In this week's expert guest post Fiona addresses two of the most popular questions asked by those starting out on their Irish family history research: "What is the Registry of Deeds? and Who is recorded in the documents held there?"

What is the Registry of Deeds?

In 1707 the Registry of Deeds in Henrietta Street, Dublin was founded by act of the Irish Parliament to secure the transfer of land after the final conquest of Ireland by King William II (a.k.a. William of Orange or ‘Good King Billy’). Its main function was to provide security of tenure for new owners of land in Ireland.

Registration or ‘Memorializing’ of deeds was done on an entirely voluntary basis.  Memorializing involved the clerk making a complete or near complete transcript of the original sworn document.  Once a document was accepted and memorialized it guaranteed full Parliamentary title to land.  As this was the most secure form of ownership available, and as registered deeds of title to land had priority over unregistered deeds of title, this new system quickly became popular amongst ‘old’ owners of land.

  • There are an estimated 600,000 deeds in the Registry of Deeds, memorialized between 1708 and 1830.
  • There are a further 1.5 million deeds memorialized between 1830 and 1929

The records in the Registry of Deeds can be searched alphabetically using the Grantors Index, or geographically using the Townlands Index.

There is also a further geographical division for the principal cities, where records can be searched by a street index organised alphabetically.

From the 1820s, its possible to search the borough towns by name, thence by street.

Who is recorded in the documents held in the Registry of Deeds?

One of the very many myths in Irish genealogy is that the deeds held in the Registry of Deeds only record the Protestant Ascendancy.  The records of the Registry of Deeds record the Irish middle class of every denomination present in Ireland, as well as the gentry and aristocracy.

Here you will find:

  • Roman Catholics
  • Anglican Catholics (otherwise Church of Ireland)
  • Quakers
  • Presbyterians
  • Plymouth Brethren
  • Jewish

All of whom at one time or another had reason to draw up contracts regarding:

  • the sale, transfer or mortgage of land
  • the formation, expansion or dissolution of a business or professional partnership
  • marriage settlements for sisters or daughter
  • registration of wills.

The people recorded here are:

  • farmers, artisans and manufacturers
  • businessmen and occasionally business-women
  • innkeepers and ale-sellers
  • professionals and property owners

If you move beyond the grantors recorded in the documents, and look at the witnesses to these deeds, you will find another class of people not usually visible in the records- small shop-keepers, school-teachers and law-clerks, who although literate, did not possess property or assets and would therefore not usually appear in the historic records.

Where you find a relevant document in the Registry of Deeds, you will usually find a great deal of evidence that you won’t find in any other surviving record-set.  This information will include:

  • the grantor’s name
  • their occupation or status
  • the grantor’s townland or street address
  • a statement of his property and/or business interests
  • the name of the grantee (purchaser)
  • the grantee's townland/ street address
  • the grantee's status or occupation
  • the names of witnesses
  • the witnesses’ occupation/ status and the nature of their relationship to the contracting parties

Records in the Registry of Deeds also start from 1708 onwards, so they provide much earlier and more detailed coverage, and as such these records provide a real door into the past.

More information on the Registry of Deeds

When you're finished there search the records on