Books of Survey and Distribution

In the middle of the 1600s the English government decided (in the interests of political stability and government finances) to take more land throughout Ireland from existing (mainly Roman Catholic) owners and re-allocate that land to new (mainly Protestant) landowners; so it became necessary to create official records which would keep track of this upheaval in land ownership.

Few of the original records of the Down Survey have survived; but quite a number of copies of certain records were made, so that various officials could carry out their functions.  The surviving sets of records, now known as Books of Survey and Distribution, are laid out in a fairly straightforward way: they list the acreages of land surveyed in the 1640s along with their owners, and show to whom any land was later transferred under the Acts of Settlement and Explanation.

Areas of land in the Down Survey were measured in Plantation Acres, which were considerably larger than Statute Acres.

Using information from the Books           Researching the Books

The names which appear in the records are inevitably a tiny proportion of the population of Ireland at that time; few modern families will be able to prove a direct family connection with any of the landowners.  The records are nonetheless of great usefulness, as they may indicate by association where to start looking for family information.

For example, in the case of my own Stevenson ancestors (known to have been protestant), it is possible to see clearly the transfer of the townland where they were to settle: in the 1640s Knockan was owned by George McShane O'Cahan ("Irish papist"); Knockan was later transferred to Captain Edward Cary (protestant).  So we can guess that an ancestor Stevenson may have been closely associated with Edward Cary, and thus successfully won the tenancy of part of the townland of Knockan (and of other townlands close by).

As the new landowner was "Captain" Edward Cary, we can research his Lieutenants, Ensigns, etc to see if there was a Stevenson amongst them. And as the Cary family became closely associated with Dungiven, we can check records of that locality for any early mention of Stevenson.

This page was last updated 3 Sep 2016