In a description on the website of the Dublin City Library and Archives, which hosts a database of records for freemen of the city of Dublin, freedom of the city prior to the 20th century was described as essentially citizenship. Instituted in the 13th century, “freemen had the right to vote, were exempt from many tolls and taxes and had the duty to take up arms to defend the city when it was under attack”.
Freemen of the City of Dublin
The majority of freemen were admitted from the guilds of Dublin city. Guilds were an association of tradesmen or merchants, not dissimilar to a trade union. The guilds formed the basis for the government of the city, the City Assembly, which became Dublin Corporation following the Municipal Corporation Reform (Ireland) Act in 1840. Guild members became freemen and could then be elected as sheriffs, aldermen and lord mayor of the city.
Nearly half of all freemen were admitted ‘by service’, which meant the completion of an apprenticeship in one of the Dublin trade guilds. In the registers and rolls of freemen, admission ‘by service’ has the designation ‘S’. However, there were also other means by which one could be admitted. Freemen were admitted by birth, as the children or grandchildren of freemen. These entries have the designation ‘B’. Admission was also granted by marriage ‘M’ to sons-in-law of freemen. The Dublin city assembly could also grant admission by Grace Especial ‘G.E.’ or ‘sp.gr’ or ‘Gr.’, which was generally conferred as an honour, but people who were not members of a trade guild, such as lawyers or clergymen, could also apply for admission under this category. Others could also gain admission by payment of a fee or ‘Fine’ ‘F’ or by act of Parliament and finally, by presentation of a pair of gloves to the Lord Mayor’s wife, the Lady Mayoress ‘GL’ or ‘Gloves’.
Records of the freemen of the city of Dublin date from the 15th century. The first set covers the period 1461-1491 and 1564-1774 and have been published online by the Dublin City Library and Archives. This collection is a database drawn from two sources. The first is a transcript from the original Freedom Registers made by Gertrude Thrift in 1919. The second are the ‘beseeches’, original application forms for admission as freemen. The database can be searched under first name, surname, occupation, means of admission and period of admission, making it possible to identify all of the jewellers or weavers admitted between 1634 and 1734 or all those who were admitted by Grace Especial or Act of Parliament. Each entry is linked to an image of the Thrift transcript or the beseeches.
Records of the Freemen of the City of Dublin
The earliest reference to the name Bridgeman in this collection is for Joseph Bridgeman, granted admission at Christmas 1727, a Protestant trader who was admitted by ‘A.P’, Act of Parliament. This was an Act of Parliament passed in 1662 to assist protestant immigration and facilitated the admission of Huguenots and Quakers who had settled in Dublin city. Was Joseph Bridgeman an immigrant to the city of Dublin and the first of the Bridgemans to settle here? Unfortunately, we were unable to connect Joseph with Damien’s Bridgeman ancestors for Who Do You Think You Are?
The Freedom Rolls or Registers of Admission from 1774 up to 1918 are available for research in the Dublin City Library and Archive. The rolls or registers, as with the transcripts by Thrift, vary in what is recorded. The early rolls can be quite brief recording the date of admission, name of the freeman, occupation and how they were admitted; by birth, marriage, service, etc. In the case of the admission of those who completed an apprenticeship, the name of their master was also recorded. The register in which Damien’s ancestors appear, and which appears in the episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, commence in 1841, record more details; name, residence, addition (occupation/trade), date of admission, by what right (birth, marriage, service, etc) and the name of the person from whom right is derived (in cases of admission by birth, marriage or service) and the date of admission of person from whom right is derived.
The books are arranged alphabetically by the first initial of the surname and then chronologically.
In the entry for Frederick Bridgeman, he was described as a grandson of William Bridgeman who himself was admitted in Midsummer 1771. Six of Frederick’s siblings or cousins, all grandchildren of William, were admitted on the same day, 4th December 1841, with various addresses and occupations. Unfortunately, William does not appear in the rolls for 1771, which are published online. Another William Bridgeman appears in 1777, but he was not the grandfather of Frederick.
An earlier volume of the Freedom Rolls held in the Dublin City Library and Archive, 1820-1841, is slightly less detailed, this volume of Freedom Rolls recorded the person admitted, their trade or profession and their right of admission, signified by the initials outlined above.
There are also records of Freemen of the City of Dublin published online at www.findmypast.ie. The records cover the period 1774 to 1824 and include almost 6000 men who were admitted. This is a printed transcript of the Freedom Rolls for this period, which was never published, and has now been indexed and digitised.
This means that it is possible to identify admission records for freemen of the city of Dublin online from 1461 to 1824, with a gap between 1491 and 1564, using two different databases. For entries after 1824 it is necessary to undertake a manual search of the admission registers in the Dublin City Library and Archive.
As a collection of records, the Freedom rolls are of immense value to anyone researching a Dublin city family, particularly a family who may have been guild members. Identifying entries for admissions by birth can link several generations of a family and perhaps establish their arrival in the city or the first apprentice in a family to a particular trade.
Of course these lists do not represent the entire population of the city of Dublin. Roman Catholic’s were excluded from about 1603, when the Oath of Supremacy was introduced, although between 1685 and 1690, during the reign of James II, a Catholic could obtain freedom, as long as they swore allegiance to the king. With the introduction of the penal laws in the 1690s, Catholics were once again excluded until Catholic emancipation in the 19th century. In fact, the admission of Frederick Bridgeman and his siblings and cousins in December 1841 was the first admission of Roman Catholics following emancipation.
Murphy, Sean, ‘The Corporation of Dublin 1660-1760’ in Dublin Historical Record, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Dec 1984), pp. 22-35
 Dublin City Library and Archive Website: http://databases.dublincity.ie/freemen/about.php