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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Irish Ancestor by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
The over 60,000 Irish townlands are small land areas such as family farms roughly equivalent to an English manor.The average size has been variously estimated between 300 and 350 acres, the smallest being one acre and the largest 7,012 acres. Townlands are very useful for genealogy as they pinpoint the actual locations of ancestral habitations. In order to use them effectively consult the 1846 Ordnance Survey maps (6” to 1 mile) in conjunction with the General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes, and Baronies of Ireland. There is a helpful townlands database online.
Note that the term townland has nothing to do with urban areas. The townland was (but is no longer) the smallest administrative unit of land, but the townland names are still commonly used throughout Ireland.
Your ancestor needed to know which parish he was settled in and the boundaries of the one he lived in for so many facets of his daily life, but he was not bothered too much by county boundaries. On the other hand you will need to know which counties the parishes were in and the old as well as any new jurisdictions in order to be able to find the records. You will also need to consider the movement of families and individuals and a knowledge of the local topography and the contemporary communication routes are essential for successful research.
The first comprehensive mapping of Ireland started in the 1820s and was undertaken by Richard Griffith and the British Ordnance Survey (O.S.). This effort culminated in 1843 with the production of two sets of maps, the small scale County Index Maps and the Six-inch to the mile Townland Maps. It should be noted that this took place before the Great Famine of 1845-1849. The same man subsequently carried out the valuation of rateable (taxable) property, known as Griffiths Valuation, which included the names of owners and occupants of all land and buildings.
County Index Maps
Each of the 32 County Maps was produced in a standard size, but not therefore a standard scale as the sizes of counties varied. They are important as an overview of each county and because they have a grid of numbered rectangles which refer to the specific townland map for each area. Rivers and parish boundaries are shown, along with major buildings and roads and a list of the parishes. They show baronies and parishes but not the townlands; some have municipal boundary maps or parliamentary borough maps included.
- CDs with Family Tree Magazine 2006.
- Prints approximately 23” x 16” and CDs.
- On FHL film 1440943 item 3, see also FHL CD-ROM no. 2127.
6” O.S. Townland Maps (1st edition)
These are the first maps of Ireland to show the names of the townlands as well as parishes and baronies. They show individual buildings, roads, fields and major footpaths as well as rivers and coastline. They are all at the standard scale of 6” to the mile and there are 1,907 of them covering the over 60,000 townlands of Ireland. The map number (sheet reference number) required can be found from the County Index maps or from Griffiths Valuation. Each original map covered an area six miles east-to-west by four miles north-to-south on a sheet bigger than three wide and two feet high, but later reproductions may be smaller. There were later editions of the 6” series for example the 3rd edition came out in the 1880s. Prints and CDs from Past Homes which are 33” x 23” and come in greyscale or full colour.
Past Homes also have available
Dated maps of the major Irish towns in the 1830s and 1840s.
- Over 9,000 site-centred maps which have a town or village in the centre with the surrounding area.
- 1” to the mile maps dated 1860-1863 at a scale between the County Index and 6” series. There are 205 maps for the whole of Ireland each covering a ground area of 18 x 12 miles. They show parish and barony boundaries but not townlands.
More Historical Maps
- Twenty four very interesting historical maps together with several pages of text can be found. They date from earliest times until the 1840s. This site also links to surname histories and distributions which are of great significance in Irish family history.
- Samuel Lewis’s 1839 maps can be viewed free.
- Samuel Lewis’s 1846 Atlas of the Counties of Ireland is reproduced in Gardner, Harland and Smith and has boundaries of the baronies as well as extant railways and roads.
- MM Publications series of 1882 Philips county maps can be found.
- George Philips’ 1885 Handy Atlas of the Counties of Ireland is reproduced in Gardner, Harland and Smith. It has railways, roads and an index to even all the small places.
- A 1939 OS (Ordnance Survey) map of Belfast is available on CD.
- Many more maps on fiche or film through FHLC.
It is very wise to become familiar with the purposes and contents of several gazetteers for Ireland. You will need to know whether the place was a rural hamlet, townland or parish, or a town, township or city. Find out what civil and ecclesiastical parishes it was in and the relevant bishops’ dioceses. Following this find what civil Poor Law Union (and hence Registration District) and Electoral District it was in. This kind of information will assist you to find relevant family history records and is provided in an appropriate gazetteer and on certain maps.
Take particular note if a place is at the edge of one jurisdiction, such as a county or diocese, as families tended to ignore such lines drawn on maps and may have popped over the boundary for various events in their lives.
Beware of places bearing the same name existing in different (or even the same) counties. Recognize that when far from their place of origin it was common to give the name of the closest town or city, rather that the village name, as a place of birth. Easily available and recommended geographical aids for different time periods include:
- Bartholomew’s Gazetteer of the British Isles. Statistical and Topographical. Several editions e.g. 9th (reprints 1951, 1963, 1972), see a digital version of the 1963 reprint or the 1904 edition. A gazetteer of place names throughout the British Isles. It is excellent for locating smaller places, but not for details on each place. It is commonly referred to as Bart’s.
- Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland 1837 is on FHL digital version and film 0599577 and also available on CD from Archive CD Books Ireland.
- The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland for 1844 is available in the fiche reference collection in your FHC on FHL fiche 6020358-82 (25).
- Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns of Ireland 1877 (based on 1871 census) is also at your FSC on FHL fiche 6020345-53 (9). This publication is of great use in determining the Poor Law Union (PLU) to which any place belonged. This PLU is identical with the Superintendent Registrar's District referred to in the civil registration indexes. The reproduction is poor, however, so it is difficult to read in places; and although a similar index for the 1851 census (General Alphabetical Index…) and 1901 are available, they are not yet available on microfiche through FSCs.
- The Place Search in the FHLC online contains a gazetteer of places for which the LDS Family History Library has materials. It is useful to find by which name a parish is called in the FHLC if it has had more than one, also to find under which county it is found in the FHLC. This material can also be found at beginning of Fiche 1 for Ireland in the FHLC Locality section in the old fiche edition.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Irish Ancestor offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.<br>
- This page was last modified on 10 March 2014, at 13:48.
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