Researching in the Registry of Deeds (online and off)
Updated: Mar 4, 2022
The Registry of Deeds was founded in 1708 and according to John Grenham was created “to help regularise the massive transfer of land ownership from the Roman Catholic, Anglo-Norman and Gaelic populations to the Protestant Anglo-Irish that had taken place over the preceding century,” and “for securing purchasers, preventing forgeries and fraudulent gifts and conveyances of lands, tenements and hereditaments, which have been frequently practised in this kingdom, especially by Papists, to the great prejudice of the Protestant interest thereof.” Basically it was to keep Catholics from owning land. It was not mandatory to register a deed, but a registration could possibly indicate that there was some concern about a future legal dispute. The majority of the material in the Registry of Deed is going to be for Protestants and the types of records might include Leases, Marriage Settlements, Mortgages, Deeds of Trust, Wills and Rent Charges. I’d encourage you to read the information on John’s website.
Over the years I have taken some members of the Dublin Research Groups to the Registry. Paul Gorry, a professional genealogist and specialist in the material at the Registry of Deeds has in the past provided a tour and explanation of the holdings and how to use them. Most of the deeds would be filed by the middle and upper classes, and primarily (but not exclusively) Protestants.
There are two indexes to the Deeds…one is by Grantor (there no index by Grantee) and the other is by Location. The Grantor Index books are broken down by timeframe and surname. Early indexes don’t include a locality, so if you have a common surname it can be very time consuming. From the Index you note the volume, page and deed number. You then go to the Deed Books, find the volume and go to the page. Double check the Deed number to make sure you have the correct one. What you are viewing is a Memorial of the Deed, in other words a transcript, not the full original deed.
A couple of notes here….the books are big and very heavy and in some cases you’re going to be climbing a ladder to get to the book you need. Up through my last visit in 2019, cameras were not allowed, so once you got the book down, you had to hand transcribe the information. According to their website, this has changed you are now allowed to photograph the pages.
The second set of indexes are the Locality indexes. These are in a separate area and are organized by Year and County. Once you find the County they are grouped by the first letter of the Townland. Here is another example of “spelling doesn’t count” so you really need to read each town entry. Also, the listings are not in alphabetical order within the letter.
Since 2007, a group headquartered out of Australia has been working on The Registry of Deeds Index Project. As of December 2021, they had indexed 227,977 entries in the Townland Index and 44,043 entries in the Grantor Index. Here is a blog I found very helpful in navigating the Deeds Index in conjunction with the digital images from FamilySearch.
I was looking for entries for my Johnston family of Unshinagh in County Leitrim. Following the directions, I first searched the Townland Index for Leitrim 1739-1810 (that’s as far as the index goes).
I clicked on “Get Guide” to choose the first letter of the Townland of Interest. In this case, I was looking for Unshinagh in Rosclogher Barony (be careful as the same name can be used multiple times in a County).
I clicked on "UV" This takes me to the page where “U” begins. Note, if you town begins with Bally you’ll likely have a lot to go through.😀 The first entry on the "U" page was for Johnston to Johnston - Volume 95, page 538, Memorial No. 67413
In the next step I went back to the Registry of Deeds Index to the Find the Townland page and in the bottom, enter the Volume number.
That took me to the FamilySearch images at the beginning of Volume 95. Now, it's just like using microfilm. I check the top of the image for the page number and then click through until I find page 538. The beauty of this vs. regular microfilm is that you can easily jump ahead until you get close, then use the forward and back buttons.
It turns out that the Memorial I was looking for was almost at the end of the film.
I've saved a copy and can now transcribe it. This may seem like a lot of steps…but you can do it from the comfort of your home office. Let me remind you, however, that not everything is indexed and, for example, the entries for Leitrim end in 1810. That may be too early to make the connection from your ancestor in Griffith’s or the Tithes.
So if you're in Dublin, you can visit the Registry of Deeds on Henrietta Street. It’s a good walk from the National Library, but now the Luas Green Line (the light rail system) can drop you off (Broadstone - DIT Stop) just a 5 minute walk away from the Registry.
It's going to be a busy week as RootsTech begins on Thursday, March 3rd.
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