Irish research doesn’t get more bizarre than using dog licenses to solve a genealogical problem. Yet, they can work.
Dog licenses are part of the Petty Session Court records. For the Republic of Ireland, these are at the National Archives of Ireland: www.nationalarchives.ie and on microfilm at the Family History Library: www.familysearch.org For Northern Ireland, they are at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland: www.proni.gov.uk They are labeled as dog licenses, and if someone failed to register their dog, then the court case would appear in the main Petty Session Court records. They date from the 1850s and 1860s.
Think of this source as a “census substitute.” If your ancestors lived in areas where dogs were used for work, such as in sheep herding, then you have a yearly census of these dog owners. When parish registers are sketchy or non-existent, and civil registration not much better, then these can fill in gaps. Areas such as County Donegal where dogs were needed for the wool industry, provides a perfect example.
Licenses includes: date, owner’s name, residence of the owner, number of dogs for each license, fee paid, dog’s sex, dog’s color, dog’s breed and remarks. If you are tracking movements or death of the owner; licenses can fill in gaps in the immigration and civil records. If tracking a common name, these licenses are a good way to sort through which person is yours.
A list of the courts in the Republic of Ireland can be found on www.findmypast.ie who are scanning and indexing the Petty Session Court registers. At this writing the database is not complete.
This is indeed a fascinating source. If you think of it in terms of a “census substitute” to document an individual year by year then it can indeed be a valued substitute.