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One of the most difficult problems for anyone researching their Irish Roots are the social and civil divisions of Ireland – it’s political and religious boundaries, compounded by rulers and administrators who did not speak the language of the people, an oppressed population following decades of subjugation

Much confusion can arise without a knowledge of, or access to a repository of placenames and maps showing these social and administrative divisions

No other country in the world is so well mapped as Ireland of the 1800’s

There is much information in this post, all the links lead to FREE databases – ‘Bookmark’ for future reference

Available Irish Genealogy Records

  • Census for the years 1901 and 1911 are available to search online, and are extensive although they hold many anomolies.
  • No census was taken in 1921 due to the War of Independence
  • In 1926, the first census was taken of the population of the Irish Free State, but those records are not expected to be publically accessible until 2027
  • The 1861 and 1871 censuses were destroyed soon after they were taken, and the 1881 and 1891 censuses were pulped during the first World War
  • Then, of course, there was the famous fire at the Public Records Office in 1922, which destroyed almost all of the census records between 1821 and 1851

Where to Begin…

Initally we’ve got to pinpoint our ancestors location using the following…

  • NLI Registers: mainly 1820 – 1880 based on Catholic Parishes
  • Family Search: catholic birth and marriage registration commenced in 1864, non-catholic marriage registrations from 1845, based on Civil Registration Districts which are closely aligned with Poor Law Unions
  • Griffith’s Valuation: 1848 – 1864 based on Civil Parishes and Townlands
  • Tithe Applotments: 1823 – 1838 – based on Civil Parishes and Townlands
  • Census: based on District Electoral Divisions and within them, Dispensary Districts, Civil Parishes and Townlands
  • Maps: (i) Ordinance Survey Ireland provide maps with historic layers outlining Poor Law Unions, Civil Parishes and Townlands, a search facility, a legend and it’s possible to turn on and off layers to view the base layer
    (ii) Catholic Parish outlines on the National Library of Ireland Parish Registeries Map

These boundaries don’t exactly align with each other and they’ve evolved and changed over time.

Links & Background Information

Alterations to County Borders in Ireland 1898

For a summary of changes to county borders as a result of the Local Government (Ireland) Act of 1898. Links to the transferred Electoral Districts (DEDs) on the 1901 census showing the transferred areas included, and in addition links to townlands transferred as parts of other divisions, e.g. Urban Districts – see: Shane Wilson’s excellent post

Placenames Database of Ireland, developed by Fiontar (DCU) and The Placenames Branch (Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht) are in English and Irish

The Index to the Townlands was published in 1904 by the Commissioners of Census as an aid to the processing of the returns for the 1901, see them on Irish Ancestors

Paddy Waldron has excellent info on Irish Parishes & Their Shifting Boundaries

Irish Place Names database is based on the Index to the Townlands, and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland published in 1861 after the Census of Ireland carried out in 1851


Irish census are based on District Electoral Divisions (DEDs) and are one of the first set of records used when tracing a family’s origins

Original Irish Census DED Maps can be viewed on Logainm

  • North-east boundaries
  • North-west boundaries
  • South-east boundaries
  • South-west boundaries

Ordinance of Ireland MapViewer

These maps are particularly relevant for genealogy or those with an interest in social history.
Between 1829 and 1842 Ordnance Survey Ireland completed the first ever large-scale survey of an entire country. Acclaimed for their accuracy, these maps are regarded by cartographers as amongst the finest ever produced.
These maps have multi layers with a comprehensive legend and very useful OSI Map Viewer Instructions

Other Very Useful Maps

The Connacht and Munster Landed Estates Map

Taylor & Skinner Maps Roads of Ireland 1777

Lewis Topographical Dictionary

Lewis Maps in Limerick City Library Online

Lewis Maps (Tomals)

Present day Irish Townlands