| Bills of Discovery
By far the most common of the records in the Registry, leases could run for any
term between 1 and 999 years, could depend on the lives of a number of persons
named in the document or could be a mixture of the two, lasting three lives or
sixty years, whichever was longer. Only leases for more than three years could be
registered. The most genealogically useful information in such leases is the lives
they mention. The choice of lives generally rested with the lessee or grantee, and
in most cases those chosen were related. Often the names and ages of the grantee's
children appear-an extremely valuable piece of information for families in the
eighteenth century. Leases for 900 years, or for lives renewable in perpetuity, were
much more common in Ireland than elsewhere and amounted to a permanent
transfer of the property, although the grantor remained the nominal owner. As
might be imagined, such leases provided a rich basis for legal disputes.
Any form of pre-nuptial property agreement between the families of the
prospective bride and groom was known as a 'marriage settlement', or as
'marriage articles'. A variety of transactions can therefore be classed in this way.
What they have in common is their aim to provide security, to women in
particular: as married women could hold no property in their own right, it was
common practice for the dowry to be granted to trustees rather than directly to
the future husband, which allowed the women some degree of independence. It
was also common for the family of the prospective husband, or the husband
himself, to be granted an annuity out of the income of his land to the future wife
and children should he predecease them. The information given in settlements
varies, but in general it should at least include the names, addresses and
occupations of the bride, groom and bride's father. In addition, other relatives-
brothers, uncles etc.-may also put in an appearance. For obvious reasons,
marriage settlements are among the most useful of the records held in the
Registry. The period during which they were most commonly registered appears
to have been the three decades from 1790 to 1820. When searching the Grantors
Indexes for them it should be remembered that they are not always indicated as
such and that the formal grantor may be a member of either family, making it
necessary to search under both surnames.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, mortgages were very commonly used
as a form of investment on the one hand and as a way of raising short-term cash
on the other. Generally they do not provide a great deal of family information,
but as they were an endless source of legal disputes they form a disproportionate
number of the deeds registered. It was quite common for mortgages to be passed
on to third or fourth parties, each hoping to make money, so the resulting deeds
can be very complicated.
Under the Penal Laws, Catholics were not allowed to possess more than a very
limited amount of land, and a Protestant who discovered a Catholic in possession
of more than the permitted amount could file a bill of discovery to claim it. In
practice, most bills appear to have been filed by Protestant friends of Catholic
landowners to pre-empt hostile discovery and as a means of allowing them to
remain in effectual possession. Registered bills are not common, but they are
extremely interesting, both genealogically and historically.
Only those wills likely to be contested legally were registered, in other words those
that omitted someone-almost certainly a family member who might have a
legitimate claim. Abstracts of the personal and geographical information in all
the wills registered between 1708 and 1832 have been published in P.B. Phair and
E. Ellis (eds.), Abstracts of Wills at the Registry of Deeds (3 vols., Dublin: imc,
1954-88), online at www.irishmanuscripts.ie. The full provisions of the wills are
to be found only in the original memorials.
These were annual charges of a fixed sum payable out of the revenue generated by nominated lands. They were used to provide for family members in straitened circumstances or to pay off debts or mortgages in instalments. Once made, they could be transferred to others and were valuable assets in their own right. Depending on the terms, they can provide useful insights into family relationships and family fortunes.
Other, miscellaneous classes of deed also appear in the Registry of Deeds. As outlined above, the only common feature is that they record a property transaction of some description; any family information they may contain is a matter of luck.