Of rabbit holes and Irish valuation books


Courtown harbour marked

Courtown Harbour with the Oughton cottages marked. Google Earth view.

My week started with the attempt to unravel my Callaghan ancestors from the Griffith Valuation and revision books. It turned into something of a marathon as I got lost down the rabbit hole of tracking the change in occupants of the small quadrangle of buildings constructed by John Oughton in the early 1840s.

What sources was I using?

20160910_144814These small cottages were valued at £1/-/- (or about $2), however they rented for £4 a year (not a bad profit!). The valuer annotates the house books: “houses from No 7 to No 34 inclusive are held from Mr Oughton. The tenants pay £4 yearly which is an extravagant rent but as they generally live by fishing, and the situation is convenient, the houses are seldom unoccupied”. Indeed, this quadrangle of buildings is a stone’s throw from the harbour and it would have been very easy to step outside and assess the weather and the state of the Irish Sea.

Logically speaking one might expect that the names of the occupants would trace from the 1846 house books, to the 1847 quarto books to the 1853 published GV and then to the revision books. It took some messing with spreadsheets to determine this was not the case. In fact, the most reliable correlation was between the names on the revised list of occupants from the 1846 house books, the mudmap drawing in the 1847 Quarto books, and the published Griffith Valuations. The original and revised names in the 1847 Quarto books actually (mostly) matched the original names in the 1846 house books.

Cottages Courtown Harbour edited

The annotated mudmap of the Oughton cottages -complete with revised numbers.

So what else did I learn from this marathon of rabbit-hole-ing?

  • Wise Irish genealogists will hope for extant house books or quarto books for their ancestor’s townland (sadly not always the case)
  • These earlier books may provide the names of previous generations of ancestors and when a male ancestor may have died, as his widow’s name then appears
  • The Quarto books for this area include mudmap drawings of the villages eg Courtown Harbour and River Chapel (Yay!!)
  • The number of the houses is annotated but because it’s overwritten by changes over time is very confusing without the spreadsheet analysis
  • The spelling of names is definitely variable – both surnames and first names eg the tenancy for Carty is variably Mogue or Morgan but on the annotated mudmap, it shows MaryAnn. Then there’s Darby/Dermott, Neale/Neil or Kavanagh/Cavanagh
  • Some names are just plain difficult to decipher especially when over-written
  • As already known, the changes in the Revision books can highlight an approximate year for an ancestor’s death
  • They can also confirm the line of descent eg Kate Callaghan, the widow of David Callaghan’s son Patrick, takes over David’s property. It is this that leads me to believe Patrick may have been the eldest son.
  • The numbering of the houses changes somewhat over time – a spreadsheet makes it easier to track this. After all, while people did move from one house to the other, it wasn’t a routine case of musical houses.
  • Many of the houses were held “at will” meaning their tenancy might be precarious
  • In some cases, the tenant may be referred to as “Widow Callaghan” but a later entry may reveal their first name eg Widow Callaghan in 1846 is shown as Anne Callaghan in 1847.
  • Annotations will reveal where a property is in ruins – doesn’t say much for the conditions under which the previous tenant may have had to live.
  • Using different search parameters for place can make a difference to results: try Barony, townland or just county.

Although inordinately time-consuming, this has been a worthwhile exercise and one that I’d recommend to others who are lucky enough to have a range of early valuation books available for their townland.

In terms of the revision lists, these can be viewed at a Family History Centre near you, but it comes with a warning – on the originals, the revisions are (generally) different colours. On the microfilm it’s possible, but much harder work and more ambiguous, to follow the changes. I haven’t used the online version at the Family History Centres so not sure whether they are in colour or not.

If you’re heading to Ireland, do put the Valuation Office on your must-visit research places. I first learned of these books from a tiny little book back in 1992, and it has been invaluable. Perhaps one day we’ll be lucky enough that the revision lists will be digitised as well. After all, Irish research is on a winning streak lately.

Come back soon for the conclusions I reached about my Callaghan clan.

6 thoughts on “Of rabbit holes and Irish valuation books

  1. Great blog Pauleen. Irish land records help so much, I’ve seen some of the original field books and the house books at PRONI, but hadn’t visited them online for awhile. Thanks for reminding me about this fab feature. Yes, some Ulster parishes are also included but not a lot & not at all in some Counties.

    Liked by 1 person

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