Registration worked in the following way. After a deed had been signed and witnessed, at least two copies would exist, one held by each of the parties to the deed. One of those parties would then have a memorial of the original made, sign it and have it in turn witnessed by two people, at least one of whom had also witnessed the original. It is important to realise that the 'memorial' was not necessarily a facsimile copy of the original The rules governing the creation of a memorial specified only that it should include the date of the deed, the names and style of address of the parties and of all witnesses, the locations of properties and the changes brought about by the deed recorded 'in such manner as the same are expressed [...] or to the same effect'. In other words, the memorial could be a précis of the original deed. This provision is one reason why the actual intent of some of the deeds memorialised can be hard to make out. No doubt it was used deliberately at times to obscure that intent.
The memorial was then sworn before a Justice of the Peace as a faithful abstract of the original and sent to the Registry. Here it was transcribed into a large manuscript volume and indexed. The original memorial was retained and stored, and these originals are all still preserved in the vaults of the Registry. For research purposes, however, the large manuscript volumes containing the transcripts of the memorials are used. The registration of a deed normally took place fairly soon after its execution, within a month or two in most cases, although delays of up to two years are quite common. If the gap between the execution and the registration of a deed is much longer, this may be significant: it indicates an impending need for one of the parties to the deed, or their heirs, to be able to show legal proof of its execution. The most common reason for such a necessity would have been the death of one of the parties.
The indexing system used by the Registry is complicated and incomplete. There are two sets of indexes: one by grantor's name (i.e. the name of the party disposing of the asset), the other by the name of the townland in which the property was situated. There is no index of grantees.
The Grantors Index
The Grantors Index is fully alphabetical and is divided into a number of sets covering different initial letters and periods. Between 1708 and 1833 the Grantors Index records the name of the grantor, the surname of the first grantee, and the volume, page and deed number. No indication is given of the location of the property concerned--an omission that can make a search for references to a family with a common surname very tedious indeed. From 1833 the index is more comprehensive, listing the county anf barony in which the property was situated. In general, the index is remarkably accurate, but there are some mistakes, particularly in the volume and page references. In such instances the deed number can be used to trace the transcript; the transcription system required several transcribers to work simultaneously on different volumes, and the volume numbers were sometimes transposed. If, for example, Volume 380 is not the correct reference, Volumes 378-82 may contain the transcript. Within each volume the transcripts are numerically consecutive.
The Lands Index
The Lands Index is subdivided by county and is roughly alphabetical within each county, with townland names grouped together under their initial letter. This means that a search for deeds relating to, say, Ballyboy, Co. Roscommon, involves a search through all the references to Co. Roscommon townlands that start with the letter 'B'. The information given in the index is brief, recording only the surnames of two of the parties and the volume, page and deed numbers. As with the Grantors Index, the index is divided into a number of sets covering different periods. After 1828 it further subdivides the lists of townlands by barony, making research a good deal more efficient. Alongside the county volumes there are separate indexes for corporation towns and cities. The subdivisions within these are somewhat eccentric, particularly in the case of Dublin, making it necessary to search even more widely than in the rural indexes. It should be pointed out that the Registry does not make it possible for the history of all the transactions in which a property was involved to be traced, because some of the deeds recording the transactions were inevitably not registered.
In general, of the Registry's two sets of indexes the Grantors Index is the most genealogically useful, because it is strictly alphabetical and lists transactions by person rather than by property. The greatest omission in the Registry is of an index to the grantees: given the distribution of wealth in the country, the social range covered would be enhanced greatly by the production of such an index. Microfilm copies of both the Lands Index and the Grantors Index are available at NLI, PRONI and the LDS Family History Library. These microfilms and the microfilms of the memorials they index - 2686 films covering the years 1708 to 1929 - are now freely available online.