Tithes were payable by all, regardless of their religion to the established Church of Ireland prior to disestablishment. The Tithe Composition Acts provided, beginning in July 1823, for the payment of tithes to the clergy of each parish of the Church of Ireland in money rather than payment in kind as had been the position before.
This new method of payment involved a valuation of the country parish by parish under the direction of parochial commissioners, one of whom was elected by the ratepayers and the other nominated by the Bishop of the Diocese.
The books were complied between 1823 and 1838 as a survey of the tithable land in each parish. The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1928 had not been enacted when the tithe valuation had become law and Catholic parish registers are not generally available for this period.
It has been stated that it was the first complete register of the people in relation to the working and tenancy of the land, and its worth is heightened by the fact that it is a duly certified recording of the occupation and usage of the land for the two decades immediately proceeding the upheaval wrought by the Famine of 1847.
After the Famine, people dispersed themselves throughout the townlands rather than living in clusters and many dispersed themselves further by emigrating. Between the years 1823 and 1830, 1,353 parishes out of 2,450 parishes in Ireland had been accessed. The Tithe Books do not cover towns or cities. Tithe Books are not available for all parishes, in some cases this is because the parish did not exist at the time, or was united with another parish at the time of the tithe survey and the area surveyed as part of another parish.
The land divisions contained in the Tithe Books are not the same as the present divisions, which exist from the Ordnance Survey of 1837. Because of this the Tithe Books are a record of the sub-divisions that comprised each parish in quarterlands, ploughlands and townlands and the names of such sub-divisions as they were known at that time.
The information contained varies but can include:
Name of townland
Classification of land - into four classes
The amount of tithe
Areas not subject to tithe
An ancestor found in the Tithe Books would most probably have been born during the period 1780 to 1800. It is possible that a person that you come across could be the father of a person listed in the Primary Valuation, given the lapse of a generation.
The Tithe Books, numbering two and a half thousand manuscript volumes, were transferred from the custody of the Commissioners of Church Temporalities to the Land Commission and from there to the Public Records Offices.
The Tithe Books will now be found in the National Archives and in the Public Records Office Belfast for the province of Ulster.
The Public Records Office in Belfast has a card index of names contained in the Tithe Books covering Ulster.
The National Library of Ireland has microfilm copies of the Tithe Books for the six counties. In addition to the index of surnames which also cover the Primary Valuation, there is an index by parish and county. In the index of surnames the letter T distinguishes a surname that is contained in the Tithe Books.
The indexation of actual names in the Tithe Books on a county basis has been undertaken in recent years as part of local youth employment schemes.