The lack of census records for the 19th century has us grasping at any record that might tell us about our ancestors. Frequently referred to as a “census substitute,” Griffith’s Valuation is a tax list, not a census. The name of the occupier is the person responsible for paying the tax on the tenement (land and buildings). It is, however, the only major surviving list of where people lived just prior to, during and just after the famine. Even if your ancestors emigrated before the Valuation, chances are that members of their family remained and are listed. Once identified, the history of the tenancy and/or ownership of the parcel can be traced, in some cases, to the 1970s.
Richard Griffith, a geologist, was named Boundary Surveyor in 1825 as the country was trying to establish standards for taxation. This required maps to be drawn, townland names to be standardized and valuations to be completed for the entire country. What we know as Griffith’s Valuation is actually the Second (1846) and Third (1856) Tenement Valuations. The Second Valuation was done by Barony, the Third by Poor Law Union. The earliest valuation was done in Dublin between 1847-1853 and the latest in Armagh between 1863-1864. Make sure you know the dates of the Valuation in the area where your ancestors lived.
There are many websites that have indexes or transcriptions from Griffith’s. IrishOrigins.com (a subscription website) has the most complete listings, including images of the printed books and Ordnance Survey maps. An index is also available on Ancestry.com, but with common names it may be difficult to determine which individual is your ancestor. Like all Irish research, unless you have a very uncommon name, knowing the townland of your ancestor is vital.
If your ancestor emigrated before Griffith’s was taken in your county, the likelihood is that some family members, grandparents, parents or siblings remained in Ireland. Look at all of the individuals with your surname in the area and see if you can find given names that have been passed down in your family. If a couple was married in Ireland, look at the areas where the surnames of both the bride and groom overlap. A great tool for doing this is Grenham’s Irish SurnamesCD which I mentioned last week. If you know the name of the immigrant’s parents who might still have been in Ireland at the time of the Valuation, look for them. If the father had died, the mother might be listed as the Occupier.
Once you find an index entry you need to view the image of the printed sheets. The published lists include:
Occupiers and their immediate landlord
Ordnance Survey map designation of holding
Description of the holding (House, offices, land)
Tax on land, buildings and a total tax
When you look at the printed list, check the names of other individuals in the townland. Do you recognize any of these names as witnesses on documents in the U.S. such as baptisms or marriages? That might provide a hint as to a possible relationship. You might also notice something called an “agnomen” or second name for an individual. If there were two individuals in the same townland with the same name, the instructions were to provide an agnomen to distinguish one individual from another. A common one was Jun[ior] or Sen[ior]. Be careful because this doesn’t necessarily mean father and son, (mother and daughter-in-law) but simply an older and younger individual of the same name. A more helpful agnomen is sometimes the name of the father, such as Patrick Sheridan (Patk) and Patrick Sheridan (Wm). Sometimes the agnomen is descriptive, such as big/little or black/red (color of hair).
Remember that this is a tax list, so an individual can be listed multiple times if they hold multiple leases sometimes in adjacent townlands so maps can be very helpful. Look at the description of the land to see if there is a house on both pieces of property. You might see that the description of one piece of property is “house, offices [these are outbuildings such as stables, cow barns, etc], land” and another piece of property is just “land.” This might indicate that the second piece of property is grazing or farm land. You might also find that your ancestor jointly leased property with other tenants known as Rundale occupancy. All tenants were obligated to pay the entire rent, so if one person was unable to pay, the others had to make up the amount.
Another piece of information that can be very helpful is the name of the landlord. Sometimes it takes a bit of additional research to determine if the “Immediate Lessor” is the landlord or a middleman, but if you see, for example, the Marquis of Downshire, another resource might be Estate Records.
Griffith’s Valuation is a key resource for Irish research and should not be overlooked. An excellent resource for learning more about Griffith's is James R. Reilly's Richard Griffith and His Valuations of Ireland. Check out the link on the Irish section of my Books page to order.