Research Questions and Answers

Welcome to the research questions and answers page on the Eneclann website.  In an occasional series in the newsletter Fiona Fitzsimons, Research Director at Eneclann, will answer a reader’s research question.  If you’ve got a question you’d like to ask Fiona, post it on our Facebook page or send it to us at marketing@localhost


This week I’m trying something a little different.

From early summer about a third of my entire postbag has focused on the memorials in the Registry of Deeds.  Many of you have written in to say that even where you find a relevant document, you have difficulty in interpreting what is actually being said or agreed to.

This week, I want to take two different deeds, and to show how to extract the relevant information from them.

First, and to provide a context for what follows, I’ve included a little background on the Registry of Deeds.

What was the Registry of Deeds?

The Registry of Deeds was established by Act of Parliament in 1707.   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.

Other type of property transactions were also recorded in these records, including leases; mortgages; sales; trusts (particularly popular amongst Catholics and Dissenters during the Penal Laws); marriage settlements (and to a lesser extent deeds of separation); deeds of partnership and dissolution in business; and wills.

Between 1708 and 1830 approximately 600,000 deeds were memorialised. Given that the main focus of these records concerns the transfer of property and other assets, you will of course find evidence for the gentry and aristocracy here.  However, what’s often overlooked, is that you will also find records for the rural and urban Catholic and Dissenter middle-classes including farmers and those involved in business.

How to interpret the evidence of the Memorials

Don’t be put off by the formal legal language of these documents, or the non-standard spelling.  When you examine a document, you should break it down into its constituent parts, to work out what is being said.

Most document start with “To the Register appointed by Act of Parliament for Registering Deeds….” Or

“To the register appointed for the publick registering of deeds, wills, Memorials…”

All of the documents recorded here are memorials, i.e. they are copies of the original legal documents.

“A memorial of a deed poll or instrument in writing duly executed bearing date the 26th day of September 1724, indorsed on a lease bearing date the 26th day of March 1722,…”

In this case, the original deed is a lease dated 26th March 1722.

A copy or memorial of this deed was entered into the Registry more than two years later in September 1724.

The main body of the document will record what is being transacted, and by whom. “….whereby Alexander Gunning of the City of Dublin, Merchant, and James Esdall, of the same Haberdasher, for the consideration therein mentioned, Did demise grant, sett and to farm, lett unto Michael Kearney of the said City, Perukemaker, ….

In this instance the deed is a lease of a piece of ground, made by Alexander Gunning, a merchant of Dublin City and James Esdall, Haberdasher of Dublin city, to Michael Kearney, who earned his crust by making wigs.

This document goes on to delineate the extent of the ground, using neighbours’ boundary walls, and public streets and paths.  You will often also see inns or taverns given as local landmarks, particularly in citys and towns, though not in this deed.

“… All that piece of back ground lying behind the back sides of the two hen houses then lately built by the said Alexander Gunning and James Esdall on the north side of Castle street in the city of Dublin, one of which houses was seett to Mr. Christopher Smith and the other to Mr. George Eastwood with the appurtances to the said ground belonging containing the number of feet in a map thereof to the said lease, annexed bounded on the east to Capt. Peter’s holding on the west to part of Mr. Peter Walkers holding on the north to the back sides of houses in Copper Alley and on the south to the said Backsides of the said Mr. Smiths and Mr. Eastwoods holdings….”

Where a piece of property is ‘land-locked’ a document will usually also set out the right of way, as in this case  –

“… with liberty of the passage or entry to the said ground in common with the said other tenants and liberty of handing a sign to Castle Street over the front of the said passage, and….”

The deed sometimes also defines the rights of the incoming tenant to use a property, or place restrictions on their rights.  In this instance the memorial records Kearney’s rights as

“….to continue the same [i.e. the tenancy] during all the term therein after granted and also liberty to build rest and bear timber in and upon the said George Eastwoods wall belonging to the back side of his said house, so as the said Michael Kearney his executors, administrators or assigns make no lights or windows to look into the said George Eastwood’s back side or house, except as in the said lease is excepted)….”

The deed will also set out the duration of the lease, the annual rent, and the gale-days, i.e. the days when the rent is due.   In this case, rent is to be paid every quarter.

“…. To hold from the 25th day of March for the term of 30 years, as and under the yearly rent of 15£ sterling, payable quarterly above all taxes …

Finally, there is a record of the person who applied to have the original deed memorialised in the Registry, and his witnesses.

“…this memorial was signed and sealed by the said Michael Kearney in the presence of the said Richard Prest and Henry Buckley.”

*       *       *       *       *       *       *

Here’s a second memorial, that records a very different kind of transaction.  Note the use of abbreviations throughout the document.

This memorial makes a record of an original contract signed and sealed in November 1754, to establish a trust, i.e. where property is held by one party for the benefit or use of another.  The actual memorial was recorded in the Registry, almost two years later in June 1756.

“Reg[is]t[ere]d the 19th day of June 1756 at 12 a clock at noon

A memorial of a deed or declaration of trust bearing date the seventh day of November in the year of our Lord 1754,…”

The memorial tells us the context in which it was deemed necessary to create a trust.

In 1754, William Behn was about to take a case in the Irish court of Chancery, to gain control of William Moylan’s land in Galway.

“Reciting that whereas William Behn of Drumane in the county of Galway, Gent, Did then intend forthwith to file a Bill in his own name in his Ma[jes]ties High court of Chancery in Ireland against William Moylen Gent and others as a Protestant Discoverer to sue for the benefit of a lease for lives renewable for ever…”

The memorial further records that in 1754 William Moylan held the lands by right of a lease for lives, contracted in 1716 between the landowner – the earl of Clanrickard and an earlier William Moylen of Liss, who had since died.

This first William Moylen had enjoyed the benefit or use of the lands, which were legally held in trust for him by one Terence Egan.

“…a lease for lives renewable for ever made in the year 1716 of the f[ee]farm and lands of Carrowerin Liss Alygowla and Burroge in the county of Galway unto Terence Egan of the city of Dublin Gent, in trust for William Moylen formerly of Liss Gent, deceased by the Right Hon~ble John then earl of Clanrickard and Michael Lord Dunkellin his son and heir…”

Don’t let the mention of Lord Dunkellin in this document confuse you.  Dunkellin is something of a red herring, and he’s only mentioned because he’s the heir of the earl of Clanrickard.  The intent is to emphasise that the landowner’s family are a corporate entity, and that Moylen’s  lease will continue even after Clanrickard’s death.

Although its not explicitly stated here, the Moylens were a Catholic family.  In 1716 when they had took out a lease for lives renewable forever, they were breaking the Penal Laws, which tried to restrict catholic property rights by limiting leases to a single generation.  In 1716 the Moylens by-passed these laws, by placing the lands in trust, for their own use.

Now in 1754, the then William Moylen, who was a nephew and heir of the first William Moylen, was about to create a new deed of trust with William Behn acting as his trusted agent.

“…by which said deed or declaration of trust the said William Behn did declare that the said Bill so to be fyled by him or in his name was and should be in trust for William Moylen late of Liss and now of Ballinruane in the said county of Galway Gent, nephew heir and Lice [Licensee] of the said William Moylen decd and for the sole use benefitt and behoof of him the said William Moylen late of Liss and now of Ballinruane aforesaid.”

In short, what we have here is evidence of a ‘collusive discovery’.  On completion of Behn’s court case, the lands would be assigned on paper to him as the ‘protestant discoverer.’  However the 1754 deed of trust meant that in reality the lands would continue to be enjoyed by the catholic landholder, William Moylen.

“And that when he the said William Behn should obtain a decree on the said bill, the said decree should lie for the sole and proper use and behooff of the said William Moylen late of Liss and now of Ballinruane aforesaid, his heirs, licensees administrators and assignees and that he would assign over the benefit thereof to the said William Moylen … as soon as demanded after the same would be obtained…”

The memorial concluded by recording who were the witnesses to the original 1754 deed of trust:

“…and the said deed or declaration of trust is witnessed by Thomas Ridge of the City of Dublin gent, one of the attorneys of his Maties Court of Kings Bench in Ireland, by Roger Nolan of Ballinruane in the county of Galway aforesaid son to William Nolan of La-il- in the county of Tipperary, farmer, and by Joseph Ridge of the City of Dublin Gent, one of the attorneys of his Maties Court of Exchequer in Ireland, …”

and also recording the witnesses to the memorial entered into the Registry of Deeds almost two years later, on 19th June 1756.

“… this memorial is witnessed by the said Joseph Ridge and by Henry Wattson of Ballinruane aforesaid, Gentleman.

Joseph Ridge of the city of Dublin Gent one of the attorneys of his Maties Court of Exhceuqer in Ireland made Bill this day before me that he the deponent saw the deed of declaration of trust whereof the above writing was memorialised and alsoe the above memorial duly signed sealed and perfected by William Behn of Drumane in the county of Gallway Gent, …

Registered the 19th day of June 1756

*       *       *       *       *       *       *

As a general point of interest, the William Behn who acted as a ‘Protestant discoverer’ in the above deed, was actually William Moylen’s  son-in-law.  This close family connection was no doubt one of the reasons why Moylen trusted Behn sufficiently to act for him in court.

From our vantage point we can see that what was at stake in this deed wasn’t simply to outmanoeuvre the authorities, but to ensure the rights of inheritance of any children of the Behn/Moylan marriage.

Here’s a few general pointers to keep in mind when using the records of the Registry of Deeds:

  • Always record the volume number, the page and the deed number, otherwise you may never find the deed you need a second time.
  • Prior to 1832 the clerical system used in the Registry of Deeds contained many errors.    Always cross reference your research in the Grantors’ Index, with research in the townlands index.  This still won’t give you 100% of the deeds that were ever registered, but it will almost certainly increase the number of deeds you find.
  • When searching the Grantors’ Index, look at the first few pages of each book, for all variant spellings of surnames recorded in these volumes.
  • You can search for deeds on property in Dublin city, by street.
  • After 1822, you can search for deeds on property in all corporation towns.

Please keep sending in your research questions – I’ll endeavour to answer them all eventually.  And let me know if you find this ‘dissection of the documents’ a useful way of approaching problems of interpretation.

Best wishes,


[1] Licensee

Older research Questions and Answers:

Fiona helps Mrs Hilbert find her Irish ancestors starting with the English records

Fiona helps John Collins with his Methodist ancestors – Updated

Fiona answers Marilyn Duggan and Thomas Seery’s questions about ancestors in the police and RIC

Fiona answers Betty Jane Chalfant’s question about ‘Irish Adventurers’ in the 17th century

Fiona answers Bev Young’s question about the Irish Orphan Scheme to Australia

Fiona answers Sheila Shanley’s question about Irish railway workers

Fiona answers Brian Hepenstall’s question