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Irish Research Strategies: Maps

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Back in 2007, I wrote a blog titled “Where is It” which dealt with my search for my great grandfather’s death certificate.  In 2008, I wrote about using “Google Maps” to plot a migration.   While working on client reports from my trip to Ireland last summer, I also found Google Maps to be helpful in identifying likely locations of a family.

In the first case I was dealing with a rather common name in Ireland, Gallagher, along with a less common name, McElhiney.   Family tradition stated that they were from county Donegal and emigrated in 1810.  Now if you have done any Irish research, you’ll know that records from that time frame and earlier are sparse and rarely contain much identifying information.  My client had already found baptismal records for three of the children of this couple in Croaghross, Clondovaddog, Donegal, so we had a starting point.  My research took me through Freeholder records from the 1760s as well as will indexes (almost all of the pre-1900 wills were destroyed in a fire at the Public Records Office in 1922 and only the indexes survive).  What I did was to plot the location of the individuals in each of these records on a Google map.  Had I been able to find a contemporary map for the time period it I would have used it.

Some of the problems I encountered were the names of the various locations and finding them on a present day map.  I utilized the General Alphabetical List of Townlands, Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland (1851 edition) to try to identify the locations and it worked in most cases, but standard names and spellings were not employed in most Irish records.  Carsuey was found as Garshooey, Moris as Moross and Fannet as Fanad.  I was, however, completely at a loss for Lihadmore (a will in 1777) and wrote to Donegal Ancestry for assistance.  They identified the location as Leat More.

Our Irish ancestors were not particularly mobile and tended to remain in the same area for many generations.  It was unlikely that individuals of the same name, but distant from Croaghross were close relatives of the target family, but by locating them on a map, it was clear to see where the focus needed to be. 

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For another client working in the mid 19th century, I looked at church records and Griffith’s Valuation.  The marriage record of the known ancestor was found in Scotland giving the names of the parents of both the bride and groom.  In addition, the census of 1891 stated they were from Derry, Ireland.  In this case the map included possible locations for both the groom’s family (blue markers) and the bride’s family (red markers) as well as the location of the Presbyterian churches (purple markers) where records needed to be checked.   The logical area to check appeared to be the Limavady area.  I had recommended that the client research a witness at the marriage in Scotland and they discovered he was also from the same area...remember, frequently it’s the collateral relatives that leave the record we need to break through a brick wall.  Although I had been focused on Presbyterian records since the marriage in Scotland was in that church, the client found the records of the witness in the Church of Ireland.  When I wrote about church records I said to always check the records for the Church of Ireland as it was the state church.

This method can be used not just for Irish ancestry, but for many groups.  If you’re having trouble differentiating individuals of the same name, try plotting them on a map.  You may begin to see patterns you might have missed without this visual representation.  I’ve used these examples with the permission of my clients, so if you have Gallagher or McElhiney ancestors from Donegal, or McCurdy or Hone ancestors in Derry, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with the individuals.

Happy Hunting!


© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2013