Land Estate Papers...

The records generated by the management of landed estates are a major source of genealogical information.

The best collection of Irish estate papers is housed in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. A two-volume Guide to Landed Estate Papers is available for consultation in the Public Search Room. It is arranged by county with the estate collections listed alphabetically according to the name of the landowning family.

A brief synopsis of what is available is provided for each estate collection along with reference numbers. For several of the larger estates there are excellent records. For many of the smaller estates, however, there are relatively few records available for inspection in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

Some categories of estate papers are more useful to genealogists than others. Title deeds are concerned with the legal ownership of an estate, and are generally of limited value to genealogists. The same can be said of mortgages. Wills and marriage settlements usually refer only to the members of the landowner’s family. However, rentals, leases, lease books, maps and correspondence can all be extremely useful to those searching for their ancestors within landed estate records.

Rentals, rent rolls or rent books record rent payments made by a tenant to his landlord. They are generally arranged by year (rents were usually paid half-yearly) or with several years covered by the same volume. The information provided will usually be limited to the name of the tenant, the extent and location of his holding and the rent payable by him. Occasionally rentals are annotated with a change in occupancy, and the reason for it is sometimes noted.

A lease granted by a landlord to a tenant gave him the right to occupy the property for a specific period of time. Two copies of the lease were usually prepared; the original lease was signed by the landlord and kept by the tenant. The counterpart was signed by the tenant and kept by the landlord. A lease was usually for a term of years, 21 or 31 being quite common, but leases for three lives were in fairly widespread use. A three-life lease expired when all the three persons named in the lease died.

Three-life leases are very useful for genealogists because a tenant often named members of his family (particularly sons and grandsons) as the lives. When new lives were inserted details of age and relationship were often included and it is possible to work out when the old life died.

Lease books can be among the most useful of estate papers as far as genealogy is concerned. They record in condensed form the same sort of information contained in the original leases, such as the name of the lessee, the location and extent of the holding and the rent payable on it. Generally covering an entire estate, they can be a much quicker way of finding information on a tenant farmer than searching through several bundles of leases.

Maps form an important element in most estate collections. These show the property of the landlord, who employed a surveyor to illustrate the extent of his land and the more important features on his estate. Maps come in all shapes and sizes and can be coloured or roughly etched in black and white. The correspondence between a landlord and his agent can be of immense genealogical value. Not only does it include details of the day-to-day running of the estate, but mention is often made of those who worked on the estate.

Many of those who occupied smallholdings will not appear in estate collections because they did not lease their ground directly from the landlord. Instead their few acres were sublet to them by another farmer. While landlords were firmly opposed to the practice of subletting they found it very difficult to stamp out. It does, however, make it almost impossible to identify such people in the historical record. Occasionally they will turn up in correspondence if a landlord was trying to do something about subletting on his estate.