The gestation of Griffith's Valuation was a complex one. Three separate valuation methods were used prior to publication, each producing its own distinct set of records. Firstly, the initial Townland Valuation Act (1826) allowed for a complete assessment of every parcel of land and tenement (building) in Ireland, to enable an equitable replacement for the unevenly applied local cess taxes. However, after Griffith began surveying in Londonderry in 1831 it quickly became apparent that this was far too ambitious for the resources available. A lower threshold of £3 was adopted for buildings to be assessed, excluding the large majority of householders but still covering a significant number of dwellings and commercial premises, especially in towns. The valuation continued on this basis for the next seven years, covering eight of the northern counties. By 1838, however, it was clear that even with a £3 threshold the surveying would last for a very long time indeed. In that year the threshold was raised to £5, covering only the most substantial buildings.
The year 1838 was also that of the introduction of the Irish Poor Law, a system of relief for the most destitute, and its funding, based on property assessments carried out for the local Board of Guardians of each of the 138 Poor Law Unions, soon became a source of contention, with widespread accusations of bias in the valuations. It became obvious fairly quickly that it made no sense to have two separate systems of local taxation, based on differing valuations of the same property. In 1844, with so-called townland valuations complete for 27 of the 32 counties, Griffith was told to change the basis of assessment by dropping the £5 threshold and covering all property in the remaining counties, all in Munster. The aim was to see if a uniform basis could be created for unifying Poor Law rates and cess. The experiment was an almost unqualified success, and the Tenement Valuation Act (1852) authorised Griffith to extend the system throughout Ireland-a procedure he had in fact already begun. The results were published between 1847 and 1864, generally with the southern counties earlier and the northern counties later.
In the course of this long-drawn-out administrative saga, large quantities of manuscript records were produced. Firstly, the pre-1838 valuation of the northern counties, based on the £3 building threshold, created local valuers' 'house books' and 'field books', the former including the names of occupiers, the latter concerned purely with soil quality. The originals are in NAI and PRONI, with microfilm copies in the LDS Family History Library. They are particularly useful for urban or semi-urban areas in northern counties before 1838. After the change in the basis of assessment in 1844, the main categories of valuers' notebooks continued to be known as house books and field books, but the distinction became more than a little blurred, with information on occupiers appearing in both. To add to the merriment, other classes of notebook were also created:
There are far fewer of these than of the house books and field books. Copies of all of them are available at NAI and the LDS Library, though not in PRONI, with some still in the Valuation Office itself.
A number of points need to be kept in mind. Firstly, pre-publication manuscript valuation records do not survive for all parishes. The only way to find out if something is there is to check the NAI, LDS, PRONI or Valuation Office catalogues. Secondly, the categories into which the records are sorted were somewhat hazy to begin with and have only become hazier over the years. Check under all the categories and investigate anything that survives for an area you're interested in. And you should remember that Griffith's, far from being the record of a settled population, is in fact a snapshot of the aftermath of a catastrophe, the Great Famine of 1845 to c.1850. In many areas enormous changes took place between the original and the published valuations.
The 1852 act envisaged annual revisions to the valuations to record any changes in
occupier, size of holding, lessor or value. In practice, revisions were relatively rare
until well into the 1860s. From about that time until the 1970s, a system of
handwritten amendments, coded by colour for each year, was employed, with a
new manuscript book created when the number of alterations threatened
legibility. These are the Cancelled Land Books, still available at the Valuation
Office itself, now in the Irish Life Centre, Lower Abbey Street, Dublin. The LDS
Family History Library has microfilm copies, unfortunately in black and white.
The Cancelled Land Books can be very useful in pinpointing a possible date
of death or emigration, or in identifying a living relative. A large majority of those
who were in occupation of a holding by the 1890s, when the Land Acts began to
subsidise the purchase by tenant-farmers of their land, have descendants or
relatives still living in the same area. The Cancelled Land Books for Northern
Ireland are now in PRONI, and fully available on the PRONI website, www.proni.gov.uk. They only come up to the early 1930s. Full revaluations of areas in Northern Ireland took
place in 1935, 1956/7 and 1975, with revisions for the intervening years and up to
1993. These are open to the public at PRONI.