Thursday 23 February 2012

Nothing petty about FMP's latest huge collection

FindMyPast Ireland has released 1.2million records from the Irish Petty Sessions Order Books.

They've never been online before, and mark the first tranche of a huge collection of records dating from 1850-1910. The remaining 15million records will be released during the year.

This first batch is particularly useful for areas of the country that are known to have sparse family history records: Donegal and the five counties of Connaught, but there is also sizable coverage for each of Cavan, Cork, Kilkenny, Monaghan, Offaly, Tipperary, Waterford, Westmeath and Wicklow.

Petty Sessions Courts were the forerunner of today's District Courts. They covered the bulk of legal cases, including all types of fairly minor crimes and civil offences, and were presided over by the local Justice of the Peace (JP).

JPs heard a vast variety of cases, with drunkenness the most regular cause for an offender being brought before the Bench. The top five offences tried were:
  • Drunkenness – 33%
  • Revenue/tax offences – 21%
  • Assault – 16%
  • Local acts of nuisance – 5%
  • Destruction of property – 4%
The records are full of minor incidents such as the 1908 assault in Cloonakilla that resulted in 'malicious injury to a bicycle' belonging to Pat Curley (see illustration above), or the 1910 case of Michael Downey who was charged at Athlone with being drunk in charge of an ass and cart. Wonderful stuff. Real life is played out in these records.

Brian Donovan, Find My Past Ireland's director, said: 'These court records open up a unique window into Irish society in the 19th century. Most families interacted with the law in one way or another, being perpetrators or victims of petty crime, resolving civil disputes, to applying for a dog licence. The records are full of the trauma and tragedy of local life, as family members squabbled, shop keepers recovered debt, and the police imposed order. These records help fulfil our mission to provide more than just names and dates, to get to the stories of our ancestors' lives.'

 More about Irish Petty Sessions Books.