Introduction to Valuation Records

Valuation records provide us with information on properties within a townland or a street. Remember the information on each of the properties was collected for taxation purposes. Despite this limitation, the records provide us with important place information on land, houses and people which:

  • allow us to see, exactly, where our ancestors lived during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries;
  • tell us something about the kind of properties our ancestors were inhabiting;
  • provide us with evidence of change in properties over a period covering c.1860 to the 1990s.
  • act as a substitute census for the missing official census records in Ireland.

Locating Properties and their Occupiers within Townlands and Streets.

This is the main reason that I use the Valuation Records. The fact that the Books are accompanied by large scale maps that show the location and layout of farms, each of which is identified on the map with the corresponding numbers and letters from the Valuation Book. The detail is such that houses can usually be identified precisely on the map. It is important to realise that the numbering of properties in the 1901 and 1911 Census Returns has to be matched to the numbering in the Valuation Books and it is the Valuation number that allows you to locate a particular house or farm on a map and subsequently on the grouind. Unfortunately, many of the houses on the earlier valuation map no longer exist on the ground. However, you can at least identify the site of the .house.

Properties and evidence of change.

Having located an ancestor in a property it is worth spending some time building up a picture of the place where he or she lived. In the case of farmers, the size of farm should allow you to identify the more substantial farmers from the smallholders. Often the farms of smallholders contain a number of small plots of non-contiguous land indicating that they may, in earlier times, have been part of a clachan/rundale system of landholding. Although detailed evidence is not usually given on houses you should be able to get some idea of what a house was like from its valuation. Buildings valued at £3 or more will stand out from those of lower valuations. The valuation records will tell you if there are outbuildings [known as offices] associated with a house. More substantial houses and their outbuildings will normally be from £5 upwards. Usually, there is a considerable difference between rural and urban housing but, the latter, was not immune from houses valued at less than £1. Not all houses in rural townlands were farm houses: some were cottier houses. These were houses usually rented from a farmer. You should be able to recognise these houses from the Immediate Lessor column plus their valuation is usually £1 or less and even as low as five shillings [25p in today's money].

The Valuation Revision Books c.1860 to c.1930 and the later Northern Ireland General Revaluation from 1935 to 1993 are key to the charting of changes in properties over this period. Most importantly these books provide approximate dates of when these changes took place. But let us not forget that the dates in these books record an event after it took place, not when it actually occurred.

Changes in the size of farm will be recorded because this will usually mean a rise in the valuation of the property. These changes if they apply to the house may give measurements of any houses that have been refurbished or new ones built. Another phrase that you will find, particularly with cottier houses, is house down - this means that the house is no longer in use and is either in ruins or has been completely levelled. You will often find townlands where a number of cottier houses are down at the same time. This usually signifies considerable changes in the townland at that time and could have led to emigration.

The Revision Books usually provide evidence of when farmers finally became owners of their land in fee simple. Note, however, that cottiers could not "buy out" their houses. The cottier houses on a farm were included in the purchase of the farm. This meant, for example, that the brother of a farmer occupying a cottier house on his brother's farm could not buy his cottier house. Note that not all farmers became owners of their land at the beginning of the twentieth century. Some had managed to buy out their farms in the 1880s & 1890s and a few, on churchlands, had done so as early as the 1870s. It is worth paying attention to the names of the immediate lessors during these periods.

I suspect that most researchers use the Revision Books to find out the times when a property changed hands. The change is recorded by the stroking out of a name, or part of a name and a new name inserted and a date added. Sometimes the new occupier is a wife, a brother or some other relative. To verify this you will need some BDM or Wills evidence. Sometimes it is a newcomer. Sometimes when the occupier of a property has died the word Reps. [abbreviation for "Representatives of "] appears against the person's name with a date added in the final column on the page. This means that the person has died but his or her's affairs have not been completely settled and the valuers had no new name that could be inserted in the Revision Book. During the period of Reps., which in some instances can be quite a few years, the property will be in the hands of a family member or the executors of the will if there is one. Again, if there is a will, this information may help to give a clearer picture. Remember that the dates given for property changing hands and the dates of Reps. are only approximate and need to be checked against death certificates and wills. You will also come across "in Chancery" which means that the property is the subject of a legal dispute.

Census Substitutes.

Although often seen as a substitute census for the missing official census records, the valuation records fall short of being a comprehensive replacement. In many ways the valuation lists are similar to the Census Form B1 [House & Building Return]. Obviously there is no detailed information on families such as you would find in Form A of the Census. The Valuation Books do identify farmers and cottiers and some information is given on trades, particularly blacksmiths and mills, but it is very limited. Certainly, there is no detailed information on the members of each household as given in Form A of the 1901/1911 census.

Except for the early 1830s Townland Valuation Books, the various Valuation Books from the 1850s/1860s onwards provide us with lists of the names of occupiers of property within each townland in Ireland. In recent decades the creation of databases of these names of occupiers and the townlands in which they lived have made it easier to find names particularly in the Printed Griffith's Valuation. The best Griffith's database, for Ireland as a whole, can be found at the askaboutireland.ie website. I have created Griffith's databases [with standardised surname] for Co. Londonderry and parts of Co. Antrim and Co. Tyrone. You will find links to these on the main Valuation Records webpage.

By treating the Valuation Records as Census Substitutes, one has a tendency to regard the occupiers of individual properties as Heads of Households in a Census. However, not all persons listed as the occupier of a property lived there - the best example being a herd's house which was only occupied on a casual or seasonal basis by different people. Valuers tended to list the farmer's name against such buildings rather than the cottiers who occupied it during the year. Quite often you will find the exact same name appearing a number of times in a townland. Is this the same person or are they three different people? If the person has a house in one property but only land in the other then this is probably the same person. But, if all have houses, then it is more of a problem.

Conclusion

The Valuation Records, despite their limitations, are a vital source in trying to piece together the history of a family and the history of a locality. When used in conjunction with the relevant 1901/1911 Census, BDMs, Wills and Estate Records the names in the valuation books "come alive" and understanding of the events being recorded by the valuers improves.

Recommended Further Reading

John Grenham's readmore paper "What is Griffith's Valuation?" @ the askaboutireland,ie website.

Steven Scarth's paper "Valuing the Past: PRONI's online Valuation Records" in the most recent edition of the journal Familia [Ulster Genealogical Review], No. 29, 2013, pp.83-95.

Copyright 2015 W. Macafee.