Land records are key resources for the genealogist exploring their family history. It's an amazing discovery to connect your ancestors to a piece of land, especially if it was a place the family remained for generations.
Much of what we discover in genealogy isn't tangible, but you can always visit your family's ancient homestead if you know where it is located!
And of course the wealth of information found in land records themselves - names of children, spouses or other family members, occupations and even the history of your family's land ownership - can be valuable to growing your tree and breaking through brick walls.
Why land records are important for Irish research
Land records are especially important for those of us researching our Irish ancestors. A well-practiced Irish genealogist knows that we must make the most out of any record we can get our hands on - Irish research is notoriously hard due to the many missing 19th century censuses.
Land ownership is also a particularly important theme in Irish history. At various times, intense political and even physical battles occurred as the power of land ownership was used to repress or favor different religious groups and levels of the social strata.
Fortunately, this means a substantial amount of paperwork about land and land ownership was generated, and relatively early too - systems of land registration date as far back as the early 18th century.
This is great news for the genealogist, especially Americans with Irish ancestry - once you have located the birthplace of your immigrant ancestors, you can begin tracing their Irish family further back. The ultimate prize is discovering exactly where you family lived in Ireland - then you have an excuse to go visit!
Historically, many of our Irish immigrants weren't landowners - many lived on large estates that were owned by a single family or individual.
Since a huge percentage of those that immigrated to America came from the lower rungs of the social and economic latter, most of our Irish ancestors were tenants on these huge estates. So most are going to be interested not in the land owners, but the tenants.
One fantastic resource for discovering the tenants of landed estates are the Landed Estates Court Rentals, which you can find only on Findmypast. You will find the records of over 500,000 tenants on over 8,000 estates from the 19th century.
Due to the famine, many of the landed estates fell into bankruptcy in the latter part of the 19th century. As the government took over and assessed many of the properties, a huge number of records were generated.
See our detailed guide on the Landed Estates Court Rentals for more information on what's available and how to use them.
One of the most well-known collections of Irish land records is officially known as the Primary Valuation of Tenements, but most know it by the name of Richard Griffith, the man responsible for carrying out the survey.
The purpose of Griffith's Valuation was to produce a uniform guide to the relative value of land throughout the whole of Ireland in order to decide liability to pay the poor rate (for the support of the poor and destitute within each Poor Law union).
The project required Griffith and a team of surveyors to determine the value of every piece of land and property in the country enabling every occupiers' tax due to be assessed.
Each record comprises of a transcript and black and white image of the original register. The amount of information listed varies, but the records usually include a combination of the following information about your ancestor:
- First name(s)
- Last name
- Lessor's first name(s)
- Lessor's last name
- Occupier's first name
- Occupier's last name
- Printing date
The image may contain additional details, including:
- Description of tenement
- Number on map
- Letter or number in field book
- Content of land
- Rateable annual valuation of land (in pounds, shillings and pence)
- Rateable annual valuation of buildings (in pounds, shillings and pence)
- Total annual valuation of rateable property (in pounds, shillings and pence)
Griffith's Valuation maps
An example of a valuation map.
While Griffith's Valuation is available on a number of websites, the version you can search on Findmypast is the one developed by Eneclann Ltd, OMS Services and The National Library of Ireland and is the most complete Griffith's Primary Valuation of Ireland which includes all revisions and amendments.
No library or archive held the complete set of 301 Griffith's publications (which included new volumes were updates and amendments had been made). The National Library of Ireland and the Valuation Office have the largest collection of original volumes and other collections are held in The National Archives of Ireland, the Genealogical Office and the Gilbert Library and the private collection of George Handran.
The team were able to locate 300 of the 301 publications across these and other archives. The information was then digitized and made fully searchable to give you the most comprehensive version of Griffith's Valuation online. The original page images may also be viewed. This version of the survey was first published in 2003, the first time it had been published in its entirety since the 19th century.
Don't forget about Parish registers
While they aren't land records per se, a great deal of information about where your ancestors lived can be gained by searching for them in our free 10 million Irish Catholic parish registers.
Finding them there may be the first step to locating the family land in Griffith's or the Landed Estate Courts - by confirming the parish in which they lived, you'll be able to perform more specific searches in other records.
- An expert guide to Griffith's Valuation
- Landed Estates Court records guide
- How to find the birthplace of your Irish immigrant ancestor
- Irish research webinar and FAQ with expert Brian Donovan