Friday, January 16, 2015

Irish Court Records.......a fascinating look into the lives of our ancestors

I've spent a fair bit of time reading through the Petty Court session records for County Galway, Ireland of late.  While you might assume that your poor peasant farmer relations wouldn't have been involved in any court or legal actions -- but not true!  The English were so concerned about the Irish peasantry that they kept them under scrutiny with all sorts of laws, and the Irish themselves spent a fair bit of time accusing their neighbors of various offenses!

Reading through the records are not just an interesting social and cultural adventure -- there are also of great genealogical interest.  By studying the court records I've been able to establish the name of my Gt Gt Gt Grandmother, the approx death dates of several relatives, and found some interesting familial connections that the records seem to prove.  I've also been able to confirm some old family stories.

Beyond the Court records, there are also the Prison Registers -- so if your ancestor was unable to pay their fine or committed a serious offense, they may have ended up in the Galway County Gaol.  This can be especially valuable, as there is a physical description of each prisoner (so they could identify them if they escaped).  I found my Gt Grandfather - and confirmed his height, weight, hair & eye color, and complexion (including a red nose, which I seem to have inherited!!!).

These records put "flesh on the bone", and really show you the day to day life, and give you an insight into how they quarreled with their neighbors, celebrated a bit too much (public drunkeness!), ran afoul of the authorities (having an unlicensed dog), and tried to supplement their meager income (making poitin' - the local moonshine).

It's interesting to note that some of the neighbor disputes and in-fighting was referred to the Parish Priest to settle the dispute, instead of the Courts.  Hitting each other with sticks and stones, really did happen, and there were many occasions of stray cattle and sheep trampling a neighbors potatoes or turnips.

Many instances of cutting the landlords bog, taking someones seaweed, fishing during the closed season, etc.

The records start in the late 1850's and go up to approx 1916.

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