LOOKING ONLINE: IRELAND’S REGISTRY OF DEEDS
Chris Paton looks at a major Irish research resource now accessible on FamilySearch
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.
STRAIGHT FORWARD SYSTEM The
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