Historical records

Guide to family & landed estate collections

Landed estate records provide one of the richest sources of archival material available to local historians.

Although not all estate records survive, or are publicly accessible, these collections often provide details of individuals that may not appear in any other official form of record.

Landed estate collections are private archives and access is at the discretion of the owner, unless the collection has been deposited with, or purchased by, an archival repository.

Landed estate collections contain various types of archives:


Leases are the legal documents that regulate the duration of a tenant’s holding of lands, usually for a period of years or for a number of lives. They also include details of the amount of land held, the rent to be paid each year and any other conditions relating to the leasing of property. Maps or sketch plans of the property to be let are sometimes attached to the lease, and in order for the lease to be valid, the signatures or witnessed marks of all participants must be on the documents with seals attached.

Rentals or Rent Rolls

Rentals or rent rolls provide details of the regular accounts of the rent owed or paid by the tenants on the estate. They also include the conditions of any rent to be paid.

Lease books

Where rentals do not include details of the terms under which tenants held their land, the information may be available in lease-books or collections of original leases.


Correspondence, especially correspondence between a landlord and his agent, can provide insights into problems of estate management, landlord-tenant relations and into economic and social conditions generally. From time to time, either an agent or a specially-commissioned expert drew up a report on the condition of a particular estate, with suggestions for improvement.

Estate maps 

Estate collections frequently include manuscript estate maps that often pre-date the civil mapping of the country by the Ordnance Survey, which did not begin until the early 19th century. In some cases, these estate maps contain very detailed information on land-holding and land-usage, and may include the names of fields and the name of tenants renting those fields in addition to tenants in adjoining lots. The maps may also include specific details on the demesne and on the demesne house, with indications of tree and flower/shrub plantings.

The National Archives holds a number of significant estate collections. Many more are held in the National Library of Ireland and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast.

Among the most significant estate collections held by the National Archives are:

How to begin research using estate collections

It is necessary to know the area in which an individual or family held a tenancy to begin using estate collections.

Not all estate collections survive or they may still be held by members of a landed family or a legal representative, such as a solicitor or land agent. These archives are private collections and access may not necessarily be given to researchers.

Estate collections held by the National Archives that have been catalogued are accessible to researchers in the Reading Room. Occasionally, a depositor may stipulate as part of the deposit agreement that part of the collection, possibly recent correspondence, is to be closed for a specified period. Any access restrictions will be noted on the front page of the finding aid.

How do I know what estate my ancestors lived on?

In some areas of the county, multiple landed estates existed. Larger estates may have been sub-divided over time as part of marriage settlements, while some estates were sold, particularly in the mid to late 19th century. In order to trace any surviving estate papers, it is necessary to discover the names of as many local landowners as possible.

This can be done from commercial directories and other printed sources and from the Primary Valuation. Records held in Irish and non-Irish repositories will be indexed in Hayes’s Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilisation. It will also be necessary to check the ‘Miscellaneous’, ‘Pre-1708 Deeds’, and ‘Estate Maps and Rentals’ finding aids in the Reading Room of the National Archives to trace the most modern accessions. For material still in private hands, the best guide is the reports of the survey of documents in private keeping available in the National Library of Ireland, which are listed in Hayes’s Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilisation, which is available online at sources.nli.ie.

How do I search estate collections held in the National Archives?

There are a number of pdf lists to the larger estate collections available on the website of the National Archives. Finding aids to all other collections held by the National Archives are only available to researchers in the Reading Room and are not currently accessible online. In the past, estate collections received the prefixes D for Deed or M for Miscellaneous and at a later period, received the prefix 999 for smaller collections or 1000+ for larger collections. Since 1996, estate collections have received the prefix of the year in which the collection has been accessioned. Some smaller collections may contain only one or two items.

Other sources for estate collections

Although the National Archives holds a number of significant landed estate collections, the majority of surviving collections are held in other repositories, including the National Library of Ireland (www.nli.ie) and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (www.nidirect.gov.uk/proni). The Landed Estates Database, hosted by NUI, Galway, can be useful for locating surviving archival collections or determining the name of the family, however it has only been completed for Munster and Connacht, and for six counties in Ulster (www.landedestates.ie).

It must also be remembered that many landed estates in Ireland were part of larger estates owned by absentee landlords. Many estate paper collections relating to Ireland are found in the private archives of aristocratic families in the United Kingdom. For further information about Irish sources in British archival repositories see www.irishhistoryonline.ie and www.nationalarchives.gov.uk.

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