During the 18th and 19th centuries, much of the Irish population lived on large estates. Tenants were granted security of tenure in the form of leases, and compact enclosed farms were common.
The administration of these estates produced large quantities of records, including maps, rentals and account books of various sorts. Landed estate records, and particularly the rent rolls which list the tenants of the estate are a useful genealogical tool. Generally they may not include data on the smaller tenants, regardless, due to the destruction of so many Irish records such as the census returns these estate records are of value.
In general, the best order in which to consult the different types of estate records for genealogical purposes is as follows:
1. Rent Rolls or ‘Rentals’
These are the earliest estate records and usually list the tenants town-land by town-land and may include some other information on the tenant or another person. Place-names as listed may or may not be spelled as in the 1851 town-land directory, or while that place-name (town-land) may have disappeared between the earlier rent roll and the town-land directory listing for 1851, we can usually identify an area for that town-land name pre 1851 for those researchers whose ancestors may have listed such a place-name in a particular county.
e.g. Rent Roll for Col. John Browne’s Estate, 1704:
CARRA BARR (Carra Barony, Co. Mayo)
1. David Bourke – Conorohemwush
2. Michl. Lynch – Clasinonysellagh. Note: This rent always assigns to Doctor Martine for interest to money due to him
3. Fonnh McDonell – Cappocolcoda
4. Sr Rodrick Lynch – Drumnegoragh
Leases give the tenants name and sometimes the names of some of his children (usually male) and their ages. During the 18th and 19th century leases were usually granted for three lives; the lease expired when all three people (or however many) named in the lease had died. A lease, was however, renewable at the fall of each life, by inserting a new name on payment of a renewal fine. Until 1778, the maximum term of any Roman Catholic lease was 31 years.
3. Rent Ledgers (Accounts)
Show how much rent each tenant paid and when it was paid
4. Maps and surveys
Some include the tenants names and indicate individual holdings
5. Wages Accounts or books
These contain the names of the estate labourers and household servants, gardeners – such people may not appear as tenants.
6. Tenant Lists
These usually contain the names of the tenants.
How to find out the name of a local landlord – or the area covered by estate records:
The first source of such information is the Griffiths Valuation – landlords will be listed as the ‘Lessor’ in any area – normally the person most listed as the ‘Lessor’ in any area, will be the person who had an ‘estate’ in the area.
The ‘Return of the Owners of Land of One Acre and Upwards, in the Several Counties of Cities, and Counties of Towns in Ireland, to which is added A Summary for each Province and for All of Ireland (Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty). Published London 1876. This covers the period from 1871-1876, and to the best of my knowledge sections from it have been posted to or donated to various Rootsweb County mail lists or web sites associated with each county.
Reading through old manuscripts is difficult and time consuming work- some of these are held on film and available through the LDS or Family History Libraries around the world. It must be remembered, that for the majority of estate records, it was the major tenants who are listed – and these will have sub-leased property. You may be seeking a sub-lessor who is not named, and therefore your search or any search you pay a professional genealogist to do for you may prove fruitless and frustrating.
The best thing you can do, is to make sure that you know exactly what you want to research or have researched and simply be prepared to accept that this was another possible resource that gave you no result.
Or – on the other hand, it was wonderful.