Researching your Farming Ancestors

Often the occupations of farmer and labourer were interchangeable, so don’t be confused by your ancestor being called one occupation in the Census and the other in a birth, marriage or death certificate – it’s generally still the same person.  According to Kenny’s Irish Manufacturers’ Directory in 1911 there were 1,968 persons engaged in the milk-selling and dairy-keeping business in Ireland, but there were 148,770 labourers.

If your ancestor was a farmer, unless they were part of the landed elite, it is likely that he or she was a tenant farmer.  There are some really good sources for tenant farmers in the 19th century:

The main source for the mid 19th century is Griffith’s Valuation.  Griffith’s Valuation is used as a census substitute because it lists the names of everyone who owned, leased or rented a holding in Ireland at the time, whether a large estate or a small hut.  Thus it includes tenant farmers, who made up the majority of the population.  You can trace forwards from Griffith’s by using Valuation Office records, to identify each subsequent ratepayer through to the 1970s.  The years in which each ratepayer was struck out gives an approximate year of death.  Also, you can find out more about a plot of land by looking at the house and field books in the National Library of Ireland.

It is also worth looking at the Landed Estates Court records – these list properties that were for sale through the Encumbered Estates Court from the mid-nineteenth century at a time when the landed estates were becoming increasingly indebted, although information is often included back to the 18th century. They include information about tenants, the lots they rented and the terms of their tenancy, as well as a map specifying the boundaries. More than 500,000 tenants are recorded in these documents which deal with more than 8,000 estates throughout the country.

The Tithe Applotment books and the 1831 Tithe Defaulters are also a good source for farming families.  All agricultural households were required to pay an annual tithe of 10% of the produce they produced to the Church of Ireland.  The Tithe Defaulters are the records of those who refused to pay the tithe, and are thus a great pre-Famine record.

Some directories, such as Bassett’s county directories, list farmers – so it is often worth looking at these to find farming families.  Eneclann has a range of Bassett’s directories; take a look at the Directories section of our shop.

Although a manufacturers’ directory, Kenny’s contains great contextual information on farming practices in Ireland, listing such manufacturers for farming items as disparate as butter, animal meal, animal medicines, saddlers and sheep dips!

Finally, if your ancestor was an agricultural labourer, the Agricultural Labourer: Ireland (1893) gives an insight into conditions of the agricultural labourer in Ireland at this time.


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