THE REGISTRY OF DEEDS, IRELAND
How to use these Films at the LDS Library
The best way to find out about property ownership in Ireland is to look at the films entitled 'Registry of Deeds' at the LDS library. They are indexed and cover the period from about 1708 to 1929. They are indexed either for the whole of Ireland in alphabetical order or for each county separately. There was an excellent article about how to use them in the New Zealand Genealogist March 2000 p 87 called 'Irish Registry of Deeds an Excellent Source' by Jennifer Miller. I have been using these films at the LDS library ever since that date and have barely scratched the surface of what is there about my family's various properties in Cork. (My family names are Stevelly, Staveley, Jones, Fowler, Knapp and Hodder, all of Cork).
The deeds are mostly lease agreements but always give a full description of the location of the property and the names of the people involved. There are also marriage agreements and wills included. These are excellent sources of family names and relationships for putting together family trees. In one case, I found an agreement dated 1770 between two sisters and their husbands over the division of their late father's property. (One of the sisters was my 6x great grandmother Sarah Jones.) It gave me details of their father's will which I would never have found any other way. As a result of this document I was able to complete the family records for my 7x great grandfather Thomas Jones of Cork. There are no longer any church records available for that period and this was the only way I could have found all this out. For all the people who cannot find their relatives in Cork, I would really recommend this method for tracing them.
Although these films can be useful from the point of view of land ownership in Ireland, they are also helpful if your ancestor was a renter as the lease agreements always stipulate the leasee as well and give the exact location of the property being rented.
You can look at the list of films in the FamilySearch Catalog using Place: Ireland. Topic: Land and Property. Title: Registry of Deeds. If you are doing a place name search, use IRELAND as your place, even when you want Tipperary or Cork.
Here is a shortcut: All the film notes are found at:
I have given here a copy of the first 20 entries for 2687 films.
The sheer number of films in the Registry of Deeds series can be overwhelming at first. Just work through them slowly until you find what you are looking for. Some films come and don't add much at all, others are simply a goldmine.
Unless you have access to a remotely operated film reader via your computer at home, you will still have to go to a Family History Center (LDS branch Library) to order and then read each film. Ordering and waiting for individual films to come can be very time-consuming. A trip to the main LDS library at Salt Lake City and other main centers can be well worthwhile, given that all the films are available on the shelf. The Location of the Family History Libraries are available on their website. They are all open to the public.
When you look at the list of films on the computer, note that the Registry of Deeds index is listed under two categories:
The first category is called the GRANTOR or surname index and includes deeds from all over Ireland in one index. The surnames used are those of the GRANTOR(S) or principal party in the deed, listed in the index with the surnames in alphabetical order. In the case of a property transaction deed, the Grantor is the landowner or landlord. If you are looking for a leasor (owner), you need to look at this index. Do not use the GRANTOR index to look up the names of tenants, although of course the deed itself will probably list them. If you are looking for a tenant and know the landlord's name, then look in this index only under the landlord's name. In some cases it may be possible to find out the name of the landlord by looking in the Griffith's Valuation records. Each deed in the index also lists the leasees, so you should be able to find the one you are looking for in the case that the landlord has multiple properties and deeds in the index.
Scroll down through the films and you will come to the second category, the LAND Index. This index is divided up into the counties of Ireland, with the Townlands (land division) listed alphabetically by the first letter for each county. The surnames used in the case of the LAND index are both Grantor (principal party) and Grantee (or secondary party).
When you find the surname you are seeking, the index will give you a Date, Volume number, a page number and a five or six figure deed number, so write those all down.Your records from the index should look a bit like this:
Film # 0100259 Registry of Deeds Grantor Index 1746 - 1758
Hodder, Francis vs Addis
Memorial # 85840
Then return to the list of films in the catalogue, scroll further down until you find the film for the Volume number of the memorial you need. Double check you have the correct film by matching the date of the memorial you want.So to see the above deed between Francis Hodder (grantor) and Addis (grantee), I need to see Volume 125. Scrolling down I find this entry in the catalogue:
Deeds, etc., v. 124-125 1746-1747 Family History Library BRITISH Film 522830
Note that Volume 125 will be the second item on the film, I will reel the film through Volume 124 first. Since I found the entry in the Grantor Index for 1746-1758, I am pleased to see that this agrees with the date given for this film, so I have double checked I have the correct film. I now order Film #522830 at the FHC and wait for it to come from Salt Lake City. It generally takes a week or two to come, (longer if it is on back-order) and I will probably have it available to me locally for about a month.
The Registry of Deeds registered Memorials of deeds. This is the name they were given by the Registry of Deeds Office at the time. It is a Memorial (or copy) of the original deed itself and was written by hand onto a single piece of paper and then copied into a huge ledger by a scribe at the Registry of Deeds. This copy is what you will be reading when you look up your deed in these films. The original deeds which were signed and sealed with red wax by the parties concerned, were taken away by the parties themselves or deposited with their bank or solicitor. They were written on very heavy parchment and measured about a meter square. The original memorials also with seals and signatures of some of the parties and witnesses were retained by The Registry of Deeds, and for a fee you can get a colour photocopy of a memorial.
When the film arrives, I scroll through until I am sure I have Volume 125, then scroll further to page 268. I should then find deed # 85840 on that page. The names of the parties will be written in the margin. You cannot tell until you finally see the Memorial itself what kind of agreement it will be. If this is one for the lease of a property, the landlord is Francis Hodder and the tenant is Addis.
Land transaction memorials often follow a set pattern. The most important features are the date it was written, names and addresses for the parties (people) concerned, with the added bonus of relationships sometimes explained. There will be a description of the transaction, lease or release of property being very common. Then there will be a very detailed description of the property, its location, acerage and the names of the adjoining properties: north, south, east and west. There will be a time-limit specified for the lease, and a description of the cost of the lease, or yearly rent and when it is due. Sometimes the actual amount of rent is not specified in the deed, with the words 'for a consideration' substituted. 'Consideration' in this case means an unspecified sum of money. You can be sure that the amount of the rent or cost of the lease was clearly specified in the original deed. There follows a description of the parties signing the deed, and the witnesses, and ending with the name of the Registrar who registered the deed or the Magistrates who witnessed the swearing of the registration. Much importance is attached to the date and time that the deed was finally submitted to The Registry of Deeds office.Marriage (or Prenuptual) Agreements are definitely one of the most valuable documents to find. Clues that you may have found a prenuptual agreement in the Grantors Index will be that the date will be a few months prior to the date of the marriage, the grantor will be the groom and the grantee the bride's father or brother. Although marriage agreements often mention that a dowry has been provided by the Bride's family, they are not usually the primary matter in the deed. The amount of the dowry is not usually mentioned. A marriage agreement seems to primarily involve the groom or the groom's family providing for the bride and her future offspring in the event that the groom should predecease her. It served the same purpose that a life insurance policy serves in a family today. Trustees were appointed, usually a brother, father or uncle, one for each family of the bride and the groom. Then the groom agreed to place his property in Trust and make it available to his wife-to-be and any future children at the time of his decease. The entire estate would then be administered by the Trustees to support the survivors. Of course, until the groom actually died, the Trust remained in abeyance and the property remained fully under the ownership of the groom as before. In the case of my ancestors, the groom placed his entire estate in the Trust, with a full description, acerage, location and value of each property specified. A woman was seldom appointed as a Trustee, even when she was a widow. In the case of my ancestor, a wealthy widow, her son from a previous marriage was the Trustee for her daughter in the Marriage Agreement.
Reading the deeds is not easy, as they use a lot of old-fashioned terms and legalese. They also used abbreviations such 'os' = others (other people) and 'appurts' short for appurtenances (property belonging to the house). 'Assigns' were people or trustees appointed by the owner to take care of his interests. In many cases, you find the same legal terms repeated in deed after deed and come to realise that much of it is not relevant to the underlying meaning of the deed. Like lawyers today, they are only trying to cover themselves, mentioning every eventuality. The handwriting on the whole is very good, or should I say, could be a lot worse. These scribes were professionals. Placenames can be difficult to read, with variable spelling. I often use the IreAtlas Townland Database originally compiled by Sean Ruad to help identify placenames. They can be Townlands, Parishes, Baronies or Poor Law Union names, all listed on this website. In many cases the placename may be no longer in use.
Apparently it was not compulsory to register these deeds at the Registry of Deeds office, and it all depended on whether the people involved believed in lawyers and authorities. Some did not. But there must be upwards of half a million records on these films and well worth a look, even if your family were renters. In my humble opinion these records are vastly superior to the Griffiths Valuation that people rely on so much. I know it is confusing but persevere and you will soon become familiar with how it all works.
There is now the wonderful Registry of Deeds Index Project for Ireland, organized by Nick Reddan. This index is still a long way from complete but well worth a try before ordering the Registry of Deeds Index films. If your deed has not been indexed yet, you may want to consider submitting it to this index for the benefit of others following in your footsteps. Submissions are easy using the online Abtract Submission Form.Kae Lewis