Freeholder Records

Freeholder records are a record source that likely seems pretty obscure to most researchers. Many people probably have never heard of a freeholder. However, we have made an inventory of freeholders, freemen, and voting records for Ireland available on our web site. I compiled this inventory because there wasn’t a good overall inventory of where freeholder records for Ireland can be found for the various counties and cities. Freeholder records are so important for a place like Ireland because the censuses dating 1821-1891 for Ireland were destroyed, and we have to depend on census substitutes like freeholders lists.

What, then, is a freeholder and why were records made of them? Freeholders were substantial farmers of the Irish counties who had the right to vote based on the type of lease they held and the value of their land. A freeholder held his property either in fee simple, which means outright ownership, or by a lease for a life or lives (i.e., an indefinite period of time, such as the term of his life or the term of three lives named in the lease). On the other hand, a tenant who held land for a definite period such as 31 years or 100 years did not qualify as a freeholder. A person with a freehold of sufficient value, depending on the law at the time, could register to vote.

Here are some important dates to keep in mind about freeholders records:

From 1727 to 1793 only Protestants (not Catholics) with a forty-shilling freehold (a freehold worth at least 40 shillings per year above the rent) or above qualified to vote.

In 1793 Catholics with at least a forty-shilling freehold were given the vote. Forty-shilling freeholders, whether Catholic or Protestant, had the vote between 1793 and 1829. This is the time period when freeholders records are most useful for Irish research because a larger segment of the population was included.

In 1829, all 40 shilling freeholders lost the vote, and from that date a £10 freehold was required to qualify to vote.

From 1832 through 1884 a series of reform acts extended the franchise somewhat, but it was not until 1918 that all adult males (over age 21) were given the vote.

Freeholder records usually include the name of the freeholder, his residence, the name of his landlord, the value of his land, and other information. While incredibly useful, a limitation of these records is that many have not survived over the years. This is one reason we have published an online inventory of the surviving material.

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