Understanding Irish Jurisdictions
Updated: Nov 21, 2021
I've spent the past two weeks teaching a class on Finding Your Irish Ancestors for Family Tree University. It was a large group (61 students) so the Discussion Boards were quite active. It started with finding your ancestor in US records to determine a location in Ireland then went on to discuss Irish records. The location is the number one stumbling block for those wishing to jump the pond. You are not likely to be successful in Irish research without knowing the location in Ireland. While some had no clue (since most US records simply say Ireland) others had just a county. I've written quite a bit on finding the location and if you go to the blog menu bar and select "Finding a Location in Ireland" you can review all of the blogs I've written over the past two years that are tagged with that topic.
What I discovered was most confusing for people once they collected some information, was understanding the Irish Jurisdictions. Since I've written on this before, I'm going to refer you to a blog on Irish Administrative Jurisdictions. I strongly suggest you read that blog before you continue.
So now that you understand what the Jurisdictions are, how do you figure out where they are? With 64,000 townlands, I don't know where they all are. When someone asks me, here's what I do. (I'm going to paraphrase from a question I received.) Think of this as a process to use for any Irish location.
The Tipperary Family History Research Center found a baptismal record for my ancestor, from Knocklong/Glenbrohane; Address: Mitchelstowndown; Register: Knocklong. My question is the address and register refer to what? Are they towns, townlands, etc? Of the three sons, two have an address — one is Cross of the Tree and the other is Mitchelstowndown. We have since found a 1901 Census record for the youngest son living in Knocklong as well as a death for the father John in Knocklong (Poor Union – Kilmallock).
So let's unpack this. Knocklong/Glenbrohane. Although I wasn't given the information about date or denomination, since this was identified as a baptismal record, I'm going to guess Roman Catholic prior to 1864. My first stop was JohnGrenham.com >Sitemap>Roman Catholic Parishes to find Knocklong/Glenbrohane. I clicked on Tipperary and there was no Roman Catholic Parish by that name.
Still at JohnGrenham.com I went to Placenames and typed in Mitchelstowndown. Surprise! I made the assumption that it was in Tipperary based on the question, but it's actually in Limerick. Sometimes we make the wrong assumptions. According to the results:
Place (Townland) County Civil parish Poor Law Union
Mitchelstowndown Limerick Ballingarry (Coshlea) Kilmallock
A couple of things about this. The name in parenthesis is important because there are two Ballingarrys in Limerick. Also there is another Jurisdiction that might be confusing.
If you went back and read the Jurisdictions, I said that the Poor Law Union was the Registration District. That's true. Births, deaths and marriages after Civil Registration would be indexed by the name of the Poor Law Union also known as the Superintendent Registrar's District. There were, however, sub-districts for local registration known as the Registrar's District, which eventually rolled up to the Poor Law Union (or Superintendent Registrar's District).
In the results from the Placename search, Ballingarry (Coshlea) is a link. If you click on it, you are taken to the page for that parish. (You can also get there by clicking on the Civil Parish Map and then the name of the parish.) Notice it's locality on the map (#15); then look at the names of the adjoining parishes. In the upper right click on Church Records and you'll see that there are two Roman Catholic Parishes serving this area, one being Knocklong/ Glenbrohane and their records being in 1809 (with some missing years). The records can be accessed through the National Library (digitized images only) and the indexes created by Ancestry and FindMyPast; or by Tipperary Family History Research (which explains the confusion on the location).
The second part of the questions related to other localities identified in various documents. In the link for Ballingarry (Coshlea) you can see that Mitchelstowndown is listed as a townland. The other localities, Church of the Tree and Knocklong are not listed. Notice that Knocklong (#96) is an adjoining parish and from the map, you can see it's just north. Click on the Knocklong Civil Parish and there are two townlands, Knocklong East and West. There are also 3 Mitchelstowndowns (East, North and West) in the civil parish of Knocklong. So the reference to Knocklong could be either to a townland or to a civil parish. Also since Knocklong shares the same Roman Catholic Parish, the reference to Mitchelstowndown, could be to any of the four localities. To determine which one, I'd go to Griffith's Valuation (that's another blog).
So what about Cross of the Tree? It doesn't show up in either civil parish, nor does it show up in a Placename search. That means it's likely a village or borough, a sub-division of a townland. To find where it's located, I just use a Google search...Cross of the Tree Ireland. One of the results is a map site. It shows the location as Limerick. I then use Google Maps to find the distance between Cross of the Tree (which appears near Garrys) and Mitchelstowndown. It's 4.4 km or about a 5 minute drive. So you can see that all of these locations are relatively close to each other. That's important since our ancestors, for the most part, lived in the same general area for generations. They may have moved slightly as leases changed, but they tended to stay in the same area and married someone from their parish or an adjoining parish. How else would they meet someone...it had to be walkable.
One last thing. If you don't have any locality information make sure to collect any piece of information that appears in US records. Because of the repetition of locality names, you can sometimes put together the locality from multiple sources. When I start researching in Ireland, I always begin with a list of all of the known localities, since sources might list any of them. Typically you aren't going to get all of the locality information in one document, but are going to need to research all of the documents your ancestor left (primarily in the US or other country of immigration), as well as those of his/her family, friends, associates and neighbors.
A bit about JohnGrenham.com. This website, officially named IrishAncestors, contains vast information about localities in Ireland. It's a site I use everyday. John allows for 5 searches a day for free, then asks for a subscription. If you only want to do a few searches and can spread them out, you'll be fine. You can also get a subscription for a day, a month or a year. I just shared a post from John on Facebook indicating he just finished a major update to the website based on the 5th edition of his book, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors. Another place to get locality information is Townlands.ie.
Happy Hunting (and Stay Safe).
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