Updated: Oct 20, 2019
Most of our ancestors were likely tenants on the estates of the large landholders in Ireland. As you’ve probably already discovered, our ancestors left few records, especially the very small farmers.
The management of the large estates, sometimes with an absentee landlord was a business and created records…lists of tenants, rent rolls (see above), payments to tradesmen, maps and other documents. With the break up of these estates in the late 19th and 20th centuries, some of the estate records have found their way into various repositories. These records are private records so there was no requirement for them to be deposited or saved and some may still be in private hands. PRONI (Public Record Office of Northern Ireland) has made an effort to obtain private records and has one of the larger collections of estate records. These are not limited to just Northern Ireland. The National Library and the National Archives also have estate records, but they are not well catalogued. The best place to look for information is the Sources database, searching on the name of the landlord. If the landlord’s main residence was in England, his estate records may have been deposited in a repository there. It's important to remember that these records are not online and require a visit to Ireland to use.
So, the first thing you need to do is identify the landlord. It might be as easy as checking Griffith’s Valuation for the name of the Immediate Lessor. If it states something like “Earl,” or “Marquis” it’s likely you’ve found the landlord. However, if it is a name you don’t recognize, try to find the person named as Immediate Lessor as the Occupier and identify his Immediate Lessor. Repeat! When you find the Occupier listed “In Fee” you will have found the owner of the property. Another place to check is Land Owners in Ireland 1876 which lists all owners of once acre of land or more.
In 1856 Griffith’s Valuation in County Mayo, John Daly was leasing his land from Thomas D. Lambert in the townland of Crumlin. Thomas D. Lambert is also shown as the Occupier of a bog in Crumlin, “In Fee.” Next I checked the Landed Estate Database and found that the Lamberts of Mayo were descended from the Lambert family of Galway. There is a short bio of the family, but it doesn’t mention Thomas. I need to find out how Thomas fits into this family. At the bottom of the page, however, it gives me extensive sources for additional information about the Lamberts of Mayo to research on my next visit to Ireland.
Next, a check of Sources indicates there is a “Copy of confirmation of arms to the descendants of Francis Lambert of Toher and Thomastown, Co. Mayo and to his grandson, Alexander Clendinning Lambert of Brookhill, Claremorris and Cong Abbey also in Co. Mayo, April 27, 1857.” This might provide additional family information. This copy is located at the National Library in their manuscript collection. There are also some documents on the Rev. Francis Lambert, who changed his name to Ruttledge, so additional research here is also appropriate. There is no indication that estate papers survive, but something may turn up in other research.
My ancestors in County Down, in the parish of Annahilt were tenants of the Marquis of Downshire. PRONI has a large collection of the papers for his estates which can be searched in the eCatalog. They also have an Introduction to the Downshire Papers on their website. I was looking for records for the Rush and Moag families and while researching at PRONI, I discovered a box of leases. (The catalog onsite at PRONI is much more complete than the eCatalog on the website.) The leases were bundled together and within the box I found a lease for George Rush of Ballycrune, the townland where my Moag/Rush family was located. I untied the lease for George Rush and unfolded it (it was probably about 30” x 15”). Although mostly boilerplate, the identifying information was handwritten and it included a map of the property. The lease was dated 4 Nov 1809 and was for “four acres, three roods and eight perches.” I also discovered it was a “lease for lives” naming George Rush, now aged 30 (born about 1779); William Hegan, only son of James Hegan of Larchfield age sixteen and James McMullen only son of Alexander McMullen of Larchfield age nine. So now I have some additional names to research. I also found Alexander McMullan listed in the Downshire papers as having sent a list of names of those willing to enroll as infantry in the Yeomanry Act in 1798. This list names James Rush, Weaver and lists Alexr. McMullan as a Linen Draper Drumbo Parish. A will for Alexander McMullan of Larchfield was dated 1830, but no other information from the will survives.
At the time, it was too large to photocopy and I had to order a copy to be mailed to me. The copy requires a magnifying glass to read! Today PRONI has a large image scanner in the Reading Room that allows you to make a copy of manuscript documents and save them to a USB drive.
In many cases we aren’t going to be able to find specific information about our ancestors, but estate records can help better understand where and how they lived.
Do you want to use the Estate Records (or other records only available in Ireland? I just posted the information for the 2020 Research Trips. Only 15 researchers can attend, so make your plans early.
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