The Irish Registry of Deeds



TYPES OF TRANSACTION


Categorising the kinds of deeds that appear in the Registry can be difficult, as many of them are not what they appear to be. The most common misleading description in the opening of the memorial is the 'deed of lease and release', which may in fact be a conveyance or sale, a mortgage, a marriage settlement or a rent charge. 'Lease and release' was a legal device whereby the obligation to record a conveyance publicly could be avoided; it was not obligatory to record a transaction to a tenant or lessee already in occupation, and it was not obligatory to record a lease for one year only. Accordingly, a lease for one year was first granted and then the true transaction--conveyance, mortgage, marriage settlement or other--was carried out. It remained popular as a method of conveyance until 1845, when the Statute of Uses, which made it possible, was repealed.

Despite the difficulties created by such disguises as the lease and release, the underlying transactions fall into a number of broad classes:

Leases
Marriage Settlements
Mortgages
Deeds of trust
Wills
Rent Charges


Leases

By far the most common of the records in the Registry, leases could run for any term between one and 999 years, could last for the lives of a number of persons named in the document, or could be a mixture of the two, lasting three lives or sixty years, whichever was longer. Only leases for more than three years could be registered. The most genealogically useful information in such leases is the lives they mention. The choice of lives generally rested with the lessee or grantee, and in most cases those chosen were related. Often the names and ages of the grantee's children appear - an extremely valuable piece of information for families in the eighteenth century. Leases for 900 years, or for lives renewable in perpetuity were much more common in Ireland than elsewhere and amounted to a permanent transfer of the property, although the grantor remained the nominal owner. As might be imagined, such leases provided a rich basis for legal disputes.


Marriage Settlements

Any form of pre-nuptial property agreement between the families of the prospective bride and groom was known as a 'marriage settlement', or as 'marriage articles'. A variety of transactions can therefore be classed in this way. What they have in common is their aim to provide security, to women in particular: as married women could hold no property in their own right, it was common practice for the dowry to be granted to trustees rather than directly to the future husband, which allowed the women some degree of independence and some security in the event of the husband's death. It was also common for the family of the prospective husband, or the husband himself, to grant an annuity out of the income of his land to the future wife and children should he predecease them. The information given in settlements varies, but in general it should at least include the names, addresses and occupations of the bride, groom and bride's father. In addition, other relatives--brothers, uncles etc.--may also put in an appearance. For obvious reasons, marriage settlements are among the most useful of the records held in the Registry. The period during which they were most commonly registered appears to have been the three decades from 1790 to 1820. When searching the Grantors Indexes for them it should be remembered that they are not always indicated as such and that the formal grantor may be a member of either family, making it necessary to search under both surnames.

Mortgages

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, mortgages were very commonly used as a form of investment on the one hand and as a way of raising short-term cash on the other. Generally they do not provide a great deal of family information, but as they were an endless source of legal disputes they form a disproportionate number of the deeds registered. It was quite common for mortgages to be passed on to third or fourth parties, each hoping to make money, so the resulting deeds can be very complicated.

Deeds of trust

Under the Penal Laws, Catholics were not allowed to possess more than a very limited amount of land, or hold it on a lease of more than 31 years. A Protestant who discovered a Catholic in possession of more than the permitted amount or with a legally deficient lease could file a bill of discovery in the Court of Exchequer to claim it. In practice, most bills appear to have been filed by Protestant friends of Catholic landowners to pre-empt hostile discovery and as a means of allowing them to remain in effectual possession. The practice was know as 'collusive discovery'. The process was completed by a deed of trust, declaring that the discovery was in trust and for the benefit of the other party. Such deeds are not common, but they are extremely interesting, both genealogically and historically.

Wills

Only those wills likely to be contested legally were registered, in other words those that omitted someone--almost certainly a family member who might have a legitimate claim. Abstracts of the personal and geographical information in all the wills registered between 1708 and 1832 have been published in P.B. Phair and E. Ellis (eds.), Abstracts of Wills at the Registry of Deeds (3 vols., Dublin: IMC, 1954-88), online at www.irishmanuscripts.ie. The full provisions of the wills are to be found only in the original memorials.

Rent Charges

These were annual charges of a fixed sum payable out of the revenue generated by nominated lands. They were used to provide for family members in straitened circumstances, or to pay off debts or mortgages in instalments. Once made, they could be transferred to others and were valuable assets in their own right. Depending on the terms, they can provide useful insights into family relationships and family fortunes.

Other, miscellaneous classes of deed also appear in the Registry of Deeds. As outlined above, the only common feature is that they record a property transaction of some description; any family information they may contain is a matter of luck

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