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Written and researched by the team at the Registry of Deeds Index Project Ireland, this article highlights the importance of the registry of deeds records and the value they offer anyone doing family history research in Ireland.Set up in the early 1700's as a way to limit the land ownership and leasing opportunities of Catholics, the information collected can be of huge value to anyone researching people or places. 

Registry of Deeds - A Repository of Wills & Land Transactions

The importance of the Registry of Deeds is built on the fact that it is a repository holding memorials of deeds and wills that mention the names, ages, life events, places and family relationships of people involved in land and financial transactions from the mid-1600s to the present day.

The number of names mentioned is huge. Prior to 1832 there were about 600,000 deeds registered and each deed had at least two parties and two witnesses. This means there were a minimum of 2.4 million names in memorials registered before 1832. Some deeds can have many parties and many other names mentioned. Marriage settlements typically have four or five parties who might be two or more people.  Many deeds are the result of finalising estates after the death of a person. These will often mention widows and other people related to the deceased.

The roles people have in deeds include being:

  • a party to the deed or their agent;
  • a life in the deed;
  • a witness to the deed or memorial;
  • a beneficiary of the deed;
  • a previous or current occupant of premises mentioned in the deed or an earlier deed
  • the owner or occupant of land adjacent to the premises mentioned in the deed
  • a relation or associate of a party to or a person mentioned in the deed; and
  • any of the above for a previous deed or will be mentioned in the current deed.


The legislation setting up the Registry required that a memorial was written on parchment and was signed by at least one party to the deed and at least one witness to the original deed. The memorial was a copy of the deed. The memorial can be anything from a verbatim copy of the deed to a broad synopsis setting out the main features but somewhat light on details such as considerations and lives.


A deed is an agreement in writing and can take several forms. The parties to a deed (or their legal representative) usually held their part of the deed.

The main forms of deeds you see are indentures and deeds poll. Indentures are deeds written a number of times on one piece of parchment which is then cut into parts using a wavy cut so that each party gets a corresponding piece. A party can prove they are a party to the deed as their piece can be reassembled into the one piece. Generally, each party represented a separate interest in the deed. A party could be one or more people and a person could be one or more parties. A deed poll is written out once and kept by the recipient. It has no horns like a poll Hereford bull. Original deeds were retained by the parties to the deed or their legal representatives.


Most leases these days are of fixed duration. In the 1700s and 1800s the duration of many deeds was contingent of the lives of some nominated people. Registered deeds tended to have three lives as one of the prohibitions for ownership of Roman Catholics was holding land for three or more lives. The form of the duration in the deed would be – during the lives of the said John Smith, his son James Smith aged about 7 years and William Smith the son of Thomas Smith of the city of Dublin. The lives were often relatives of the grantee or grantor. When a premisses was sublet the resultant deed would inherit the lives from the head lease. The deed might also allow the renewal of lives. This means that a new life would be added to the lease's duration. The substitution of a new life might involve a fine or facilitation payment. The fines could range from a peppercorn to large sums of money. Failure to pay the fine could lead to the lease being terminated. Sometimes, the lease would be renewable for ever meaning the lease was in perpetuity. Sometimes, royal lives were used as the first nominated lives in a deed.

In most instances the rent was fixed for the duration of the lives. This tended to mean that the nominated lives were of younger people. Often a child aged between 5 and 10 was included to try and maximise the length of the lease. The limerick Chronicle of 22 July 1826 reported 'On the 4th instant, at Shewsbury, Colonel William PEACOCKE, aged about 90 years. By his death several extensive tracts of land are out of lease'. In this case there may have been no rent increase for over eighty years. On the day the death was announced Sir Joseph PEACOCKE advertised several lands in County Limerick for lease.


Settlements and in particular marriage settlements are very important sources for family history research. Many marriage settlements provide both parents for both the bride and groom. Often there may be references to earlier marriage settlements with dates. Thus, one marriage settlement could give hard facts on two or even three generations of a family.


Many memorials of deeds give a history of tenure, sometimes going back over 100 years. This record provided proof of ownership and lists previous tenants and landlords. The records at the Registry of Deeds start with memorial No 1. Grantor – Nafan COOTE, Earl of Bellomont; Grantee – Connell VERECKER, Esq of Ballinscalla, Co Limerick (he signed the memorial) it was a lease and release dated 26 March 1708 (the second day of the year); and involved the lands of Stephenstown, Ballinscaula, and Fanningstown, barony of Coshlea, county Limerick (near Kilmallock) for lives of Connell's brother Henry and eldest son Henry

For some people you can get a fairly comprehensive story through the registered deeds they were involved in.

Edward CROKER son of Andrew CROKER and Elizabeth TAYLOR is one such story.

  • His parent's marriage settlement dated 15 February 1728 – Memorial 102702
  • A transfer of trusts under this marriage settlement dated 13 April 1752 – Memorial 102701
  • Lease of houses from above marriage settlement dated 25 January 1787 – Memorial 256826
  • Second marriage – Memorial 185107
  • Settlement of dispute – Memorial 199212
  • Settlement of debts – Memorial 211904
  • Lands to son-in-law 1792 – Memorial 292878
  • Houses in Kilmallock made freehold circa 1850
  • many of his autographs

Thomas Swan CROKER who worked as a clerk in the Customs House in Dublin from 1794 until about 1830.

  • Annuity from lands in father's marriage settlement – Memorial 443742. This memorial confirms the name of his father and of his father's wife.
  • Inventory of house – Memorial 542735. While Thomas Swan CROKER was a well paid civil servant he was jailed at least twice for unpaid debts. Clonliffe Parade was part of Clonliffe Road near Dromcondra Road. The house mentioned in this deed no longer exists. It was demolished in the 1970s to make a car park for the College. Have you ever wondered what possessions your ancestors had in 1825? This memorial gives a great list.
  • Marriage settlement for second wife – Memorial 553026. This marriage is mentioned in Burke's Landed Gentry of Ireland under the WOLFE family but with the wrong father for him. While not providing any real family details for Thomas Swan CROKER it gives a lot of information about Anne WOLFE.
  • Death date in deed involving widow and son – 1838 Volume 20 No 139. The original of this deed is in the Greene Papers at the National Archives of Ireland. See: The National Library of ireland Sources database. The original deed has autographs of his widow and son together with those of the other parties and witnesses.


  1. The usual starting point is a search of the database on the search page, visit

Like a lot of family history research serendipity plays a big part in whether you find gold or other gems in the Registry of Deeds. The above examples show what is possible with luck. The purpose of the Index Project is to making finding these gems easier and make up for the limitations of the Registry of Deeds own indexes – grantor's index and townland index.

Before you rush to arrange a trip to Dublin note that the Mormons microfilmed all the memorial books and indexes at the Registry of Deeds in the 1950s. Thus you can order copies of the microfilms through Family Search for viewing at a Family History Centre near you. A list of films for the townland indexes is here and a list of films for the grantor's index is here.


The Registry of Deeds is a fantastic resource for family history. Anyone can assist in making this fabulous resource more accessible to everyone simply by adding index entries to the project. If you are interesting in volunteering some time please complete the on-line form.

This piece has been written and researched by the team at the Registry of Deeds Index Project Ireland.  The index is the product of the volunteers. Contributors indexed using both microfilms of the memorial volumes obtained through the Mormon Family History Library (now superseeded by the on-line virtual microfilms available through FamilySearch) and actual volumes at the Registry of Deeds. For more information visit

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