Treasures Tuesday – Discover the Treasures of the Society of Genealogists’ Library

The Society of Genealogists is pleased to highlight some of the many interesting and unique collections within the Society’s Library. Some of these collections first appeared on our website several years ago and we thought you would find them of interest, along with many new upcoming Treasures news. Look out for future updates in the Treasures Tuesday, which will explain what’s in the family history collections and how to use them. 

The first of our Treasures is: Clues from an Irish Receipt for Leases Book from 1799:

For those of us with only a sketchy understanding of Irish history, the family history documents left in the SoG’s care offer a fascinating glimpse into a different world. Of course, for those of us tracing people on Irish branches of our family trees, those same documents can place our ancestors in a place, in a time, and in a context.

A Receipt for Leases book, owned by John Ffolliott Esquire, in the Herbert Special Collection is a typical example. It’s small and a bit difficult to read but it delivers a ton of leads, just waiting to be followed up. The book looks like a cheque book – the kind we all used to have before online banking. There is a detachable slip, showing the details of rent received, that can be torn out and handed to the person paying the lease as a receipt. There is a stub remaining, showing the same details. There are 47 receipt slips in the book. I’m trying to stay calm, but I can see this gives me 47 chances of finding a family name or a meaningful address.

The image below shows Receipt No 10. Mr Ffolliott Esq expects to receive £10-0s-0d from ‘the Representative of Dominick Gaffney’ for a holding in County Sligo called Drumgafney. This is due under the lease for the half-year ending 1 November 1779. But you can see that the line showing ‘Dated the …..day of…..17…’ is not completed.

In fact, many of the slips in the book are filled out like this one but are still there. They were never torn out and handed to the payer. Where just a stub remains, we can assume that the rent was paid and the receipt handed over. Of the 47 receipts in the book, only 13 are stubs. Does this show a lot of bad debt? Or were payments made in a different manner and this book wasn’t available?

To go back to basics, who is the Ffolliott family? How did they become landowners in Ireland? Lucky for me, the Ffolliott family have left the SoG six boxes of their family history and it is a complete treasure trove, with wills, leases, land ownership details and marriage settlements from the 1700s and 1800s. If your family has connections to County Sligo or County Donegal, you may find them in this Special Collection because the many parts of the Ffolliott family were landowners and kept records of their leaseholders and tenants, their marriage settlements and their wills, and their accounts all the way back to the early 1700s.

The Collection takes me to John Ffolliott, of Pirton in Worcestor. In 1603 Queen Elizabeth makes him a knight for services in the Army in Ireland. He is also given ‘royalties and lands for lease’. These lands were almost certainly confiscated from a local Gaelic clan during the 16th and 17th centuries. Sir John, as he now is, sells his property in Pirton and moves to Ireland with his family. By the 1760s the lands appear to have been handed down through the generations to Captain John Ffolliott. He dies in 1765. His will, found in Box 1 of the Ffolliott Collection, names all his properties and they tie up with the ones named in the Receipt for Leases book. He bequeathes the properties to his second son, John ‘the younger’, who is at that time studying at Trinity College Oxford.

The Ffolliott family is large, many of them have been knighted for services, and many have large land holdings in Ireland. But they don’t seem to be typical absentee landlords because they appear to mostly live locally. Some of John Ffolliott’s properties are quite expensive: there are many receipt amounts between £40 and £55 – roughly about £2,500 to £3,000 in sterling today. They seem to represent commercial properties, the payments being made by ‘the Representative of…’ and the leasees shown as a companies. For example, Anthony Mullaney & Partners have a number of properties.

Box No 1 of the Ffolliott family Special Collection contains letters from people named in the Receipt for Leases book. Many of the leases are to be renewed during 1779 or 1780 and the leasees want to buy their leases at renewal. For example Mr Dickson wants to buy the lease for part of Finner Park, Donegal and Mr Frank Gillaspy wants to buy land and houses in Padgets Park. The town council writes to explain that Finner Park needs a new road and they clearly expect John Ffolliott to contribute in a major way.

It’s not just our Special Collections that help us understand our ancestors. It’s always worth checking out what’s on our Library shelves. For example, many of the properties in the book are called ‘Parks’ or ‘Part of the Park’ and I wondered what this referred to and whether it was some type of common land. In our Upper Library, on the Irish shelves, the book The Streets of Sligo: Urban Evolution Over the Course of Seven Centuries, by Fiona Gallagher, answers my questions. It tells me that the landlords made open areas around the town available for tenants to graze animals or grow fruit. They referred to them as ‘Parks’. So the receipts I’d found for smaller amounts are payments from tenants for these.

When you visit us, you can ask to explore the Special Collections in our Lower Library.

Suggested course: Our Family History Getaway Week: Irish Ancestors and Irish Lives starts on Monday 5th June. Your tutors are Else Churchill, Rosalind McCutcheon, Jill Williams, Sharon Hintze and Fiona Fitzsimons. We’ve built into the programme some time each day for you to do your own research. Of course, you will want to use the Society’s remarkable Library collection of over 120,000 items - 4 floors full of fascinating records. And you can book personal consultations with the tutors and members of the Society’s expert Help and Advice Team to discuss the challenges in your Irish family tree.

- Sherryl Abrahart

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