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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 1, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

    Valiant deeds

    John Grenham

    Most people will know of the Registry of Deeds as part of the current property registration system (see prai.ie), but its records actually go back more than 300 years to 1707. The first century and a half of its existence produced a veritable goldmine of material for local and family historians.

    So why isn’t it more used? There are good reasons. It was originally founded to provide legal defence for the huge transfer of property from Gaelic to Anglo-Irish that took place in the seventeenth century, so its historic records deal almost exclusively with the Anglo-Irish. Very, very few Catholics or Dissenters are recorded. In addition, self-evidently, the records concern the propertied classes, so they cover only those Anglo-Irish who were relatively wealthy: a minority of a minority, in other words. And the records themselves are resolutely eighteenth-century, intensely convoluted, copied out on parchment by scribes standing at lecterns, then bound into back-breaking, tombstone-sized volumes and only indexed very roughly.

    But, but, but … If there is even the remotest chance of finding something in these records, research is a must. The actual process is a rare experience. The Registry’s historic records are located on the top floor of the King’s Inns, one of the great eighteenth-century public buildings of Dublin. The people recorded in the deeds built the rooms where you now search them. And the search itself requires much climbing up and down ladders carting giant volumes and inhaling 200-year old dust. All that’s missing is the powdered wig. This is research as it should be.

    Over the years at least four failed attempts have been made to digitise and abstract the records, because the Mormon Family History Library has a complete microfilm copy. The only current attempt is the Registry of Deeds Index Project, a valiant volunteer effort to abstract the family information and put it online (tinyurl.ie/3ns). Look at what remains to be done (tinyurl.ie/90x). It is the work of many lifetimes.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      I remember going there years ago and was astounded that not only was I able to get a copy of various family marriage settlements (those agreements were light years ahead of modern pre-nups in covering every inch of land and goods and every conceivable eventuality!) but I was also able to hold and read the originals!

      I hope that’s no longer the case? Typical of all the flash money flowing through King’s Inn’s over the last 20 years little of it went back into restoration or preserving records. I find it hard to believe there isn’t the will or funds for one full time archivist to record the records.


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