Irish Land Records May Hold the Key to Your Story! | The Armchair Genealogist
Start Looking

Irish Land Records May Hold the Key to Your Story!

Our Irish ancestors for the most part were tenant farmers. They leased or rented their land directly from the landowner or indirectly from another Irishman who sub-leased it to them. With little to no census information available prior to 1901, your ancestor’s land records may very well be the single most important avenue to uncovering their story.

Landowners prior to the 20th century were members of the nobility, landed gentry or Church of Ireland clergy. Everyone else either leased or rented their land. Various records were created as a result of this relationship between the occupiers of the land and the landlords. Two sources stand out as an opportunity to learn more about our Irish ancestors through the land they owned or lived on, they are a registry of deed and estate papers.  

The first step is to determine the townland or parish your ancestor lived. We have discussed this in great lengths here. Once their location is resolved, you can move on to identify whether they owned or leased the land.

Several sources can assist you in identifying whether your ancestors were landowners or renters. They exist in Tithe Applotment Books, Ordnances Surveys and Griffith Valuation all extremely important tools in identifying the landowner.

After identifying the landowner, the next step is to seek out important sources of information on the land for which they owned or rented. The two main sources we will review here today are Registry of Deeds and Estate Papers.

Registry of Deeds

In 1708, registration for land transactions began, however registration was not mandatory until 1892. Therefore many deeds were never registered and remain part of a landowner's estate papers. Those that were registered can be found at the Registry of Deeds in Dublin, Ireland. 

 A deed registration can reveal more than just a deed of sale. Often lease agreements, marriage settlements and wills were also attached to these documents.  After the transaction was filed it was returned to the party, therefore what is entered at the Registry is a synopsis of the deed known as a ‘memorial’.

A very common form of deed was a ‘lease for life’, often used in the 1700’s and 1800’s. This extended the lease for as long as the person or persons listed in the deed were alive. Once all the names in the lease passed, the lease lapsed. The lease could also be set out for a determined number of years or tenants could rent from year to year.

You can locate the memorials from 1708 to present at The Registry of Deeds in Dublin. You can also locate this collection of deeds dated from 1708-1929 on microfilm through the Family History Library. There is currently an indexing project underway for the Registry of Deeds at Rootsweb, you can find it here.

The Registry of Deeds collection offers a surname index (name of the seller of the land) and a Land Index (arranged geographically). The National Archives of Ireland also houses some private collection pre-1708.
The Land Commission can tell you how the family property came into ownership by the family. The Land Commission handles loans from public funds to tenants so they could purchase their farms. If you see “LAP” (Land Purchase Act) on the Griffith’s Valuation then the Land Commission handled the transaction of this purchase and should have a record of its transaction. The Land Commission is located in the National Archives of Ireland.  The Land Commission for Northern Ireland is located at PRONI.

Estate Papers 

Estate papers are the private papers of the property owners of Ireland.  Estates papers are a wealth of information of both the landholder and his tenants. Estate papers often include rent rolls and leases, estate maps, emigration lists, petitions to the landowners, wills freeholders, poll lists, mortgages, eviction records and account lists all valuable information in piecing together the fragments of an Irishman’s life. These documents can often reveal both social and economic conditions of the time.

There is a substantial collection of estate papers in the National Library of Ireland and in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, many estate records remain in private hands or with a solicitor. Again, the key to finding these papers is knowing the local landowner.

For material still in private hands, the best guide is Hayes's Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilisation. Richard Hayes was the director of the National Library in the 1960’s where he complied a catalogue of manuscript holdings that are in private keeping or deposited in various repositories throughout Ireland, England and other countries. This book is now online at The National Library of Ireland. 

Hayes’s Manuscript Sources and Periodical Sources are now available as an online database on the website of the National Library of Ireland.The title of the database is Sources: A National Library of Ireland database for Irish research. It contains over 180,000 catalouged records of manuscripts relating to Ireland and articles in Irish periodicals. The database can be accessed directly at

Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: the Complete Guide picks up where Hayes left off. The author John Grenham lists estate records for every county in Ireland that are found in the National Library in Dublin and estate records that have been published in periodicals.

Regardless of whether your ancestor was nobility and a landlord or a tenant farmer, a landowner’s record in the form of a registry of deed or an estate record are irreplaceable documents. These records remain ever so important in Irish genealogy and in the search for your ancestor’s story.

Need more help with your Irish research, look here