Deciphering Griffiths Valuation

The Griffith's Primary Valuation was compiled to assess every taxable property, both land and physical structures, and the individuals who occupied them throughout Ireland. Before this project could begin, detailed maps were drawn representing all parish and Townland boundaries. This data became part of the Ordinance Survey Map.

The Four Courts Fire of 1922 destroyed some key census records from 1821-1851. The Griffith's Valuation can help fill in some of the gaps of this lost data. Unlike a census record; however, this valuation only lists the householder and not his family members. What can be gleaned from the Griffith's Valuation are the following by civil parish and more specifically by townland: all individuals who occupied land or structures, the immediate lessor who they paid rent to, a description of the property they held, size of the property in acres, roods and perches, and the valuation of both land and structures. When looking in these records remember that just because you cannot find your ancestors in them doesn't mean he was not there. Several families or family members could have been living in one house and only one individual was listed as the occupier.

The Griffith's Valuation for County Mayo was published between 1855 and 1857. The records of this document provide a glimpse of occupiers of land in the immediate post famine period. My focus in this section will be the primary valuation, but a look at the cancelled books used to compile the Griffith's Valuation could be invaluable as well. They show changes in land ownership and transfer of holdings within families, even possibly emigration and year. The cancelled books are kept at the Valuation office in Dublin at the Irish Life Center for County Mayo.

When identifying the individual tenement holder. you may see additional names used to describe him if there are others who share a given name and surname in that townland. To differentiate between them you may see the use of Junior and Senior such as John Corcoran, Sen. for the father and John Corcoran, Jun. for the son. You may also see an occupation such as Pat Brennan, Blacksmith or a maiden name to distinguish between two females who share the same name. If a townland is listed in parenthesis after a name it may be that he actually lives elsewhere but holds land there. I have even seen descriptive nicknames (such as red) or rarely topography (like hollow) used to differentiate individuals as well.

The Griffith's Valuation identifies each occupier's parcel with a plot number. This plot number is a map reference number that can be utilized to look up the holding on the 6 inch Ordinance Survey Maps. Lowercase italicized letters were used to differentiate parcels. A good example of this is in Massbrook Lower where John Brennan is listed as Map 5b. He shares a parcel with George McHale- 5a. It is my understanding that the a is attached to the lot on which a farmer's home is situated, and the letter b refers to a worker on his farm, so although they both have homes, John's home is on George's Farm. If there were other individuals with homes or gardens that exist within George's farm, they would be listed as c,d,e, etc. It was common in County Mayo for small farmers to hold their land in what is termed a "rundale," where each partner was given a portion of land based on the rent paid. The land could be divided and shared among as many as 30 people. The term office refers to some sort of outbuilding such as a factory, mill, turf shed or a farmer's outbuilding like a cowshed, stable or even a privy.

The immediate lessor may be a landlord or he may be a representative for him. The valuation describes the area rented, leased or owned by an occupier or tenant in terms of acres, roods and perches. Land measurements such as roods and perches are rarely used today. An acre was equivalent to 4840 square yards, a rood was about one-quarter of an acre or 1210 square yards, and a perch was about 30 square yards. A laborer would most likely hold less than 5 acres. The valuation of land and structures was documented in pounds, shillings and pence. For instance, Patrick Corcoran of Breaghwy Civil Parish had a total valuation of 7-10-0. That is 7 pounds, 10 shillings and zero pence. You would have to know how much the US dollar was worth on that particular day and year, but in Feb 2010 that 7 pounds would be worth about $11.00. It would be more beneficial to look at the value in relation to other property holders in the same time period to assess comparative value.

Throughout the Griffith's Valuation you will find many parcels being held "in fee" especially by the landlords in the area. This parcel is a "freehold tenure" created as a result of a grant from the Crown. Sometimes under the name of the landlord it will just list "free" indicating that this occupier holds the land, but has no recognized landlord. I have seen this occupier sometimes referred to as a "squatter". If the term "in chancery" is listed in regard to the landlord, it indicates that this parcel of land or property is under control of the court of law. There may be some sort of litigation in process or the landlord may have died and the courts are rendering decisions. When the term "immediate lessor" is indicated in the landlord section, the occupier (lessee) owns the land. One thing to keep in mind when looking at the tenant/landlord relations is that the occupier's tenancy is rolled over each year and the only way for the landlord to remove the tenant would be through a legal process. This was seen during the famine years when landlords were unable to obtain rents and began attempting to convert some of the farmed, tenant-occupied land to grazing area.

If you analyze these occupied parcels in relation to the Townland maps you will be able to see which families lived in close proximity to the parcel you are interested in. When you search for your relatives in the Griffith's Valuation, be sure to take a closer look to make sure that they aren't listed as Landlords as well. Some tenants subdivided their parcels and leased a house or property to others. These people may or may not be related to them. A great place to look at the Griffith's Valuation maps is on the Ask about Ireland website.