Last Friday (1/23/15), as part of their self-styled Irish Family History Day, Find My Past released a significant tranche of Irish records. For more information about this you can read the report from the always excellent Irish Genealogy News. What caught my eye, and what is of interest to this blog, is the set of records, Ireland, Poverty Relief Loans, 1824-1871.
The Poverty Relief Loans are a collection of papers related to the Irish Reproductive Loan Fund. The fund was created in 1822 to provide short term, low interest loans to the ‘industrious poor.’ By industrious it is meant people who will use the loan for reproductive purposes, for example, a fisherman who needs money to repair a boat or a farmer who wants to purchase new seeds. The fund did not require any capital or physical backing, instead they required that each borrower have two guarantors sign for the loan. In some records the role of guarantor is also called security or sureties. These guarantors were often neighbors or close relatives. If the borrower defaulted on the loan then responsibility for repayment would lie with the guarantors. The records are significant because they include the years of the Great Famine and record those living on Ireland’s Western Seaboard who were hit the worst by the catastrophe.
A large number of the Reproductive Loan Funds failed and closed during the years of The Great Famine. This era, of course, saw huge numbers of Irish people emigrate. In the early 1850s, a detailed townland-by-townland survey was carried out where the Funds were active, to see what happened to those who availed of loans. It is these documents that will be of particular use to those in the U.S. and Canada who are trying to establish a townland of origin in Ireland for their ancestors; they recorded deaths, economic circumstances and, crucially, instance of emigration.
So, an example. Let's say that you have a Michael Ryan in your family tree, born in Ireland, appearing in the U.S. federal census of 1890, and you have traced his arrival in the U.S. to the time of the Great Famine. How many Michael Ryans were born in Ireland? How long is a piece of string? You might never find out where he is from. But, lets also say that in the same building on that census document, the next entry after Michael Ryan and his family is for the Ebzery family, also from Ireland.
You've worked hard on researching your Irish ancestors over the last twenty years and you know that the FAN club methodology can be useful, all the more so with rare names. Ebzery is an unusual name in Ireland and a quick check of the 1901 census and Griffith's Valuation, shows that there are only a few of them, all concentrated in Limerick. That's a good development, but there are still a lot of Michael Ryans in Limerick.
Now it's time to look for these names in the Reproductive Loan Fund records. Philip Ebzery took out a loan on 23 November 1846, with John Ebzery and Michael Ryan acting as sureties. An 1853 record from the townland of Doonscardeen in the civil parish of Robertstown, Limerick gives the following information -
|Ebzery/Ryan Reproductive Loan Fund  - Click for larger image|
For Philip it says: “resided here in 1846 a farmer, was poor, died about 4 years ago, family all emigrated.” For John Ebzery, it states: “lived here in 1846, was a farmer, went to Australia about four years since with his mother and sisters” and for Michael Ryan it outlines that he was: “lived here in 1846, a poor laborer supporting his mother and sisters” and he “emigrated to America with his family in 1847.”
To suddenly find this information after years of searching would be a fantastic development for your genealogy research. You could now hone in on Catholic parish registers from the area to look for baptismal and marriage information to further link this Michael Ryan with the one in the U.S.
To learn more about these records, and see another example of tracing an emigrant from his appearance in these records to the U.S federal census, you can read the associated Find My Past blog post.
Some of these records have been available for free online for a number of years. In 2003, the non-genealogy website, movinghere.org.uk, digitized records for counties Cork, Galway, Limerick, Mayo, Roscommon, and Tipperary for the years 1846-1848 and 1853-1854 (Clare and Sligo are not included). Crucially, they include the relevant records that contain information about those who emigrated.
This website is no longer maintained, but can be accessed via the UK Government Web Archive. To access it, follow the instructions at this link, and search for 'Reproductive Loan Fund.' Alternatively, you can use this archived version (not all functionality will work).
The record images on the Moving Here website are not indexed, as they would be on a genealogy website, so you will have to experiment with the names of counties and areas within to see if they are available. If you find records for an area of interest, you can download them as pdf files.
The Skibbereen Heritage Centre (Co. Cork) has also transcribed information from eight funds that were active in the area. Access their database here.
 FindMyPast. How to use our new Poverty Relief Loans to find your Irish ancestors. 2014. http://blog.findmypast.com/2015/how-to-use-our-new-poverty-relief-loans-to-find-your-irish-ancestors/?_ga=1.87627665.807020905.1419377821: accessed 24 January 2015.
 Grenham, John. Tracing Your Irish Ancestors. 3rd ed. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan. 2006. p. 29.
 Just checking to see if you are awake; practically all of this census was destroyed in a fire in the 1920s. We'll use 1880 instead for this example :)