by the officesforming parts of them. Some of thesemodern departments and offices originatedin the nineteenth century, and they mayhold specialized records of use to thefamily historian and genealogist. Amongthe records received from the Departmentof Education, for example, there aresalary books which, as well as recording the amounts paid, show the names and the status of the teachers and their schooladdresses. Another example would be found in the records of the ModernMercantile Marine Office to which havebeen added the crew lists and agreements(1865 to 1902) formerly in the custody ofthe Registrar General of Shipping andSeamen, United Kingdom; they could besearched for references to members offamilies who were connected withseafaring.

The position in regard to census materialin Ireland can be described asfragmentary until 1901. Under thecircumstances, the Irish church recordsof the various religiousdenominations—Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterians to mention themost numerous of them—must be ofunparalleled value. The Public RecordOffice of Ireland has statutoryresponsibilities for the records of onlyone of the denominations—the Church of Irelandor Protestant records. Theparish registers containing entries ofbaptisms, marriages and burials prior to1 January 1871 were declared in 1875 and1876 to be public records. By 1922,records from 1,006 parishes had beenaccessioned by the office, but,unfortunately, only four of the registerssurvived the destruction of that year.Nevertheless, records from 637 parishesescaped that fate through the fact that they were then in local custody, and, ingeneral, they continue to be held by thelocal incumbents.

Since 1922, the office has been enabledto make transcripts and photocopies from55 parishes. At present the office isengaged in making microfilm copies of all surviving parochial registries and vestrybooks. To date copying has extended to646 items from 207 parishes in the uniteddioceses of Cork, Limerick, Tuam, Cashel(except Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin) and Meath (excluding Kildare). It is theintention to continue the microfilmingproject and, by adhering to internationalstandards, ensure that the most legibleand durable copies be made. Uponcompletion of the project, copies on microfilm of all surviving pre-1871Churchof Irelandrecords will be in thecustody of the office.

The extent to which these films can bemade available for research into family history will depend on the outcome ofnegotiations with the church authorities.In the meantime it will not be possibleto accede to any request to deposit copyfilms elsewhere, and researchers willhave to apply to the Public Record Office for information about the eighty parishes for which original records or transcriptsor photocopies on paper are held, and directly to the local incumbent in allother cases, using the annual IrishChurch Directory for names and addresses.

In regard to finding aids, there isavailable in the Public Record Office a general index of all Church of Irelandregisters of baptisms, marriages, andburials. It gives the years covered in each register, and shows what surviveseither in the office (in original or copy form) or in local custody, and whatperished in 1922. An index to allrecords microfilmed, transcribed, orphotocopied in the office is beingmaintained.

Though the interest of the Public RecordOffice has by historical circumstancesbeing confined to Church of Irelandrecords, it may be of assistance to thoseinterested in family history to statethat a somewhat similar arrangementexists in regard to Catholic parochialregisters which have been microfilmed bythe National Library of Ireland: the films are not for public use in thelibrary, unless the ecclesiasticalcustodians, generally parish priests,give their consent to this course.

Family historians and genealogists arefully aware of the value of wills,administrations, and supporting papers.The Public Record Office of Ireland wascharged from its inception with the dutyof acquiring all the testamentary recordsin public custody. This responsibilitycontinues to be discharged by the officein relation to 26 of the 32 counties ofIreland, and by the Public Record Officeof North Ireland in relation to the sixcounties within its jurisdiction. Atpresent it is estimated that the numberof originals and copies of wills and administrations in the custody of thePublic Record Office of Ireland exceeds700,000. With the exception of willsproved in the Principal (or Central)Registry before 1904,[1] practically all the wills survive from the year 1858, andthey can be traced through annualtestamentary calendars (listed indictionary order) and through theconsolidated index for 1858 to 1875, allavailable in the reading room.

From 1536 until 1857, the proving ofwills and the granting of administrationswas a matter for the Established Church either through the Prerogative Court ofthe Archbishop of Armagh or through thediocesan courts. Few of these recordsdeposited in the Public Record Officesurvived the destruction of 1922. Nevertheless, much of the loss has beenmitigated by existence of abstracts inthe custody of the office. Pride ofplace must be given to the 241 volumes ofgenealogical abstracts compiled by SirWilliam Betham. Acquired by purchase in1935, they include abstracts of 37,000wills proved in the Prerogative Court andin the diocesan court of Kildare (82vols) in the period from 1536 to 1826, aswell as abstracts of 5,000 administra­tions for the period from 1595 to 1800(56 vols). Betham also abstractedPrerogative and Dublin marriage licences,1629 to 1824 (74 vols).

Abstracts from public records made byGertrude Thrift before the destruction of1922 exceed 3,300 in number and includewills proved in the Prerogative anddiocesan courts, marriage licence bondsand grants. In 1939 the office purchasedthe genealogical abstracts made frompublic records before 1922 by ArthurTenison Groves, giving information takenfrom wills, court records, and deeds.[2] Also acquired were the notes of Philip Crossle, who also abstracted, before1922, records relating to a variety offamilies dating from 1661. Other privatecollections containing abstracts ofpublic records made before 1922 areGreene MSS, Jennings Notebooks (DKR 59,pp. 50-84), Grove-White MSS (mostly extracts from parish registries in CountyCork), and Sadleir collection (wills 1672to 1868). Two official collections ofabstract/extract material from willsremain to be mentioned. Abstracts ofPrerogative and diocesan wills are to befound in the Irish will registers 1828 to1839 and in the abstract books of theOffice of Charitable Donations andBequests now deposited in the PublicRecord Office of Ireland.

The Public Record Office of Ireland has as one of its main tasks to receive therecords of the courts, and by 1922 it hadaccumulated a vast amount of documentsrelating to the courts in Chancery,Exchequer, Kings Bench, and CommonPleas. While practically all of theoriginal records perished in 1922, anumber of books of entry and transcriptssurvived, including the following which may be profitably consulted for families involved in law-suits:

1. Chancery bill books1633 to 1640 & 1660 to 1877

2. Chancery decrees, repositories1537 to 1836(8 vols)

3. Chancery order books1699 to 1788 (gapped)34 vols

4. Equity Exchequer bill books1674 to 1850

5. Exchequer decrees, repositories1624 to 180423 vols

6. Inquisitions, Chancery15 vols

7. Inquisitions, Exchequer17 vols

8. Deeds and wills in inquisitions42 vols

9. Chancery pleadings1570 to 16305,486 items

Among the greatest losses were theoriginal patent and close rolls ofChancery, but the loss has been mitigated in regard to them and to court records ingeneral through gifts by solicitors andothers, and through the accessioning ofabstracts and transcripts of theoriginals made in the office before 1922. In this connection special mention should be made of the manuscripts of John LodgeKeeper of the Rolls (1692 to 1774).[3] Among these manuscripts, which are in thePublic Record Office, are his Records ofthe Rolls comprising thirteen volumes andcontaining abstracts of enrollments onthe patent and close rolls and on Act ofSettlement, Commission of Grace, andTrustees Deeds rolls. His manuscriptsalso include lists of converts with their additions and place of residence, 1709 to1772. These lists are of special value because of the relative paucity ofgenealogical material of recordsgenerally for the eighteenth century.

For that period the indexes to theCatholic Qualification rolls, part of thesurviving Chancery records, should beconsulted. They cover all the provincesfor 1778 to 1796, Leinster for 1797, andMunsterfor 1797 to 1801. A transcriptof the allied lists of 1,526 Catholicstestifying allegiance to the King ofEngland under an oath prescribed bystatute, 1775 to 1776, is printed in theDeputy Keeper's Report 59, pp. 50-84.

Before passing on to other types ofrecords, it must be pointed out that members of the legal profession continueto donate court documents singly and inlarge numbers to the Public Record Officeof Ireland. In some cases, the entire holdings accummulated over a long span ofyears are donated, and there isinevitably a delay in making the findingaid for readers. The research student should be aware of this delay and shouldtherefore check, from time to time, onthe availability of new finding aids.

The surviving records of the Clerks ofthe Crown and Peace commence in general about 1880, but there are some survivalswhich could give names of interest to thefamily historian. There are registers oftrees planted in which the names andaddresses of land occupiers are given forfourteen counties, dating from 1767 to 1919. In connection with elections, names occur also in the freeholdersregisters and papers for the nineteenthcentury, but there is a much largercollection of such records in the State Paper Office where there are lists withnames of freeholders or voters or jurorsfor every county except Armagh. These records date from 1830 to 1852. In theVoters List for Dublin County, 1843, over3,300 names, addresses, and occupationsare given, while in County Wexford, over3,600 names of freeholders andleaseholders are recorded.

Documents arising out of the arrangements between landlords and their tenants are always of interest to the family historian. Of particular value are rentals which the Public Record Office has in considerable numbers for estates in different parts of the country. With an exception to be noted later, they are not systematically collected or received but come in generally as parts of private donations. The researcher must therefore inquire about the particular area. His starting place should be the exception mentioned, namely the rentals of the Encumbered and Landed Estates Court which was established in 1849 to facilitate the disposal of encumbered estates in post-Famine Ireland.

It sold estates at the request of the encumbrancer or the owner and gave an absolute title to the purchaser. The powers of the Court were extended in 1858 when it became the Landed Estates Court,and in 1877 it became part of the Chancery division of the High Court. The records deposited in connection with the sales have survived in part, and where not, may be examined in a damaged condition in the Public Records Office.The most accessible records of these courts are the printed rentals, which were really prospectuses for the sale of individual estates, with engravings in some cases showing the house and gardens fronting it. These rentals, which comprise 148 volumes, 1849 to 1885, in the O'Brien set, and 90 volumes, 1849 to 1915, in the Quit Rent Office set, generally include the names of tenants and the legal terms of their tenure,rents payable, and maps showing their holdings. There is in the office a territorial index covering the whole country which can be used to determine whether or not there is a rental for any particular parish or townland. If the exact location of the family holding can be learned from this source, these rentals could prove to be an extremely useful tool to open up other search possibilities.

Each year the Public Record Office ofIreland receives documents not only from official, but also from private sources.The total amount of material acquiredannually by gift or purchase varies insize as do the individual acquisitionswhich may range from single items to thetotal surviving records of a firm, afamily, or a society. To illustrate thescope of these private sector documents,reference will be made to a few donationsto the office. The firm of solicitors,McMahon and Tweedy, Dublin, presented tothe office a collection of documentswhich include five volumes of maps ofestates in counties Cavan, Clare,Donegal, Dublin, Kildare, and Limerickdated 1756 to 1834. These maps whichpredate the first Ordinance Surveymapping of Ireland are accompanied byreference sheets giving the names ofproprietors or principal tenants. Onepresentation to the office in 1964 to1965 of family papers extends toapproximately 20,000 items covering theyears 1652 to 1898. They are the papersof the Blake family, Ballyglunin, County Galway, one member of this family was amember of Parliament for Galway town inthe early part of the nineteenth century.The papers include wills, marriagesettlements (1672 to 1830), rentals,deeds, maps and plans, accounts, andcorrespondence. Also in the collectionare forty documents relating toparliamentary elections, and they includepoll books and lists of electors, 1812 to1854. As an example of a large accessionin recent years from a private concern,the records of the Protestant OrphanSociety may be mentioned. The Societyprovided support for children at leastone of whose parents was dead and one amember of the Church of Ireland.Consisting of reports, minutes,correspondence, accounts, and records ofindividual orphans, 1828 to 1973, thedeposit includes photographs of some ofthem.

To conclude this short section on recordsfrom private sources, the survey ofbusiness records, initiated in 1970 bythe Irish Manuscript Commission with thecooperation of the Public Record Officeand still in progress, must be mentioned.Though concentrating on records relatingto commercial enterprises, it hasresulted in deposits in the office offamily records from many different partsof the country. A few deposits may becited as representative examples. Thepapers of the Langrishe family ofKnocktopher Abbey, County Kilkenny, rangein date from 1639 to 1886 and includerentals, marriage settlements, wills,leases, and conveyances of land anddocuments in court cases. The papers ofthe Nesbitt and Burrowes families and their estates in County Cavan havesimilar documents, the oldest of which isa copy letters patent of 1665 granting 3,849 acres of land in that county toWilliam Cosby.

It is time to conclude this introductionto the records likely to be of use for the study of Irish families. Much hashad to be compressed, much emitted, andtime will bring new accessions and new finding aids. Despite its shortcomings,acutely apparent to the archivist, it ishoped that this account will be acceptedas a signpost to guide the researcher tothe full resources for family historywhich can be found and freely used by allon equal terms in the Public RecordOffice of Ireland.



[1] See Deputy Keeper’s Report, 55:25-31 for a complete list of surviving records.

[2] Part also deposited in PRONI (see Margaret Dixon Falley Irish and Scotch-Irish Ancestral Research—A Guide to the Genealogical Records, Methods and Sources in Ireland, 1961.)

[3] Deputy Keeper’s Report, 55:116-22.