But what has FindMyPast done for us lately?
It has become too easy to take FindMyPast.ie for granted. Okay, so they have all Irish prison registers before 1924 (covering 3.6 million individuals), all the local Petty Sessions court records pre 1922 (22m records), all 57 editions of Thom’s Directory between 1844 and 1900, and 33 other 19th-century local and occupational directories. So what?
Oh alright. They’ve also got millions of dog licence records between 1866 and 1914, six million pages from 60 early Irish local and national newspapers, 4,384,519 records from the National Archives’ 1911 census now searchable by surname variant, more than 300,000 voters’ registration details from Clare between 1860 and 1910. But what have they given us lately?
Only a complete online version of the UK National Archives’ Reproductive Loan Fund Records, that’s what.
Loan funds were an early forerunner of credit unions, and flourished in the Ireland of the 1830s and 1840s. The Famine destroyed almost all of them and their records, like so many others, melted away.
But the records of the largest, the London-based Reproductive Loan Fund (the loans, not the recipients, were to be reproductive) went back to London when it was wound up. In the 1850s, its backers wanted to know what had happened to their money, so local constables were sent to investigate everyone who had received a loan in the 1830s and 1840s. The results (known as “Returns to the Clerk of the Peace”) give an extraordinarily vivid before-and-after picture of the effects of the Great Famine. Again and again, those earlier borrowers are recorded as “died in 1847”, “gone to America”, “destitute”, “wandering the district a pauper”.
There are also lists of defaulters and loan guarantors, minutes, correspondence, prosecutions and much more. For the 10 western counties covered, the records are a goldmine. Have a look at tinyurl.com/q9egdzm to get a sense of their sheer scale.
And, as always with FindMyPast.ie, the level of information provided about the records is a joy. The combination of deep corporate pockets and hard-won research expertise is hard to beat.