Chris Pa­ton looks at a ma­jor Ir­ish re­search re­source now ac­ces­si­ble on Fam­i­lySearch

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One of the most im­por­tant fam­ily his­tory re­sources for pre-civil reg­is­tra­tion Ir­ish re­search, but per­haps the most un­der­utilised, is the Registry of Deeds. Whilst its records con­cern only a small part of the pop­u­la­tion, when an en­try does di­rectly con­cern an an­ces­tor, it can be a pot of gold in terms of its rev­e­la­tions. Where fam­ily mem­bers are not named, it can still pro­vide fas­ci­nat­ing con­tex­tual in­for­ma­tion about an area where they once lived, and the deal­ings of landown­ers from whom prop­er­ties may have been leased.

Fol­low­ing the Cromwellian and Wil­liamite cam­paigns of the 17th cen­tury, and the mas­sive seizures of land from Ir­ish Catholics, the Registry of Deeds was cre­ated in 1708 as a means to help Protes­tant set­tlers ad­her­ing to the Church of Ire­land to reg­is­ter ti­tle to the lands to which they had come into pos­ses­sion. By the late 18th and early 19th cen­turies, Pres­by­te­ri­ans and Ro­man Catholics were be­com­ing bet­ter rep­re­sented within its pages, fol­low­ing the re­lax­ation of the dis­crim­i­na­tory Pe­nal Laws and the im­prove­ments in ac­cess to prop­erty own­er­ship. Amongst the many trans­ac­tions the reg­is­ter holds are de­tails of deeds con­vey­ing in­ter­ests in prop­er­ties from trans­ac­tions such as sales, mort­gages, leases, mar­riage set­tle­ments and wills. De­spite the fact that the sys­tem of reg­is­tra­tion was not com­pul­sory, with many such ex­changes and agree­ments never recorded, it nev­er­the­less re­mains in­cred­i­bly use­ful for both fam­ily his­tory and prop­erty based re­search.


reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem in­tro­duced was fairly straight­for­ward. A deed con­cern­ing a prop­erty trans­ac­tion would be signed by both par­ties to the agree­ment, and then wit­nessed. For those in­tend­ing to reg­is­ter such an agree­ment, a copy of this deed was then cre­ated, called a ‘me­mo­rial’, which was sub­se­quently ver­i­fied by a Jus­tice of the Peace and again signed by a wit­ness. Once com­pleted, the ar­range­ment could then be recorded into the

Per­haps the most use­ful find­ing aid is the Land In­dex, a use­ful means to pin­point a spe­cific fam­ily of in­ter­est

reg­is­ter, held in Dublin, and the orig­i­nal memo­ri­als filed away for safe­keep­ing. Vol­umes of memo­ri­als tran­scrip­tions were kept for easy ac­cess, and it these that we can to­day ac­cess for our re­search.

The Registry it­self is not the eas­i­est to use, with lim­ited in­dex­ing, but it can yield re­sults with a lit­tle per­se­ver­ance. There are two main in­dexes avail­able to act as search­ing aids. Which­ever in­dex you choose to use, you need to lo­cate the rel­e­vant en­try, note down the Tran­script Book vol­ume num­ber, the page num­ber and the num­ber of the rel­e­vant me­mo­rial, be­fore you can con­sult the orig­i­nal en­try for the deed of in­ter­est.

The first of the find­ing aids, and per­haps the most use­ful, is the Land In­dex, which in­dexes deeds un­der the names of the town­lands in which a prop­erty is lo­cated, the town­land be­ing the small­est sub­di­vi­sion of a par­ish, and there­fore a use­ful means to pin­point a spe­cific fam­ily of in­ter­est. From 1708 to 1828 the Land In­dex is ar­ranged by county, with each vol­ume ar­rang­ing town­lands in al­pha­bet­i­cal sec­tions. How­ever, town­lands be­gin­ning with a com­mon let­ter are not ar­ranged al­pha­bet­i­cally within the sec­tion for that let­ter, mean­ing that you may need to look through the en­tire sec­tion to find the town­land of in­ter­est – for ex­am­ple, Bun­car­rigg may well be listed be­fore Bal­ly­ma­cushan. Along­side the town­land name will then be a short ref­er­ence, pro­vid­ing the name of the grantor and grantee, the vol­ume num­ber, page num­ber and the rel­e­vant me­mo­rial num­ber. Note that from 1828, the county vol­umes are fur­ther di­vided by bar­onies; in ad­di­tion, there are also sep­a­rate in­dexes for what were known as ‘cor­po­ra­tion towns’ (such as Athlone, Car­rick­fer­gus, Sligo, Tralee, and Wex­ford) and cities, with en­tries ar­ranged by street.

The sec­ond find­ing aid is the Gran­tors In­dex, which works well for rare sur­names, but which is more time con­sum­ing for those with com­mon names such as Smith. The in­dex en­tries from 1708 to 1833 are struc­tured in

al­pha­bet­i­cal order, and pro­vide the grantor’s name, the rel­e­vant vol­ume num­ber, page num­ber and me­mo­rial ref­er­ence, with­out any de­scrip­tion of the prop­erty in ques­tion. From 1833 on­wards, the county for the prop­erty in ques­tion is recorded. There is un­for­tu­nately no in­dex to grantees, but an on­line data­base cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion at http:// irishdeedsin­dex.net is cur­rently re­dress­ing that par­tic­u­lar re­stric­tion, al­though it will be some time be­fore the project is com­pleted.

The Registry of Deeds and the Land Registry can be ac­cessed at the Prop­erty Reg­is­tra­tion Author­ity (PRA) in Dublin ( www.prai. ie). The author­ity pro­vides a re­search ser­vice for all Registry of Deeds trans­ac­tions reg­is­tered af­ter 1833, but prior to this year, re­search needs to be car­ried out by ap­pli­cants them­selves. From 1970, the records are in­dexed elec­tron­i­cally. Fol­low­ing the Par­ti­tion of Ire­land in the early 1920s, a sep­a­rate se­ries of Registry of Deeds memo­ri­als has been kept in North­ern Ire­land. For re­search pur­poses, the all-Ire­land Registry of Deeds memo­ri­als from 1708 to 1922 are freely avail­able to con­sult on mi­cro­film at the Pub­lic Record Of­fice of North­ern Ire­land ( www.ni­di­rect. gov.uk/proni), as are pa­per in­dexes from 1923–1989 for North­ern Ir­ish reg­is­tered en­tries post-Par­ti­tion.

If you can­not make it eas­ily to Dublin or Belfast, how­ever, the ma­jor­ity of these same mi­cro­films, cov­er­ing the pe­riod from 1708 to 1929, are now avail­able to view on the Fam­i­lySearch web­site. The col­lec­tion, en­ti­tled ‘Tran­scripts of memo­ri­als of deeds, con­veyances and wills, 1708–1929’, is ac­ces­si­ble on the Fam­i­lySearch cat­a­logue page di­rectly at https://fam­i­lysearch. org/search/cat­a­log/185720. This lists all the rel­e­vant mi­cro­films avail­able, start­ing with those con­tain­ing the Gran­tors In­dexes, ar­ranged in al­pha­bet­i­cal order within con­cur­rent chrono­log­i­cal pe­ri­ods, fol­lowed by the Land In­dexes ar­ranged in a sim­i­lar order. The mi­cro­films for the deeds them­selves are the fi­nal records cat­a­logued on the

If you can­not make it to Dublin or Belfast, the ma­jor­ity of these mi­cro­films are avail­able to view on Fam­i­lySearch

page, ar­ranged both chrono­log­i­cally and by vol­ume num­ber.


Most of the records can be viewed on your com­puter, by click­ing on the cam­era icon at the end of the rel­e­vant list­ing; once viewed, rel­e­vant en­tries can be down­loaded and saved to your com­puter, or printed off. It should be noted that the black-and­white mi­cro­film­ing that took place was not per­fect, with parts of some vol­umes dif­fi­cult to read, with poor crop­ping, and in some in­stances, il­leg­i­bil­ity, due to the poor qual­ity of the orig­i­nal source ma­te­rial. A small num­ber of mi­cro­films have also yet to be digi­tised – this will be in­di­cated by a small icon of a mi­cro­film at the end of the cat­a­logue en­try. If this is the case, a copy of the mi­cro­film in ques­tion can still be re­quested for de­liv­ery to your lo­cal Fam­i­lySearch fam­ily his­tory cen­tre.

Fi­nally, note that in 1892 a new Land Registry was also es­tab­lished in Ire­land, util­is­ing a record of map­based land regis­tra­tions. Fol­low­ing the Par­ti­tion of the is­land, this sys­tem has been main­tained via sep­a­rate reg­is­ters in both the Repub­lic of Ire­land and North­ern Ire­land. Both the Land Registry and Registry of Deeds sys­tems are still in use to this day, but it is the in­ten­tion that in the fu­ture the Registry of Deeds will be phased out in both coun­tries, with all prop­erty trans­ac­tions solely recorded on their re­spec­tive Land Registries.

For the Land Registry in the Repub­lic of Ire­land visit www. land­di­rect.ie, which pro­vides de­tails on how to ac­cess the pub­lic reg­is­ter for a fee, as well as a use­ful in­ter­ac­tive map to al­low you to search for prop­er­ties. For North­ern Ire­land, visit the Depart­ment of Fi­nance web­site at www. fi­nance-ni.gov.uk/top­ics/ lan­dreg­is­tra­tion.

Dublin in the mid-18th cen­tury. In some cases the Registry of Deeds can pro­vide use­ful in­for­ma­tion about land own­er­ship in this pe­riod

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