It's all about Location!

When I asked for thoughts about topics for blogs, Connie asked a question..." I understand the different divisions - civil vs. church, etc., but sometimes it seems unclear to me what level people were giving for a particular record. That may just be a function of my inexperience, but sometimes I’m just not sure. Are places as squishy as dates?"


Jurisdictions in Ireland are confusing to many people. Remember, as genealogists everything we look for is dependent on time and place. But what place? That's a good question, because when our ancestors were asked about a place in Ireland they might have given any of the various jurisdiction. It's also unlikely that you will find all of the information in one record. For that reason, it's critical not only to understand Irish Jurisdictions but also to do an exhaustive search of the records. Another point of confusion is the names themselves. Londonderry and Dublin are both counties, but they are also cities. There are six parishes named Inch in seven counties (one parish crosses the border of Wicklow and Wexford) as well as twelve townlands by that name. And one of my favorites, twenty-seven Irishtowns in eleven counties (yes there are multiple Irishtowns in a number of counties) and that is only the "official" townlands...it doesn't include the Irishtowns that are not townlands, but smaller localities such as villages. So collecting all of the locality information from multiple records and correlating them is key to finding the correct location.


If you've attended any of my lectures, you might be familiar with the slide above. I use it frequently. So let's look at each of these jurisdictions beginning with the smallest, the Townland. To me, this is the gold standard because it allows you to identify and group families of the same name. There are over 60,000 townlands in Ireland. My first stop is the General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland (I have the 1851 edition.). Your library likely has this, it’s expensive to buy. Here’s a hint, make sure you have a magnifying glass to read it. It’s close to 1000 pages listing the 60,000+ townlands. I like it because you can look through at various spellings…you may have only a general idea of how the name is spelled.

Above is a sample page, and all of the localities within the red box are some form of Crumlin. Once you find the locality it lists all of the other jurisdictions that you need to know… County, Barony, Parish and PLU. There is also a 1901 version that gives the Electoral Divisions which can be found on the website of the Irish Genealogical Research Society. Here's an article that explains some of the common Irish locality names and their meanings.


Townlands are grouped into Civil Parishes. This is a civil designation as opposed to a Religious one, however your ancestor might have given the name of their Roman Catholic parish which could be different. The Civil parishes are essentially the same as the Church of Ireland Parishes as they were taken over in the sixteenth century at the time of the Reformation. By contrast, many Irish Roman Catholic parish boundaries were established in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and are frequently larger in area than civil parishes. Once you know the name of the Civil Parish, it is easy to determine the Roman Catholic parishes on the IrishAncestors website. Because the Church of Ireland was a State Church, you might find your Roman Catholic ancestors in their records as well. I use either Brian Mitchell's A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland Second Edition or John Grenham's website IrishAncestors to view the parish maps to determine their locality and adjoining parishes. I've written a number of blogs including videos on how to use the IrishAncestors website.


The Poor Law Unions were typically centered around market towns. They usually included a Workhouse and provided a medical dispensary. They may have crossed other jurisdictions including counties. Ballymahon, for example covers parts of both Longford and Westmeath, and Lisburn covers parts of Antrim and Down. When the Marriage Act (Ireland) was passed in 1844 (requiring civil registration of non-Catholic marriages) the areas comprising Poor Law Unions became the Superintendent’s Registrar’s Districts and continued in that capacity under the birth, death and marriage registration acts of 1863. The area covered by each PLU varied according to population and there were sub-districts, called Registrar Districts that rolled up to the Superintendent District and once the records were compiled there, they were sent to Dublin.


Also coming out of The Poor Law Unions (PLU) were the District Electoral Divisions which grouped a number of townlands together to elect one or more members to a Poor Law Board of Guardians. This designation was also used for census records.


Baronies became obsolete as of the late 1800s, but they are used when researching the land and tax records of the mid-19th Century. They were an ancient land division, originally created during the Tudor reconquest of Ireland in the 16th Century. They were typically associated with large manors and could overlap county and even parish boundaries. When I started researching the barony was an important jurisdiction to know in order to research Griffith's Valuation. It’s not as critical now as many of these records can be searched in various databases. Brian Mitchell also has maps of the baronies for each of the Counties in his book. Here you see Clanmorris in County Mayo.

Although no records are kept at the County level, it’s important in order to identify the locality of many of the other jurisdictions.


I want to make a couple of comments regarding the Provinces of Ireland...there are four: Leinster, Munster, Connaught and Ulster. First, Ireland was not partitioned until 3 May 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Prior to that there was just Ireland. If your ancestor was born in Londonderry in 1890, they were not born in Northern Ireland, they were born in Ireland. If they died there in 1922, they died in Northern Ireland. The second point is that the Province of Ulster and Northern Ireland are not the same. Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan, which are part of Ulster, became part of the Irish Free State at the time of Partition. You are therefore likely to find records for those three counties in both Dublin and Belfast.


So what does this mean when you're looking for the locality of your ancestor in Ireland? Here's an example...


Michael Daly was from Irishtown (Source: Michael's daughter. She had no idea of the county or other locality information.)


Michael's half brother's obituary stated he was born in Mayo. (Research everyone in the family...you never know who might have left the information.) There was no "official" Irishtown listed for Mayo.


Michael's Declaration of Intent and Petition for Naturalization stated he was from Claremorris.


Michael's Immigration stated his closest relative was his mother, Mary, in Crimlon [sic], Irishtown. (There were two Crumlins in Mayo; one in Castlebar and one in Claremorris.)


The jurisdictions for Michael Daly:

Crimlin (townland); Kilvine (parish); Claremorris (PLU/Superintendent Registrar District);

Kilvine (District Electoral Division); Clanmorris (Barony); Mayo (County)


To answer the last part of the question..."Are places as squishy as dates?" The answer is Yes. Sometimes our ancestors used local names that don't appear anywhere. Use the County Facebook page to post a question. It's likely that a local person on the page will be able to help. Also remember that many of our ancestors could not read or write, so the name of the locality might be written phonetically. If you can get the pieces of information from multiple documents you can likely put them together to identify the locality.


Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!



Thanks to Connie for asking the question. Do you have a question you would like answered? Post it in the comments below or on my Facebook page and I'll try to answer it.





740 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All