The Poor Relief Act (Ireland) 1838, established the poor law unions as districts within which the inhabitants were responsible for the poor of the area. The poor law unions embraced a number of townlands within a radius of ten miles or so, with a large market town as a centre. The boundaries of the unions bore no relationship to those of the Counties.
The Primary Valuation was a survey made under the Act of 1838 to determine the amount of tax each able person should pay towards support of the poor and destitute within his poor law union. The value of all lands and buildings was calculated to determine the annual rental of each property. The tax was fixed at about 6d in the £ and the Act required that the occupiers, tenants, and the immediate lessors were liable for the tax.
It took sixteen years to complete the survey from 1848 to 1864. The work was carried out under the direction of Richard Griffith and for this reason is commonly known as Griffith’s Valuation.
The Primary Valuation of Rateable Property In Ireland was published, on a baronial basis, after its completion by the Government. Each poor law union, is divided into electoral divisions, civil parishes and townlands. Included are the names of occupiers of land and buildings and of the persons from whom these were leased, the amount of property held, and the value assigned to it.
The information in respect of each townland, listed in the parish to which it belongs, is as follows;
Number and Letters of Reference to Map - Names - Occupier Immediate lessor Description of Tenement - (House office or land) Area : acres, roods, perches Rateable Annual Valuation - Land Buildings Total Annual Valuation of Rateable Property -
The map reference number is to the location of the tenement on the six inch to one mile Ordnance Survey maps of the 1830’s.
The Primary Valuation therefore provides a census of all who held property in the year or years that the survey was made. It is of great genealogical value and a good census substitute.
The majority of the occupiers of the townlands in Griffith’s Valuation were the ancestors of families that are living in these same townlands at the present time. It is only in recent years that those who stayed in Ireland married strangers to their own locality. On finding an ancestor in the Primary Valuation, it is likely that a number of ancestors will be found in the adjoining townlands of the same parish as well.
The name of the father of a person born during the 1850s should be found in the Primary Valuation. The person so found would most likely have been born during the period of 1800 to 1830. The death certificate of a person listed in the Primary Valuation should be found in the civil registers.
The Primary Valuation is itself a valuable guide for the use of other genealogical sources. The name of the Immediate Lessors would be a help in seeking out Estate Records, which may have additional information on an ancestor. The same information could be a lead to sources in the Registry of Deeds.
The National Library of Ireland has prepared an index to the surnames in the Primary Valuation (the same index covers the Tithe Books). Each County of Ireland has an index book. The number of occupiers having a particular surname is listed by barony and also by parish. It is possible to search through the townlands to find occupiers bearing the surname that one is interested in. The indexation of the actual names of persons in the Primary Valuation on a county basis, has been undertaken in recent years as part of local youth employment schemes. The Primary Valuation is available in the National Library of Ireland (on microfiche), in the National Archives, in the Public Records Office Belfast and in many other repositories. Most County Libraries have the valuation for that particular county.
Manuscript valuation books
The manuscript records of the valuation which include the returns of the valuators provide more information than has been published. There are three types of books :
House books - Number, name and description, quality letter, length, breath, height, number of measures, rate per measure, amount. Tenure books - content of farm, rent, tenure and year let, observations. Field books - number of lot, description of lot, quantity, value per statute acre, amount of land £. s. d., amount of houses. These are in the National Archives and are indexed by county.