I just returned from a week-long seminar on Irish Research that was just fantastic. We spent the first day covering methodology which is a bit different than methodology for other ethnic groups. When setting up a research project for your Irish relatives you need to:
Determine what records were created and do they still exist as there is no pint is searching for records that were never created or that are no longer available. Most of us immediately think of census records. These were created but most were destroyed by the government or lost in 1922 when the Public Records Office burned. While there are some fragments available and located at Find My Past and Family Search these will not help everyone. Thankfully there are many “Census Substitutes”, one that is especially rich in information is Land Records.
Few of the poorer classes in Ireland actually owned land; however, many rented lands on the estates of the rich. In addition, the land owners as well as the tenants tended to remain in the same location for generations. These records are private papers of the various landed class and there are 3 types of estate records that you may find. They are Landed Estates, Crown Estates, and Encumbered Estates. Landed Estates were lands held by the upper class and probably had been inherited down through the generations. Crown Estates were held by the King or Queen of England. Encumbered Estates resulted from the foundering economy especially during the famine years. As crops failed the tenants were unable to pay their rents thus the Estate owners were unable to pay theirs. These estates were sold off and this brought about the end of the great landed estates.
Land Records in Ireland can be accessed from several locations and are worth looking for as they were in most cases very detailed and covered decades if not centuries. Locating these records requires some detective work but can in many cases can be accomplished. The first information that you will need is the location of your ancestor, county, parish and townland. Next you will need to determine who owned the land i.e. who was the Lord? You can find this by searching for in the Griffith Tax Records as they list the landholders for various areas. You may need to write to county libraries or Heritage Centers asking who the major landholders were for the parish that your ancestor lived in. Contact information can be found by using the site below: http://irishclub.org/IHC_Archive/IrishGenealogyWebResources.pdf
Next you need to locate where the records of the landholder are. The National Library of Ireland in Dublin has the best collection of records. http://sources.nli.ie/ . You may also want to look at PRONI if your family lived in Northern Ireland. Most of these records are not on line and you may need to travel to Ireland (ROAD TRIP!!) or hire a person to do the looking for you. An additional challenge may be that the records are still in the hands of the family that owns the estate. This again is a roadblock that can be overcome in some instances as some families are willing to let researchers look at their records. (again ROAD TRIP to the Emerald Isle) The advantage to these records is that your family probably remained on that estate for many generations and this will be the only place that you can find the earlier generations.
This is just a tiny fraction of the information that you would need to research the records and understand the various leases that the tenants signed. I would recommend that you go to the WIKI at Family Search as there are many more suggested records to be looked at in addition, I would recommend two books Tracing Your Irish Ancestors by John Grenham and Discover Irish Land Records by Chris Paton.
To read Janet Walberg’s previous genealogy columns or to delve deeper into her writings and insights for searching out and recording your own family’s genealogy, please go to jamestowngazette.com and visit Janet’s own web page.