The archaic and legalistic terminology used in deeds can make it extremely difficult to work out what precisely the parties to a deed intended it to do. This is particularly true in cases where earlier agreements are referred to but not recited in full. However, from a genealogical point of view the precise nature of the transaction recorded is not always vital, and with a little practice it becomes relatively easy to pare the document down to the essentials of dates, placenames and personal names. It should be kept in mind that all personal names-buyers, sellers, trustees, mortgagees, witnesses-may be important and should be noted. There are, however, numerous cases in which the nature of the deed is of interest, and some advance knowledge will speed up the process of interpretation. So what follows here is an attempt to clarify some of the less familiar terms and to describe the most common or useful documents likely to be encountered.
The most important part of most deeds is the opening, and it follows an almost invariable pattern. After the phrase 'A memorial of ', which indicates that the transcript is of a copy rather than the original, the following are stated: (1) the nature of the deed, (2) the date on which the original was made and (3) the names of the parties to the deed. It must be remembered that a number of people could constitute a single party for the purposes of a legal transaction. A typical opening would then be:
"A memorial of an indented deed of agreement dated October 13th 1793 between John O'Hara of Oak Park, Co. Meath, farmer, and George O'Hara of Balltown, Co. Meath, farmer, his eldest son of the first part, William Coakley of Navan, Co. Meath, merchant, of the second part, and Christopher French of Navan, gentleman, of the third part, in which . . ." Very often it is necessary to read no more than this to know that a deed is not relevant. If, for example, the research is on the O'Haras of Sligo, it is evident at a glance that the above document has no direct relevance. But, as happens so often in genealogy, the significance of information in a deed may only become clear retrospectively, in the light of something uncovered later. When carrying out a search for a particular family it is therefore a good idea to note briefly the important points in all deeds examined-names, addresses and occupations- whether or not they seem immediately relevant. That way, if it subsequently emerges that, for example, the O'Haras of Sligo and Meath are in fact related, the relevant deeds can be readily identified again.
Categorising the kinds of deeds that appear in the Registry can be difficult, as many of them are not what they appear to be. The most common misleading description in the opening of the memorial is the 'deed of lease and release', which may in fact be a conveyance or sale, a mortgage, a marriage settlement or a rent charge. 'Lease and release' was a legal device whereby the obligation to record a conveyance publicly could be avoided; it was not obligatory to record a transaction to a tenant or lessee already in occupation, and it was not obligatory to record a lease for one year only. Accordingly, a lease for one year was first granted and then the true transaction-conveyance, mortgage, marriage settlement or other-was carried out. It remained popular as a method of conveyance until 1845, when the Statute of Uses, which made it possible, was repealed. Despite the difficulties created by such disguises as the lease and release, the underlying transactions fall into a number of broad classes.