Finding out where your ancestors lived is a important piece of information in your research. Often people embarking on their research have an idea of the county their ancestors lived i.e. Co Galway, Co Wexford. However, if your ancestors were Murphys from Cork, you will have your work cut out for you trying to find which ones are related to you, if you can’t isolate what part of Cork they were from. This knowledge is mandatory in order to find your ancestors in all sorts of records e.g. birth, marriage, death etc.
In order to understand and interpret all the census records and land records that you will come across during your research, you will need to understand how land was and still is, in the main, divided in Ireland. For rural Ireland in particular, it is extremely helpful as families can be pin-pointed to townlands which is the smallest division of land. From the largest to the smallest, the following list reflects the divisions of land.
Ireland is divided into 4 provinces – Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht
Each of the 4 provinces is broken down into counties – e.g. Co Antrim in Ulster, Co Cork in Munster, Co Dublin in Leinster, Co Galway in Connacht
Each county is divided into baronies which we inherited from the old Irish tribal traditions and divisions. There are approx 370 baronies but these are no longer used in Ireland today but you will come across them in your research.
Each barony is divided into parishes. There are about 2,500 civil parishes. These civil parishes are not to be confused with Catholic parishes which are generally much larger. Civil parishes are no longer used in Ireland today.
Townland / Street
Civil Parishes are sub-divided to form townlands which is the smallest division of land. A townland can be a small as 5 fields or 20 fields and is a fantastic piece of information to locate. Irish families, especially in rural areas, lived in the same townland for generations so it makes your research easier if you have this information. There are approx. 64,000 townlands.
You may have come across these terms in your research already as they are used in census records, birth marriage and death records and many other records. So it is important to understand these divisions to help narrow your search area.
I cover topics like this in my course ‘Making Sense of the Census’. I also go into a lot of detail on the census forms and how to interpret them using step-by-step guide and video tutorials.