We've just added over 3.6 million new records to our Irish Dog Licence Registers. To help you understand why these resources are so unique we took an in-depth look at one of them...

At the end of March 1866 Mary Phelan went to the courthouse in Mountrath, County Laois, Queen's County as it was known then. She had to get one of those new-fangled dog licences for her two dogs. The government had brought in the law last year to cut down on straying dogs. Now every owner had to go to the court house and pay 2 shillings to have the breed and colour of any dogs written down in a ledger.

Perhaps she grumbled to the clerk that Fop, the little white King Charles spaniel was never out of her sight and she kept Nero, the faithful old grey mastiff, as a guard dog, so he never went far. You can tell a lot from the dog licence registers on Findmypast – perhaps not quite what someone was thinking when they handed over the licence fee but a person's choice of dog can often be surprisingly revealing.

1866 was the first year licences were issued. Perhaps that's why the clerk in Mountrath thought it was necessary to note down the name of each dog that was registered. That year 353,798 dog licences were issued. Subsequent years saw an average of 250,000 licences issued. Our latest update brings the number of licences available to search on Findmypast to 6,041,095 – that's almost 4 million new records.

Explore Irish Dog Licence Registers

Dog licences can tell you a surprising amount about your Irish ancestors. Apart from the fact they cover most of the country for the latter half of the 19th century – a time with little or no census coverage – they are records that go beyond the information you normally get in records. When you look at the type of dog your ancestor had you can spot who had working dogs, what kind of working dogs they were, and perhaps even more revealingly those who kept dogs purely as companions.

Take Mary Phelan for example. She had two dogs, both male. A mastiff and a white King Charles. It's likely that the King Charles was there for company as he's a rather unlikely dog to have working on a farm (a likely setting since Mary lived in rural Cromogue). The other dog, Nero, is a grey mastiff. Mastiff were a popular breed in the mid 19th century as they were extremely loyal guard dogs. It would be reasonable to think that with these two dogs Mary might be living on her own, a widow perhaps, and this in itself opens up other avenues of research. Of course, the fact that Mary Phelan had these two dogs does not guarantee that she was a lonely widow, it simply gives you that possibility, very useful indeed when you hit one of those brick walls.

With a total of 341 courts across Ireland, and of those almost 250 are either new or have new years added there has never been a better time to search for your ancestor's dog. There will be even more records coming next year so why not see if you can find man's best friend. For a full list of the courts and years coverage in the collection, including the new additions click here.