What and where are the main archives of courts and prisons in Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries?
Court and prisoner records can be invaluable resources for genealogy research. Some are only available online through a subscription site. However, there are some great free resources as well.
This article covers six of the main collections. We’ll start with some summaries to give you an overview. We then have a dedicated section for each collection.
Summary Of Irish Court And Prison Records For Genealogy Research
Here is a summary of six different record archives I look at in this article.
This table shows the size of the collection (to the nearest thousand records) and the time frame covered.
|Irish Petty Sessions||23,000,000||1851||1924||Irish National Archives|
|Irish Prison Registers||3,100,000||1790||1924||Irish National Archives|
|Dublin Prison Registers||30,000||1836||1840||Garda Museum|
|Tithe Defaulters 1831||29,000||1831||Irish National Archives|
|Outrage Reports||18,000||1836||1840||British National Archives|
|Evicted Tenants 1907||3,400||1907||Irish National Archives|
I’ve also put the location where the physical records are stored. In most cases, you can get free access if you visit the archive or museum buildings.
The Petty Court Sessions are available on microfilm at the Irish National Archives. The other archives are physical ledgers.
However, I’m assuming that you are most interested in searching and viewing these records online – from wherever you are based. So, let’s look at the online options.
A Summary Of Online Court And Prison Records
You may be aware that the National Archives Of Ireland have put some massive archives online with free access. The census records of 1901 and 1911 are examples.
Unfortunately, most of these court and prison records haven’t been digitized for free access yet. But let’s look first at the summary.
|Collection||FindMyPast||Ancestry||MyHeritage||FamilySearch||Other Digital Sources (full)|
|Irish Petty Sessions||Y||Y||N||transcripts|
|Irish Prison Registers||Y||Y||transcripts||transcripts|
|Dublin Prison Registers||Y||N||N||N||free images at UCD site|
|Tithe Defaulters 1831||Y||N||transcripts||N||cd-rom for purchase *|
|Outrage Reports||Y||N||N||N||National Archives|
|Evicted Tenants 1907||Y||N||N||N||cd-rom for purchase *|
Notes: “transcript” means that the source image is not available. There is always more information on the image.
You’ll notice that the starting point of the list is what’s available on the Find My Past website. This is a subscription site that focuses on British and Irish record collections.
I’ve then looked for free and paid alternatives with the same records. Ancestry.com and MyHeritage are also subscription sites.
FamilySearch as a free repository
FamilySearch.org has a free archive for the two biggest collections on the list.
In some cases, they actually did the original digitization in conjunction with the National Archives. However, they then outsourced the transcripts to Find My Past.
I’ve noted that they have transcripts for the Petty Sessions and the Prison Registers, but they don’t have the images available to the public on their online site. If you visit one of their Family History Centers to use their terminals, you can access the images.
You may want to search the transcripts for free on FamilySearch.org and make a decision whether it’s worth buying a subscription to the other sites.
I also notice that their transcripts have even less detail than the transcripts on the subscription sites. That can make it difficult to identify if you’ve got the right person!
Other online sources
Images for the Dublin Prison Registers are available to browse for free at this site. Unfortunately, there is no search feature.
Both the Tithe Defaulters and the Evicted Tenants collections are available for purchase on separate cd-roms. I no longer have a cd-rom reader in my laptop, so I haven’t tested these out (hence I haven’t linked to them).
The Outrage Reports are available for free searching on this National Archives page.
Now let’s take a look at what you get in these records – with a focus on genealogy.
Ireland Petty Session Court Registers, 1818-1819
This collection was launched on Find My Past back in 2008. Ancestry.com added the collection to their archives in 2020.
The Petty Sessions were the lowest levels of courts in the 19th and 20th centuries. My own ancestors appear as defendants or witnesses for these offenses:
- Cattle wandering into a neighbors land
- Cutting and taking turf
- Drunk in public places
They are in good company (so to speak) on the last of those minor crimes. One-third of the cases involve drunkenness.
Aside from minor criminal offenses, the Petty Sessions also heard civil cases. Many of these were disputes between neighbors (who may also be family). Reading these is a great way to build up a picture of life at the time.
What is in the records?
The details on the transcripts and images include:
- Date and description of the offense
- Details of the defendant(s)
- Details of the complainant(s)
- Details of witnesses
- The sentence handed down
Some cases have several witnesses and defendants. In my experience, witnesses are often family members – and these lists are a great source for further research.
Using the different archives
We have detailed guides for digging into the archives on the different subscription sites. We give specific tips for the sites. Here are two guides:
- guide to the Irish Petty Court Sessions on Find My Past
- guide to the Irish Petty Court Sessions on Ancestry.com
Ireland Prison Registers, 1790-1924
The Ireland Prison Registers collection appeared first on Find My Past. Then, Ancestry.com published the archive in 2020.
Most collections discussed in this article cover the entire island. These Prison Registers are restricted to the 26 counties of the modern Republic of Ireland.
The other six counties of Northern Ireland are archived elsewhere (check the PRONI).
There are actually only twenty counties represented in the country. And it’s important not to assume that people were only imprisoned in their home county.
There were prisons such as Kilmainham in Dublin that were incarceration centers for prisoners from everywhere.
You should also make allowances in your searches for people being transferred from prison to prison. Many may have been held first in a small local jail, known as a bridewell, before being moved to a larger town’s prison.
This is to emphasize care when using location in your searches on the online archives. You can end up filtering out relevant records. I’ve put more details and tips into these specific guides:
What do the records tell you?
Here’s a transcript from Ancestry.com for larceny of handkerchiefs by a fourteen-year-old. It’s an example of a boy from County Westmeath being incarcerated in Dublin.
I always emphasize in the individual guides that you should look at the associated images. You may find extra information that is pivotal to your research.
For example: trade, religion, and occupation details are recorded in the original image but are not in the transcripts. These can help narrow down whether this person is your ancestor of the same name…or not.
Dublin Prison Registers, 1836-1840
This is quite a narrow collection in terms of time frame and location. The registers were recorded by the Dublin Metropolitan Police.
The original documents are in four ledgers held at the Irish Garda Museum And Archives (the Garda are the national police force).
There should be a fifth ledger, but one has long been missing. You should contact the Museum at Dublin Castle if you want to access the physical ledgers.
The library at University College Dublin has put a browsable collection of images online with free access. Unfortunately, you can’t search through this free resource on keywords.
What’s in the records?
The transcripts on Find My Past include these details:
- first and last name
- age and birth year
- date and description of the offense
- residence address
- link to an image of the full register
The link will jump you to the image collection representing one of the four ledgers. You don’t land on the correct page, so you’ll have to do a bit of scrolling.
I’ll also note here that the residence address is down to house number and street level in Dublin. These may be lodgings, but the detail can be very useful. Many of these buildings will still be standing – if you’re in the city, you can wander around to take a look.
You’ll find more tips in our specific article on the Dublin Prison Registers On Find My Past.
1831 Tithe Defaulters
If your ancestors were tenant farmers in the 1820s, you may find them in this collection.
The collection is available online with a subscription to Find My Past. It’s small enough to browse by county. Even if you don’t find specific relatives, it’s fascinating to browse through the townlands and parishes in which they resided.
The people in this list failed or refused to pay church taxes to the Church Of Ireland at the time.
If you want a brief history of the Tithe Wars, you can check out the background in our tutorial on the Tithe Defaulters List on Find My Past.
Here, I’ll mention the details that you’ll see on the transcripts and images:
- name and address of the defaulter
- occupation (this may not be filled in)
- full text of the affidavit
The affidavits are lengthy and detailed. Some run past 500 words. They make for fascinating reading.
Some organizations and individuals have put the reports online for a specific county or a specific set of parishes.
I’ve listed the free sites in the final section of this article.
Ireland Outrage Reports, 1836-1840
The collection of Outrage Reports contains details of criminal events between 1836 and 1840. The physical records are held by the National Archives in Britain (at Kew Gardens).
The details in these records aren’t restricted to the perpetrators. In fact, sometimes the perpetrators hadn’t been identified. Instead, you’ll get details of the victim and witnesses.
The offenses I’ve seen in the reports range from drunkenness up to the rare cases of murder. There are also incidences of crop burning or violence against the houses of landowners. This reflects the agrarian unrest and desire for land reform of the times.
What’s in the records?
The transcripts on Find My Past include:
- last name and sometimes a first name or initial
- address, parish, and county
- date of event
But the juicy details are in the image. That’s where you’ll find the description of the criminal event.
Our specific article on the Outrage Reports on Find My Past has several tips on searching for names and locations.
Find My Past has digitized the collection. I’ve also found subsets of the records available for free elsewhere (see the final section in this article).
Estate Commissioners Offices, Applications From Evicted Tenants, 1907
The title of this collection is a bit of a mouthful. The records concern eviction details of people who applied for financial assistance due to eviction.
The original records are in the National Archives Of Ireland in separate registers for each province.
Find My Past has digitized the images and provided searchable transcripts. You can also purchase a cd-rom version if you search for it.
The transcripts on Find My Past includes a small number of details:
- first and last name of the evictee
- town and county of the estate
But the wealth is in the image of the records. These have extra details like:
- the area of land
- annual rent
- the circumstances of the applicant
The circumstances may be brief but can speak volumes. In terms of genealogy research, you may get vital clues to emigration:
68 years old; five children – four in America, one at home (ages 22 to 40)
We’ve got more tips for searching the Irish Evicted Tenants List on Find My Past.
Irish Police Record Collections
Did your ancestors or relatives serve in a police force in Ireland in the 19th or early 20th century? There are several different collections for research.
Check out the articles linked below on two different police forces on the island. The articles largely cover the collections on Find My Past, but each ends with a review of other sources as well.
- Royal Irish Constabulary historical records (the largest collection)
- Irish Revenue Police records (customs & excise policing)
Other Free Online Collections
Some individuals, libraries, and county councils have put subsets of these collections online for free research.
|Tithe Defaulters 1831||index for County Carlow|
|Tithe Defaulters 1831||index for a selection of parishes in County Cork|
|Tithe Defaulters 1831||index for County Tipperary|
|Evicted Tenants 1907||reports for County Clare|
Have you found other sites? Let me know!
Drop me a note in the comments if you know of any other good free resources.