You may be able to find evidence of your Irish ancestors among the records of bankrupted landlords in the mid 19th century.

These 500,000 records cover the details of 8,000 estates in almost every county in Ireland. Although the records themselves range from 1850-1885, you can find evidence of your Irish family many generations preceding that time period.

Search Landed Estates Court records

What is the landed estates court?

Many of the landed estates in Ireland were in serious financial difficulties by the time of the Famine in the mid 19th Century. So-called "encumbered estates" had financial and legal obligations that had to be paid out each year by the land owner.

These were generally mortgages or "portions" portions owing to family members through marriage settlements or wills of previous generations. These payments all had to be made before the owner or occupier could take their own income from the estate.

Rental and sale prices of land plummeted during the Famine and for many landowners or occupiers the financial demands of the estate outstripped the income forcing them into bankruptcy.

Eventually, the government decided to bail them out - the Encumbered Estates Act of 1849 enabled the state to take ownership of these properties and sell them on with a parliamentary title, free from the threat of contested ownership.

What can the records tell me?

From a genealogical perspective the Rentals are a valuable resource - many of the original estate records were no longer needed once the purchase had been made from the courts and so no longer survive.

The Rentals are essentially sale catalogs, which were circulated to prospective purchasers in advance of the sale. They were compiled, like any modern estate agent's brochure, to attract a sale and to give information about the lot in a clear uniform manner.

The information contained varies, but generally the transcription hold the following information:

  • Name of tenant
  • Place name
  • Parish
  • Barony
  • County
  • Electoral division

The images contain even more information:

  • Name of landlord
  • Details of lease or tenancy (including, in the case of leases, the names of other family members covered by the lease)
  • Details of rent paid
  • Terms of lease
  • Description of the property
  • Map of the location

Some of the tenancy agreements listed have special terms that are worth noting. For example a lease of a nominal £2 a year might be granted forever on the condition that the leaseholder started and maintained a school. Other nominal rents were granted for religious leases.

What Barack Obama can teach us about family history

Go further back than the 1850's: Where the tenant held a long term lease, rather than a yearly tenancy, the record will also include the names of all lives contracted for (usually three) as well specifying whether any of those named were still alive at the time of the sale. This means that the information you can find can go back as far as the 18th century.

As an example, take a look at this record, which happens to be of President Barack Obama's Irish ancestors, the Kearney's. Although the record was created some time in the latter half of the 19th century, we actually get information on ancestors decades before that date:

Not only can we discover that this family lived here in the early 1800's, we found multiple generations and descriptions of their relations to one another.

These are absolutely essential records if you're exploring your Irish ancestors any time in the 19th century.

Search Landed Estates Court records

Continue learning

  1. Search guide: Irish land records
  2. Landed Estates Court records guide
  3. How to find the birthplace of your Irish immigrant ancestor
  4. Irish research webinar and FAQ with expert Brian Donovan