Irish Petty Sessions Court Registers


Michael Burke Michael Burke, charged with wandering pig, 1861, as found on

The Petty Sessions Court Registers are an invaluable source for Irish ancestral research. These court records are chock-full of fantastic information, and can offer a depiction of your ancestor that traditional Irish sources will not.

In Ireland, the Petty Sessions dealt with the less serious civil and criminal matters. Here, you can find disputes between neighbors and family members, claims of petty assault, and minor domestic grievances. These court records contain complaints of wayward livestock, loose dogs, damaged crops, accusations of minor assault, and public drunkenness. Personally, I enjoy using these records because they can provide a glimpse into the day-to-day life of our ancestors. Did they get along with their family and neighbors? Did they ever have a brush with the law?

The Petty Sessions Court Registers include a complainant, a defendant, a crime, and a judgment. Often, the townland of the complainant and the defendant were listed, too, making it easier to trace families. And here you may find family members acting as witnesses, or family members accusing one another of a crime. Many Irish parish records are incomplete or missing, so these court records can be very helpful in establishing family groups.

But, primarily, these records are invaluable because they help to fill the void between when the Tithe Applotment Books were compiled and Griffith’s Valuation was recorded. Some counties’ Petty Sessions records even include the crucial time period before and after the Irish Potato Famine. Petty Sessions records can be ordered from the Family History Library, and many have been digitized and are available on (a subscription-based site).

As for my family, I have found several of my own ancestors listed in the Petty Sessions Registers. My ancestor Michael Burke of Oranmore, Galway, was charged with permitting his pig to wander on the public road, and was cited on several occasions for having “an accumulation of manure” on his premises. I guess it could have been worse…

Sheilagh Doerfler

About Sheilagh Doerfler

Sheilagh, a native of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, received her B.A. in History and Communication from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Her research interests include New England, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Westward Migration, and adoptions.View all posts by Sheilagh Doerfler