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by Jean Agnew
The Registry of Deeds is the most important single source of genealogical information for the eighteenth century. It is also the most difficult to search; having found, to read; and having read, to understand. It is advisable for the amateur to employ an experienced research worker who is familiar with the indexes.
No professional genealogist will make a search without warning the client that it may be both time-consuming and unproductive. However, like the tomb of Tutankamen, the Registry of Deeds contains 'wonderful things' which can be uncovered by patient excavation and, of course, luck.
The Registry of Deeds in Ireland was founded in 1708 for the protection of purchasers and lessors of land.
It was originally part of the barbarous Penal Code against Roman Catholics and the Statute lays down that its purpose was 'for securing purchasers, preventing forgeries and fraudulent gifts and conveyances of lands, tenements and hereditaments, which have been frequently practised in this kingdom, especially by Papists, to the great prejudice of the Protestant interest thereof'.
By not accepting for registration leases of less than twenty one years the Registry in effect prevented the registration of title by Roman Catholics who, until the relaxation of the Penal Laws in 1778, could only hold land by short leases and thus had a less secure title to their land than their Protestant neighbours.
It is occasionally possible to find material relating to Roman Catholics in the earlier part of the eighteenth century but the Registry of Deeds is mainly useful to genealogists tracing Protestant families."
This article examines the best way to use the Registry of Deeds, the most important source of genealogical information for the 18th century.