Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Registry of Deeds in Ireland

You may not have heard about the Registry of Deeds in Dublin, but if you are interested in Irish research then you should know about it. 

The Registry of Deeds was established in 1708 to allow people to record deeds and other documents relating to land transfers. A major driver in its establishment was to enforce the laws that prohibited Catholics from owning land or entering into leases longer than 31 years. It was never compulsory to register a deed, so not all transactions are recorded, but by 1833 when the numbering system changed, over 600,000 documents had been recorded. 

Tombstone Books in the Registry of Deeds.
Photo Credit: Nick Reddan (with permission) 
Memorials or synopsises of deeds and other documents were recorded in large books known as memorial books or tombstone books. They are not true copies of the original document, but contain all relevant information relating to the land transaction or transfer. Amongst the documents recorded are land sales, leases, mortgages, marriage settlements and even wills. Anything that might relate to land could be included. The wills are a particularly valuable inclusion because all the original wills were destroyed in the fire in the Four Courts in Dublin in 1922 and this may be the only source of the information included in a will. 

Among the things you might discover that will help you build your family tree include names and relationships, ages and death dates, wives' maiden names, and residences. 

Example of a page from one of the
Tombstone Books

Two sets of indexes were created to allow access to the Deeds. The first is the Grantor Index. The name of the primary grantor, and occasionally a second grantor, can be used as a finding aid. It does not always include all grantors, and it never indexes the grantees. The second index is the Land or Place Index which includes the location as well as listing the primary grantor. Later versions of these particular indexes also include the name of the primary grantee. Thus it is worth working through both sets of indexes to find any memorials that might be of interest. These indexes will give you the information you need to look through the books of deeds to find the memorial of interest. 

So who would register a document? It was not only wealthy landlords, but can even be some of the most humble tenants, though generally it will be the middle class and above. Merchants were very well represented amongst those registering documents, if only because a registered deed took precedence over an unregistered one if there was any dispute. In theory, Catholics would not be able to register a deed unless it was a lease for less than 31 years, but I have seen some leases registered for Catholics for longer periods. As there was a cost of registration the humble labourer or small holder would probably not register one. However, they might still be mentioned, particularly in relation to identifying the location of a property ("north of the stream and west of Patrick Murphy's cottage"). 

 As mentioned, it might be only the primary grantor and primary grantee that listed in the indexes. Yet a deed can list many, many more names. One deed is known to list 196 names! In order to try and slowly build up a full index to all the names in the deeds, the Registry of Deeds Index Project website has been set up (http://irishdeedsindex.net). This free site allows you to search deeds that have been indexed and to enter details of deeds you have found yourself. 

The Registry of Deeds Index Project homepage (http://irishdeedsindex.net). 

It is easy now to access the indexes and deeds. Familysearch (http://familysearch,org) have filmed all the Indexes and Tombstone Books, and most of them have been digitised and are available online for free. They are not indexed, and have to be accessed via the catalog, but there are links direct to them on the Index Project site mentioned above. 

If you have Irish ancestors, spend some time looking for them in the Registry of Deeds.

This is an updated version of a blog post that originally appeared in The In-Depth Genealogist blog in 2018