A gazetteer is a dictionary of place-names. Gazetteers describe towns and villages; parishes and counties; and rivers, mountains, and other geographical features. Gazetteers generally list place-names in alphabetical order.
Gazetteers may provide the following information about a locality:
- The most common spelling of the place-name
- County and other civil jurisdictions
- Ecclesiastical jurisdictions
- Distance from nearby places
- Religious affiliations of the population
- Major manufacturing works
- Canals, docks, and railroad stations
A gazetteer entry for Ballintoy, for example, includes the following information:
"Ballintoy, a parish containing a village of the same name, on the north coast of the barony of Carey, and of the county of Antrim, Ulster. . . . This parish is a rectory and a separate benefice in the dio[cese] of Connor. . . . In 1834, the parishioners consisted of 2,122 [Irish] Churchmen, 933 Presbyterians, and 1,064 Roman Catholics (The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, see below).
Several difficulties arise in dealing with Irish place-names. First, Irish place-names often come from the Gaelic or Irish language, though some have been given English variations. Second, Irish place-names were sometimes spelled phonetically in family records and documents in other countries, because many immigrants did not know the accepted spellings. The phonetic spellings can vary widely from the accepted spellings because recorders sometimes misunderstood what the immigrants said. Finally, there are many places in Ireland with the same or similar names. A gazetteer may help you resolve each of these difficulties.
Helpful Gazetteers for Ireland
- General alphabetical index to the townlands and towns, parishes and baronies of Ireland : based on the census of Ireland for the year 1851. Dublin : Printed by Alexander Thom, 1861, reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, Maryland, multiple dates. Although this work is not technically a gazetteer, it is the best finding aid for Irish townland names. There are other years for this index, 1871 and 1901. Best of all, the Townland Index is available for free at www.seanruad.com. The index will show for any given townland the acreage, county, barony, civil parish, and poor law union (civil registration district) that the townland belongs to.
- Lewis, Samuel. Topographical Dictionary of Ireland. 2 vols. London: S. Lewis and Co., 1837. (Family History Library book Ref 941.5 E5, 1837; film 413528; 496572 item 3; or 599557.) This dictionary contains historical and statistical descriptions of the counties, cities, boroughs, parishes, and corporate and market towns in Ireland. Later editions of this dictionary are available. This is available online for free at www.libraryireland.com/topog/index.php .
- The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland. 10 vols. Dublin, Ireland: A. Fullarton and Co., 1844. (Family History Library book Ref 941.5 E5p; film 824043 items 4-5 to 824045; fiche 6020358-82.) These volumes provide information similar to that in Lewis's dictionary. These volumes also provide historical and statistical comparisons based on information from the 1831 and 1841 censuses.
Unfortunately, Irish gazetteers often do not list townlands, though many place-names in records about Irish people are townlands. The sources listed below under "Finding Place-Names in the Family History Library Catalog" may help you locate Irish townlands and identify the parish and county they are in.
Similarly, gazetteers rarely list property names, though a property name, rather than a town or parish name, may have been handed down within a family as the place where the family originated. The Irish Place-Names Commission at the Ordnance Survey Office in Dublin may be able to help you locate a property name when gazetteers fail. The address of the Place-Names Commission is:
The Family History Library's gazetteers and other guides to place-names are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under the following headings:
IRELAND - GAZETTEERS
IRELAND, [COUNTY] - GAZETTEERS
Finding Place-Names in the Family History Library Catalog
Irish records may be listed in the catalog under the country, county, parish, and city or town in which they were kept. Townlands or other small places are seldom included in a catalog listing. To find the county under which a parish or city is listed, use the see references on the first few microfiche of the Place Search for Ireland. Or type the city or parish in the Locality Browse screen of the compact disc version of the catalog. The computer will display the county under which that city or parish is listed.
Regardless of how a place-name may have been spelled at various times, Irish places are listed in the Locality Search of the catalog by the name and spelling that appears in the 1871 census as recorded in Ireland, Registrar General, Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns of Ireland(Dublin, Ireland: Alexander Thom, 1877; Family History Library book Ref 941.5 X2ci; film 476999 item 2; fiche 6020345-53; no circulation to Family History Centers). This index is arranged alphabetically by the name of the townland, town, village, or place. A brief entry for each locality includes the locality's county, barony, parish, poor law union, area in statute acres, and reference for locating it on Ordnance Survey maps.
Similar place-name indexes based on the 1851 and 1901 censuses exist. The index for 1851 is only available in book format and so may not be available at all Family History Centers. The index for 1901, the General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns of Ireland, is available on microfilm and can be ordered through Family History Centers.