The mention of Irish land and property records causes many people to switch off and say that their people never owned property in Ireland. Indeed, it is true to say that very few people in 18th and 19th century Ireland owned their own property!
However, a wonderful land/property record exists for the entire island in the form of Griffith’s "Primary Valuation of Tenements," and it is relevant to the majority of Irish descendants. This source is the result of a major survey carried out by Richard Griffith who was Chief surveyor of Ireland from the 1820s to the 1860s. The purpose of his work was to arrive at an equitable system of taxation for everybody. We can never underestimate the legacy that this man – and his diligent team of surveyors and assistants have left to us. During his tenure of forty years in office, he carried out a number of surveys. The entire paper work for all of his surveys have not survived. However, the paper work has survived for his final survey which is known as Griffith’s Primary Valuation of tenements and which was published between 1847 and 1864 for the entire country - at a different date for each location. It is available for research on a number of websites including www.AskAboutIreland.ie and www.OriginsNetwork.com.
Griffith’s Valuation is an extremely useful source for the family historian, as it contains names of those who were renting property – in addition to names of owners or immediate lessors. It is particularly useful to those whose ancestors were rural dwellers. As a result of the loss of most 19th century census returns for Ireland, Griffith’s Valuation is a most valuable census substitute. Furthermore, as it provides family historians with the most comprehensive record of surnames in mid-19th century Ireland, it can be of major value to descendants of Irish emigrants who departed in the period of the Great Famine.
Correctly used, it can be one of the most fruitful sources for all of us who embark on Irish family history. If incorrectly used, it can send us down all kinds of blind-alleys and cul-de-sacs.
So, what does Griffith’s Valuation give us? The following extract from Griffith’s provides us with a snap-shot of occupiers (tenants) and immediate lessors in part of the townland of Lynn, Civil Parish of Lynn in County Westmeath. It will be noted that the name of the Civil Parish is recorded at the top of the page. The name of the townland within the civil parish is recorded in the second column. It also provides us with the map reference number of each property, the names of occupiers (tenants), names of immediate lessors, description of the property and details of the annual valuation of each property.
Occupiers of property as recorded in Griffith’s Valuation are mainly married men. Women who are recorded as occupiers are predominantly widows.
Place Names in Ireland
In order to fully appreciate the value of Griffith’s Valuation it is important to have some understanding of Irish place names and Irish territorial divisions. It is also important to bear in mind that the ultimate aim of Irish family history research ought to be the location of the Irish born ancestor’s precise place of origin.
The green fields of Ireland have been immortalised in song and story in romantic Ireland for centuries and there has been much debate about how many shades of green there are. Well the good news is that, apart from colour, these clusters of green fields are known as town lands. All have a distinct identity, and there over 60,000 of them in Ireland.
During the first half of the 19th century, an Irish scholar called John O’Donovan was employed to recommend standard English forms of townland names. These are encompassed within the Index to the townlands, towns, parishes and baronies of Ireland of 1851 – an index that is available widely in national institutions in Ireland and abroad and also available on a number of websites, including: www.IrishTimes.com/ancestor/placenames/ and www.Irish-Place-Names.com/
Most of us have Irish ancestors who were born in a townland of Ireland, so part of the mystery tour that we take on in our Irish ancestral research includes the identification of our particular townland.
The smallest geographical unit within a county is the townland. Normally, a townland can consist of a few hundred acres. This unit is still used, and is particularly relevant to rural dwellers. The next largest territorial division within a county is the civil parish, which bears the same name and boundaries as the Church of Ireland parishes. The Roman Catholic parish is usually a larger unit than the civil parish and generally, bears a different name. The barony is the largest unit within a county, and, like the civil parish, is no longer in use as a territorial division. Just to add a little further confusion to the complicated system of territorial divisions in Ireland, one should also be aware of Registration Districts that are used for civil registration purposes. The Registration Districts are based on the old Poor Law Unions that were set up in the late 1830s to deal with the increasing levels of poverty throughout the country.
The following extract from Griffith’s Valuation provides an insight into the occupiers of property recorded in a section of the townland of Lynn, Civil Parish of Lynn in County Westmeath about 1854. If we take an example from that, we will see that James Garry occupied a house, offices (barns/sheds) and land measuring 15 acres, 3 roods and 5 perches* at map reference number 20Aa in the townland of Lynn. James Garry also occupied a further parcel of land measuring 2 acres and 3 roods at map reference number 20B. The immediate lessor of the properties was Richard Swift. M.D. It will also be noted that James Garry was sub-letting a house and small garden to Mary Sheeran at map reference number 20 b.
(* 40 perches = 1 rood: 4 roods = 1 acre)
The Index to townlands confirms that the townland of Lynn in County Westmeath is situated in the Civil Parish of Lynn in the Barony of Fartullagh and Poor Law Union (or Civil Registration District) of Mullingar.
Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary – year 1837 – is available free-of-charge on www.LibraryIreland.ie and provides useful information on the various Civil/Church of Ireland parishes in Ireland. It also provides the names of the Roman Catholic Parishes that correspond to the Civil/Anglican parishes. The following extract from Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary provides much information on the landscape of Lynn and confirms that the Roman Catholic Parish of Mullingar corresponds to the Civil /Anglican parish of Lynn in County Westmeath:
From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837
LYNN, a parish, in the barony of FARTULLAGH, county of WESTMEATH, and province of LEINSTER, 1 3⁄4 mile (S. by W.) from Mullingar, on the road to Tyrrel's Pass; containing 1227 inhabitants. This parish, which is situated on Lough Ennel, and bounded on the west by the river Brosna, comprises 4436 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act. The soil is fertile and the land chiefly in pasture; the system of agriculture is much improved, and that portion which is in tillage produces excellent crops: there is very little bog and no waste land. Limestone is quarried for agricultural purposes, and there are some quarries of black flagstone of good quality.
The principal seats are Larkfield, the residence of F. Pratt Smith, Esq.; Vylandstown, or Violetstown, of E. Lewis, Esq.; Lynn Lodge, of R. Swift, Esq.; Lynn House, the property of the same gentleman and the residence of the Rev. G. M. Dennis; Lynnbury. of R. Bourne, Esq.; Bloomfield, of the Countess of Belvidere; and Lamancha, also the property of R. Swift, Esq. Petty sessions are held at Moylisker. It is a rectory, in the diocese of Meath, and part of the union of Moylisker; the tithes amount to £180. The glebe comprises 20 acres of profitable land, valued at £46. 3. 1. per ann.; the glebe-house was built in 1813, at an expense of £1055. 18. 7 1⁄2. (British), of which £200 Irish was a gift, and £500 a loan, from the late Board of First Fruits; the remainder was defrayed by the incumbent.
In the R. C. divisions the parish forms part of the union or district of Mullingar; the chapel is at Gainstown. At Lynnbury is a day and Sunday school, entirely supported by R. Bourne, Esq.; and about 75 children are taught in a school which is held in the chapel. At Kilronan is a large burial-ground; there are some slight remains of the old church at Lynn, and also of an ancient castle, formerly the residence of the Swift family, and there are numerous raths in the parish.
Valuation Revision Books
Subsequent to the publication of Griffith’s Valuation surveyors returned to every property every few years, in order to up-date changes to map reference numbers, names of occupiers (tenants), immediate lessors etc. Using coloured pens, the surveyors noted all changes to holdings in a particular colour, and the date of such change was then entered in the same colour in the margin. The updated survey books are known as Valuation Revision books.
Those pertaining to the 26 counties date up to the late 1970s and have not yet been placed online, but are available for research at the Valuation Office, Irish Life Centre, Lower Abbey Street, Dublin. 1. www.valoff.ie The Valuation Office is currently digitising their Revision books, which will eventually be placed on-line
Valuation Revision books for the six counties of Northern Ireland are available for research on the web site of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland – www.proni.gov.uk
Because the Valuation Revision books document all changes of occupancy of a particular holding they are most useful to the family historian. Changes noted therein give a good indication of the date of emigration or death of the various occupiers of a property.
The Valuation Revision books for Lynn townland in County Westmeath would show all changes of occupancy to the holdings occupied by James Garry in the townland of Lynn about 1854, and would confirm the name of the person who occupied this property in the 1970s – thus enabling identification of the precise location of the holding occupied by James Garry in 1854.
In conclusion, it is important to say that very few, if any of us, can trace our Irish family history back to the middle ages. At best, we can all hope to get back to the early or mid-1800s with our Irish ancestral research.
Family history research includes many elements. It may commence with family stories about people and places. By its nature, it must include research of online sources and sources available to us in family history repositories. For those of us who have departed from the land of our ancestors, it must include the identification of the precise house or townland where our immigrant ancestor lived before departing to the new country. Ideally, we should then aim to visit this townland, so that we can imbibe the culture and heritage of that landscape, and hopefully, find family members.
Genealogy is not just about the history of a family. It is also very much about families, communities and landscapes, and their connectedness. That is why Griffith’s Valuation and the Valuation Revision Books enable us to reach a much deeper understanding of our identity, culture and heritage.
Helen Kelly is a consultant genealogist for the Irish Ancestry Group at The Wild Geese. She runs her own genealogy firm,Helen Kelly Genealogy. Helen is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland (the accrediting body for Irish genealogists. She has been involved in genealogical research since the late 1980s. Since 2007, Helen has been genealogist-in-residence at Dublin’s historical Shelbourne Hotel, where she holds the unique title of Genealogy Butler and in that capacity has broadcast on the subject of Irish genealogy research and consultancy on international radio and television, including stations in New York, New Zealand, Australia, Dublin, London, Birmingham, Manchester and Paris.
Helen encourages the descendants of Irish emigrants to reconnect with their Irish heritage. Read more about Helen.