An age old problem

Civil registration of all births, marriages and deaths began in Ireland in 1864 (protestant marriages were registered from 1845).

Sources for births, marriages and deaths in the period before civil registration are not plentiful. Church registers, newspapers and family bibles are the most common means of determining the age of an ancestor in the period before civil registration.

Newspapers were invariably obsessed with recording incidences of longevity. One such case occurred in the Belfast Newsletter of 26th March 1860. A man named James Milles residing in the townland of Termadoen in the civil parish of Kilmore near Monaghan died allegedly at the age of 120 years. This would have given Milles an approximate birth year of 1740.

Belfast Newsletter 26th March 1860:

Of course, such claims could not be verified since no official records were available. Nor indeed would there be any contemporaries alive who could verify the veracity of the claim. It seems logical to conclude that Milles was an old man most likely just over 100 years old. Even by the standards of today that is an achievement worth recording!

A lesser known but useful source that often record ages are leases, especially perpetuity leases. This was a lease where three lives could be nominated that would determine the length of the lease. It was common to name royalty in the hope that given their privileged lifestyles that the 'life' would live to old age. It was also a common practise to replace the name of a life when deceased but a fine had to be paid (normally half of the yearly rent) in order to record a new 'life' in the lease. This could continue indefinitely, hence the name perpetual or perpetuity lease. Sometimes landlords kept lease books with a detailed records of the lives in the lease. In researching the Tohill family of Ballynackpeake near Maghera I was fortunate to discover that they were tenants on the Vintners' estate (part of the Conolly estate) and were given a perpetuity lease in 1803.

Extract from Conolly estate lease book 1851-1852

Unfortunately, the page in the lease book did not have a date so a little bit of detective work was required.

Here we see that in the lease renewal book John Toghil was given the age of 70 years and Michael was his older brother and was listed as 74 years old. I needed to confirm the date of the document in order then to work out the approximate birth dates for the brothers. John Downing, aged 62 years, was the third life mentioned in the Tohill lease. He was the son of Dawson Downing (1739-1807) of Rosegift, Bellaghy. Dawson Downing had issue John Downing 1 August 1790 by his second wife Ann Boyd. Thus, at the time of the 1803 lease John Downing was either 12 or 13 years old. This dated the lease-book to around 1852. Thus, Michael Tohill was born c.1777 and John his younger brother c.1781.

Note: In the case of the Tohill lease the annual rent was fixed at £7-1-0 and the fine was set at £3. 10. 06. Therefore, should one of the named persons in the lease die it would cost the Tohills £3.10.06 to enter a new name in the lease.


Popular posts from this blog

Hearth Money Rolls 1660s

The Siege of Derry 1688-1689

Limavady street names from the past