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Finding Your Irish Ancestor, the Poor Tenant Farmer!

(In honour of St. Patrick's Day this week I will be reposting a series on Irish Genealogy. I began this series last year and will be adding to this series in the weeks to come. However, this week we will take a look at how to start your  Irish genealogy along with some of the best websites on the internet today for searching your Irish Genealogy.)

For the most part our Irish ancestors were poor tenant farmers who leased or rented their land, either directly from the landowner or from a leaser. It is not unusual to find many layers of subleasing when it comes to Irish landholdings. Very few people in Ireland actually owned their land. If your ancestor was one of these poor tenant farmers then once again your chance of finding records is faced with yet another challenge. 

We’ve also discussed how little exists in the form of census documents for our Irish ancestors. As a result, we are forced to turn to census substitutes and land records as one of the few means of locating our Irish family. Enter the Tithe Applotment Books.

What are the Tithe Applotment Books?

The Tithe books were complied between 1823 and 1837. They consist of 2000 hand written books and constitute one of the most important census substitutes along with theGriffith's Evaulation.  The Tithe Applotment books are the result of a land survey taken to determine the amount of tax payable by landholders to the Church of Ireland. There is a book for almost every parish in the country.

Since many church parishes did not begin keeping records until the 1850's, finding records for ancestors living in rural parishes is scarce, these books may be your only resource.

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How will the Tithe Applotment Books Help?

Tithe Applotment Books are a key resource for identifying if your ancestor owned or leased land. These books are arranged by parish. (drilling home again, that identifying your ancestor’s parish is key). Once you have established the parish, the Tithe Applotment books will assist you in identifying the land occupier’s name, townland, area of landholding in acres, land assessment in grades 1-4, and calculation of tithe amount.

Because the tithe was payable only by those who worked the land, you may not find your ancestors included. For instance if your ancestors were labourers who worked land owned by the church, they would not be listed, along with labourers who did not rent land or those who lived in towns.

Only a name is given in these books, with no indication of family relationships, therefore information is speculative. However, these records can provide valuable confirmation, particularly when a land passed from father to son in the period between the Tithe survey and the Griffith Valuation.

Where Can You Find The Tithe Applotment Books?

The Tithe Applotment Books can be found in Dublin at the National Archives of Ireland. The records for the Ulster counties are available at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). You may find individual county libraries with copies of their own local books.

Online access is a mixed bag. Some parishes are beginning to appear on the internet if you search for tithe applotment books and county name, you may get lucky. Generally, the transcriptions are usually just names and notes, and of course, we all know we need to seek out the full record. Subscription genealogy sites are not much better. carries the Tithe Applotment books but for only the six counties in Northern Ireland. (They have recently updated their records so be sure to keep checking.)

If you’re like most and a trip to Dublin is not in cards then you can turn to the microfilms available through your local LDS Family History centers.

If you're still looking for your poor Irish farmers, a group for which very few genealogical records exist the Tithe Applotment Books are an important source you cannot ignore.

Other Posts in this series include

Irish Genealogy - You'll Need More Than Luck
Irish Genealogy - Step One - Determining Where Your Ancestors Lived
Irish Census Records - What Exists and Where to Find Them