Is There More in Griffith's Valuation

Than Just Names?






   The Public Record Office in Dublin's Four Courts building complex was destroyed on June 29, 1922 during the Irish Civil War.  Among the irreplaceable documents were the census schedules of 1821 through 1851, wills and administrations as well as almost a thousand Church of Ireland parish registers.  Although some few fragments of these records did survive the fire, for genealogists their destruction is a great loss of data needed to construct relationships with their ancestors.  The onset in late 1845 of civil registration of Protestant marriages, the scarcity of Roman Catholic sacramental registers in the early years of the nineteenth century, and the January 1864 commencement of civil registration of all births marriages and deaths only serve to underscore the often formidable challenges of Irish research.

In the process of constructing a country-wide tax base, Sir Richard Griffith conducted three property valuations between 1830 and 1864 that have been discussed in the article "Richard Griffith and His Valuations of Ireland” in The Irish At Home and Abroad.  Since the fire of 1922, the two valuations undertaken in 1846 and 1852 are frequently described in genealogical literature as "a census substitute" for the years between the onset of the Great Famine and 1864.  Although extensive in their listing of names, they are not the customary census enumeration of family members living in a household.

However, in what appears on the surface to be a simple inventory of occupiers (Glossary #1) of taxable property in nineteenth century Ireland, family historians will find a wealth of data to link family members and to lay bare clues for developing search strategies to overcome the 1922 loss of census, probate and church records.  The 1846 and 1852 valuations are readily available in many repositories, in public libraries and in the LDS Family History Library; they will be used to answer the question in this article's title, "Is There More in Griffith's Valuation Than Just Names?"

   To assure that the valuations would be carried out within well-defined scientific guidelines and procedures, beginning in 1833 Griffith published a series of field manuals for the use of his staff.  In his 1852 edition, Instructions to the Valuators and Surveyors for the Uniform Valuation of Lands and Tenements in Ireland (Reprint. London: The House of Commons, 1882) he left no doubt in their minds about the level of efficiency he expected when he stated that "Whenever it shall appear that any part of the foregoing Instructions shall have been neglected, ... the valuator or surveyor in such cases cannot be retained in the Valuation service."

   Analysis of the valuations conducted under the Acts 9 & 10 and 15 & 16 Victoria reveals information about the economic conditions of an ancestor and, perhaps, siblings, relatives, and in-laws.  Houses and their adjacent structures are described and valued.  An occupation is often revealed.  Family relationships are deduced from the frequency and proximity of a surname in a neighborhood.  The absence of an ancestor's name within its pages is better understood when based on real information rather than an uninformed "Oh, they emigrated."




The Ordnance Survey Map

Before Griffith's valuators could commence their work of individual tenement (Glossary#2) valuation, the boundaries of every county, barony, civil parish, and townland (Glossary #3 - 6) in Ireland had to be scientifically surveyed and maps drawn as required by the Act of 6 Geo IV, Cap. 99 (The 99th Chapter of the Statutes enacted by Parliament in the Sixth Year of the Reign of King George).  The British Army Corps of Engineers was assigned the task of surveying these various land denominations.  Skilled and experienced in the creation of maps used by the British Army, these men were members of an ordnance (military weapons) unit of the Engineers.  Thus, the maps they created are named “Ordnance Survey Maps.”


Seeking Genealogical Information

   Legislation required that Richard Griffith describe, catalogue, and assess each tenement in a townland and publish the results in a volume titled General Valuation of Rateable Property in Ireland.  Today it is commonly referred to as “Griffith’s Primary Valuation” or simply “Griffith’s Valuation.”

The printed version of the civil parish of Usk (Figure 1) summarizes in its eight columns the voluminous details gathered for each tenement or holding by his surveyors and valuators in the fields and streets, in the bogs and mountains, in the towns and villages of this mid-nineteenth century civil parish:


1)    Number and Letters of Reference to Map

2)    Names of Townlands and Occupiers

3)    Names of Immediate Lessors

4)    Description of Tenement

5)    Area in Acres, Roods, Perches

6)    Rateable Annual Valuation of Land

7)    Rateable Annual Value of Buildings

8)    Total Annual Value.


Ballymount is the first townland listed within the parish of Usk (Figure 1) under the column headed Townlands and Occupiers.  This column serves to identify the geographical address of each occupier of a holding within its boundaries.  Ballymount consists of seventeen holdings, each distinguished by an arabic number in the column headed No. and Letters of References to Map.  In rural areas, the number represents the order in which the valuator listed each holding in his manuscript field book.  The lot number does not necessarily signify the proximity of holdings to each other.  That can be determined only by examination of the Ordnance Survey map carried by the surveyor as he measured and marked each holding's boundaries on it; the map shows the field book's corresponding numbers and letters.  These maps may be available at the Dublin Valuation Office and at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Belfast (PRONI).  However, in a town and city the numbers do represent the holdings consecutively adjoining each other on streets and lanes.

The Instructions manual states that "when cottagers' (Glossary #7) houses and gardens are included within the limits of a farm, the farmer's house ... should have the italic letter a prefixed to the number of the lot in which it is situated; the cottagers' [houses should have] b, c, &." We learn from this instruction that holding No. I in Ballymount contains two houses; the first is occupied by James Leigh, a farmer, and the second by James Kenna, a cottager or agricultural worker on his farm.

The Names of Immediate Lessors (Glossary #8) indicates that Leigh and Kenna individually have John L Touche as their landlord and pay their rent to him.  Although there is no specific information given as to the kind and length of tenure held by the two tenants, we may reasonably infer their tenure from the Area column which describes the size of each man's holding.



Figure 2.  Sketch of Holdings 1, 6, 8 and 9.


  The size of a holding was frequently used as a rule of thumb to depict Ireland's agricultural classes.  The holder of less than five acres was labeled a "cottier or laborer" (Glossary #9); small farmers usually held between five and thirty acres, and the large farmer occupied more that thirty acres.  Consequently, Leigh's "92 acres, I rood, and 23 perches" (Glossary #10) would most certainly class him as a financially independent large farmer holding under a "lease of years or lives" (Glossary # 11), while Kenna's house, for which no land area is taxed and whose value is a low 5 shillings (Glossary #12) in the Rateable Annual Valuation of Buildings column, is probably rented on a yearly tenancy from Mr. La Touche.

Contrary to common belief, a yearly tenant could not just be thrown off his or her holding by force; nor could the rent be raised at the mere whim of the landlord.  The law presumed that a yearly tenancy persisted unchanged from year to year; it did not expire at the end of each year but continued from year to year unless surrendered by the tenant.  If the landlord wanted to change the tenancy, the landlord could do so only by going into court.  Once, therefore, a yearly tenancy was established, it could be changed only by mutual consent or by litigation. (W. E. Vaughn, Landlords and Tenants in Ireland 1848-1904, Dublin: The Economic and Social History Society of Ireland, Rev. ed. 1994).

Holding No. 6 shows that one of its two occupiers is both a tenant and a landlord.  Patrick Connor rents three acres, one rood and thirty-four perches from John La Touche on which holding there are three houses.  Connor himself occupies the a house and rents as landlord the b house to Judith McGear with the c house vacant and not creating income for him.

The landlord reference for holding No. 8 indicates that this 81+ acre farm is rented by John Keatley from John La Touche and, according to the map reference column, is divided into two quality lots (Glossary #13) labeled A and B. Although Keatley's use of 23 acre lot A, valued at approximately five shillings per acre, is not described, it appears not to be of as good a quality as the 58 acres valued at approximately lls per acre.  Examination of the land field books in Dublin's Valuation Office may confirm lot A’s use for pasture and B's for crops.

Notice that Holding No. 9 in Figure 1 does not record a house for occupier Michael Butterfield, although lot A does show a house and garden occupied by Bridget Murphy.  Is he related to Bridget Murphy, and does he reside in her house?  Is he related to the Matthew Butterfield occupying holding No. 16, and does he live with him?  Does he live in another townland?  When a tenant lives in another townland, the Instructions manual requires that his townland of residence be noted next to his name in the Occupier column - for example, "Michael Butterfield (Merville)." Since there is no such notation, we can only conclude that he resides in Ballymount.  But with whom?

The simple caricature sketch in Figure 2 is designed to illustrate the numbers and letters found in the No. and Letters of Reference to Map and Description of Tenement columns for holdings 1, 6 and 9.

The townland of Derreen shown in Figure 3 illustrates the subdivision of a tenement by a group of tenants holding the 641+ acre parcel of land in common, historically termed the rundale system of land occupancy.  Under the terms of the system, each tenant occupies a portion of the holding for a house and tillage use, but the tenant is financially responsible along with fellow tenants for the full rent due on the entire holding.  Should one or more of the occupiers fail to pay the rent, that share must be paid by the other tenants.

  Prior to the Great Famine, a farmer saw little harm in subdividing a rented holding to ensure the economic well being of each son as he married; and in some cases, even the sons-in-law received as dowries of their brides some share of the farm.  While it is not justifiable to assume that any of the thirteen occupiers in Dereen are related by blood or marriage, the presence of Michael and James Granaham, of John and James Sheridan along with a Carey, a McHale and the others within this rundale communal setting strongly suggests an investigation of all surnames for possible familial relationships.


Building Structures

The thatched cottage of Inishfree idealized in the John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara classic movie Quiet Man with its newly painted door and trim and its lush flower garden is not the cottage of the ordinary farmer or laborer, of mid-nineteenth century Ireland.  The Description of Tenements column, although concise in wording, will reveal considerable information about an ancestor's economic condition during a tragic mid-century of famine and emigration.

Griffith's manual defines two classes of buildings, those used for houses and those used for offices.  "House" includes all buildings used permanently as dwellings and all public buildings such as houses of worship, courthouses and the like.  “Office” includes factories, mills, shops and farm outbuildings such as a stable, turf shed, cow barn, corn shed, a piggery, and so forth.

A tenement, as described in the Description of Tenement column, consists typically of a "house, office, land," or a "house and land" or a "house and garden." Sometimes the holding is only "land” or a "house."

Simply stated, the taxable value of a building structure was an estimate of the annual rent a landlord could reasonably expect from a responsible tenant.  Construction materials, age, state of repair, and dimensions of the house or office were the factors used to determine taxable value.

A house built of stone and brick in perfect repair with a slated roof is rated at a higher value than one constructed with mud walls roofed with thatch.  The house of mud walls, thatched roof and needing repair is still rated higher than the dilapidated, scarcely habitable structure euphemistically called a cottage.



Section No. 31 of the Instructions states that when "two or more persons in a townland have the same Christian and surname, it will be necessary to obtain an agnomen (as Farmer)." Agnomen is a Latin word meaning "an additional name." When Griffith offered the word "Farmer" as his sole example of an agnomen, he afforded great latitude to the valuators in their choice of additional names to differentiate between individuals.  For the genealogist, the agnomen has become one of the most useful clues for developing family relationship hypotheses.


1.  “Junior – senior” appears to be the most commonly utilized agnomen.  Black's Law Dictionary: Definitions of the Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and Modern (by Henry Campbell Black. St. Paul, MN, 4th ed., 1968) defines "'junior as a convenient distinction between a father and son of the same name." Occasionally either "junior" or "senior" is omitted (Figure 4).

It is the author’s contention that the singular use country-wide of "junior-senior" to distinguish between individuals, in spite of the array of other agnomens available in each geographical locality, is a strong affirmation of a "father-son" relationship.


2.  The men employed by Griffith as valuators were native-born Irish familiar with the traditional naming practices.  As shown in Figure 5, the Gaelic practice of using a father's name to distinguish between men with the same given name was a frequently applied agnomen The use of a father's name in this fashion should not be interpreted to indicate that the father is deceased; he may be living in the same townland or in a neighboring one.

  In Clarbally townland (Figure 6) there are eight holdings each listing a M'Govern occupier, five of whom are distinguished by the fathers' given names.  What is the possibility that the four fathers named in the agnomens (Frank, Tom, Patk, Hugh) are brothers?  If so, these five men are cousins.  What is the possibility that these five men are named for a paternal or maternal grandfather?

  There are baptism and marriage records for the Catholic parish serving Clarbally for the early 1820s that reveal a number of M'Governs named Thomas, Patrick, Hugh, and Francis.  There are M'Golrick names in the register.  What is the relationship between the M’Govern and M'Golrick occupiers in Clarbally and Derryvella?


Figure 4.  Junior-Senior.


Figure 5.  Father’s Name.


Figure 6.  Possible Cousins.


"Deinvilla," a Gaelic word, distinguishing Patrick M'Govern in Holding No. 2b, indicates that his actual place of residence, is in the adjoining townland of Deinvilla (Derryvella).


3.  In the townland of Kilmacduane West, “Ellen” is used to distinguish between John Cullinan (Ellen) and John Cullinan (Pat.). The author submits that Ellen is the widow of John's father whose name would have been used had he been living when the holding was valued (Figure 7).  Were “Pat” and Ellen’s deceased husband brothers?  A second example in the townland is "Mary" and "Michael" to distinguish between two "John Honan"; is there a relationship between Mary and Michael?


4.  Figures 8, 9 and 10 show examples of an occupation, physical characteristics and topography used as the agnomen to distinguish between occupiers and to suggest clues for possible relationships.

Figure 7.  Widowed Mother.



Figure 8.  Occupation (Carpenter).



Figure 9.  Physical characteristics (Black and White).



Figure 10.  Topography (Hill and Hollow).

5.  Occasionally an agnomen (for example, "black/white," "tall/short," "fiddler") will be used where there is not another occupier of the same name in the townland.  It is the author's theory that it was used to indicate that two adult men or women of the same name occupied the holding with the agnomen designating the individual financially responsible.  This usage occurs sometimes in the situation described in "Unnamed Occupiers, 1" later in the article.


Agnomens for Women


1.  Valuators did not confine the junior-senior agnomen to men; Figure 11 illustrates its female use.  However, its use does not necessarily signify a mother-daughter relationship; it may indicate a daughter-in-law relationship.


2.  When women bearing the same given and married surnames were widowed, the distinction between them was clarified by the use of their maiden names as the agnomen (Figure 12).



Figure 11. Female Junior-Senior


Figure 12. Maiden Name.


Figure 13. Widow

3.  Although there is not another townland occupier of the same name, a woman often has 'widow" appended to her name even though there are other women occupiers in the townland without this agnomen appended.  As alleged by the author in number 5 above, “widow” is used to distinguish the woman financially responsible between two adult women in the household.  Bridget McMahon is so designated in Figure 13.

  Anne Smyth, on the other hand, in Figure 14 is listed as the responsible occupier in holding 5b.  Can we assume that a house separate from John Smyth’s in 5a infers a widowed sister-in-law?  If Anne is John’s mother, would she not live with her son and daughter-in-law? If she is John's sister, was the holding subdivided for her house when John married or their father died?  Questions about John and Anne's relationship would seem to suggest that death and marriage searches were in order.



Unnamed Occupiers

The absence of an ancestor's name in a townland or in the entire civil parish does not necessarily indicate that he or she is dead, has moved to another area, or emigrated.  Other than the simple observation that an ancestor was not an occupier at the time the valuation was taken, possible explanations for his or her absence may be found in the Instructions manual as follows:


1.  "When a portion of a farmhouse has been given up by a farmer to his father or mother, and no rent is paid for it to the farmer; or where a father or mother in giving up a farm to their son [or daughter] retains a portion of the house for his or her dwelling-house during his or her lifetime, such occupation does not form a distinct tenement (Section 178)." Consequently, the parental name does not appear in the Occupier column.


2.  If one or more buildings such as "herd’s, steward’s house, porter's lodges, or gate-houses" are part of a tenement (Figure 15), Section 177 of the Instructions manual requires that they be listed in the Description of Tenement column.  Burton Persse is the owner of the 806+ acres in holding #2 in Moyode, but it is unlikely that he resides in a herd’s house valued at 15 shillings or even that of the cottier!  Because this holding appears to be grazing land, it is likely that the two houses are occupied, but by whom?  A search of Persse estate records may uncover their identity.


3.  Although it appears more frequently in towns and cities, the agnomen “lodger” is used in rural areas as well (Figure 16).  "For any house let in separate apartments or lodgings, the immediate lessor is to be entered as the occupier with the observation “lodger.”(Section 34 of the Instructions)



Legal Terms

Among legal terms and expressions found in Griffith's, three are possible sources of genealogical information.  They are found generally in the Occupier or Immediate Lessor column.



Figure 14.  Responsible Occupier.

Figure 15.  Herd house.



Figure 16.  Lodger.


"Reps of," an abbreviation for “Representatives of” is used to indicate that the individual named in the valuation was dead at the time it was taken and that his or her legal interest in the holding was being temporarily represented by a family member or perhaps by an executor named in a will.  Among the duties of an executor are the responsibility to prove the will, to call in all debts owed to the deceased and to pay outstanding debts, and to distribute legacies to those named in the will (A General View of the Law of Property, J. A. Straban, London: Stevens and Sons, Limited, 1926).  Each of these responsibilities suggests a paper trail to the deceased.

The Court of Chancery served to settle disputes between parties by using rules of equity and conscience to give relief to the parties when no remedy was to be found by a strict interpretation of the law in a common-law court.  The term “in Chancery” will signal court documents that may well include genealogical information.  If the term is used with the landowner or landlord of the townland, a search of the documents may reveal information about the tenants in the townland.

The Court of Chancery was part of the "Four Courts" complex that was damaged in 1922.  However, some Chancery records did survive and are catalogued in the Fifty-Fifth Report of the Deputy Keeper (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1949) through the Fifty-Eighth Report (1951).

“Free” is an infrequent but curious term found in rural and urban listings of the Valuation.  The Instructions manual states that “persons who hold by right of possession, and recognize no landlord, their tenure shall be entered as free (Figure 17).  Often the holding of this “squatter” is simply a house.  In the case of Mary Lacey we note that her house is part of holding No. 33 along with Patrick Sweeny and Peter Sweeny.  Is there a family relationship among these three persons?  Are they brothers and a widowed sister?  Who pays the taxes on her holding?



Figure 17.  Free.


A Concluding Caution

Although referred to as a census substitute in Irish genealogical literature, care should be taken not to confuse census terms with those used in Griffith's.  “Occupier” and “head of household” are not synonymous terms.  “Head of household” is a census term assuming members of a family and other household members.  “Occupier” as used in Griffith's is the individual or corporate body that rents, leases or owns a particular tenement.  The named individual may not be head of a household having a family living with him or her and may not even live on the particular holding.


Glossary of Terms

1.   Occupier.  The individual or corporation who owns, leases or rents a tenement, commonly called a holding, and is financially responsible for the taxes levied on the tenement.



2.   Tenement.  Under the Act 15 & 16 Vic., c. 63 (Valuation of Rateable Property Act) a tenement is any taxable property (building structure and land) that is held or possessed for any time period (term), whether owned, leased, rented (tenure) for not less than year to year.  One person may hold several distinct tenements and several persons may hold one tenement.  Instructions to Valuators and Surveyors, 1852.


3.   County.  A major land division created for local governmental purposes by the English between the Norman invasion and 1606.  There are thirty-two counties, six in Northern Ireland and twenty-six in the Republic of Ireland.


4.   Barony.  Historically based on original Gaelic family territory by the Anglo-Norman occupiers. 273 in number, their boundaries can cross county and civil parish lines.


5.   Civil parish.  Together with the townland the civil parish is a key administrative division of land for the researcher.  Based on early medieval monastic and church settlements, its boundaries essentially reflect the area covered by the ecclesiastical parishes of the Protestant Church of Ireland.  Roman Catholic parishes are infrequently coterminous with them.  “Parish” in research customarily means civil not church parish.  Numbering 2,508 (Mitchell, A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland, 1986), they frequently cross both barony and county borders.  Occasionally a civil parish is divided into several separate parts!


6.   Townland.  Area of land such as family farms or groups of farms.  The smallest of the governmental administrative districts, it frequently take its name from physical characteristics of the area, from ruins of churches and forts, and from clan and family surnames.


7.   Cottager.  A peasant who occupies a cottage belonging to a farm, sometimes with a plot of land attached, for which the cottager has to give or provide labor on the farm, at a fixed rate, when required.  In Ireland, a peasant renting and cultivating a small holding under a system called cottier tenure.  The main feature of this system was the letting of the land annually in small portions directly to laborers, the rent being fixed not by private agreement but by public competition. (Oxford English Dictionary, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1933)


8.   Immediate Lessor.  The person or corporation to whom the rent is paid.  This may be a landowner or middleman.


9.   Cottier/laborer.  A peasant renting and cultivating a small holding whose rent was fixed not by private agreement between the cottier/laborer and the landlord but by the landlord conducting a public auction of the holding to the highest bidder.


10.  Acreage.  Griffith measured land in the Valuation by statute acre, rood and perch; an acre contained 4,840 square yards regardless of its shape; a rood was one-quarter of an acre of 1,210 square yards; a perch was one fortieth of a rood containing thirty square yards.


11.  Lease.  The term of a lease was frequently twenty-one years (a lease of years).  More often its length was set by the number of years remaining in the lives of three named individuals (a lease of lives) agreed upon by the landlord and tenant.  Although not required, the three lives usually included the lessee, the lessee's youngest child and a third person.  It was not unheard of for the third person to be the reigning monarch or a royal child.  The lease remained in force and the rent agreement unchanged until the death of the last named person.


12.  Shilling.  In mid-nineteenth century Ireland twelve pence (d) equaled one shilling (s), twenty shillings equaled one pound (£). For example, £10-11s-3d + £2-10s-11d = £13-2s-2d.


13.  Quality lot.  The parts of a holding distinguished by the quality of the soil for valuation purposes.


Note:  Some of the figures from the Valuation pages used in this article have been cropped for illustration purposes.




The author thanks Judith Eccles Wight, A.G., British Isles Consultant at the Family History Library, for her review of this article.




James R. Reilly, CGRS resides in Salt Lake City, Utah and is the Associate Editor of  The Irish At Home and Abroad.