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Irish ancestry research – five sites for a sense of direction

Top 5 for finding the townland

Where's your Irish ancestry research heading?
Signs showing distance to San Francisco, Murmunsk, Dublin etc from Cape Clear, Ireland

Your Irish ancestry research can really start to move on apace once you have a strong sense of the direction, the real geographical direction, it should take. At this stage you can start learning about the place of origin of your Irish ancestor.

Research can be closely geared to getting to know the locality and the surrounding area – even just the county, if that's all you're absolutely sure about. Of course, you could just look online for some travel sites or buy a guidebook for the region you're interested in. That would certainly provide you with a flavour of the place. But you'll also want to know about that place in history, and what it was like when your ancestors lived there.

The following websites (which are in no particular order) are great for just that. They may not answer the question "Who are my ancestors?" but they'll certainly help you get to know the place where they lived!

What were Ireland's towns like in 1837?


Samuel Lewis's Topographical Directory, published in 1837, provides contemporaneous descriptions and statistics for counties, towns and villages across Ireland. Some of the details, particularly those referring to size and make-up of the local population, are taken from the 1831 census which was destroyed shortly after statistics had been extracted from it.

Providing some history of localities and vivid descriptions of churches, architectural styles and town layout, Lewis also included dates of markets and annual fairs, and details of a location's trade and industry, hospital, church and education facilities.

There's a lot to be gleaned from this resource. Even if your ancestors lived in the rural hinterlands, you can be sure they at least occasionally made the trip to their nearest towns. Lewis's Directory gives a fascinating glimpse of what greeted them there in the decade before the Great Hunger ravaged much of the country.

The book is available online, and free, on this Government-funded website.

Lists of databases by county


Genuki (an abreviation for Genealogy UK and Ireland) is an outstanding resource, providing links to hundreds of sites that will be useful in your Irish ancestry research. Its aim is to serve as a virtual genealogical reference library and most of the information is provides relates to primary historical material.

It is a non-commercial site, operated by volunteers in co-operation with the Federation of Family History Societies and a number of its member societies.

On its pages you'll find all sorts of websites listed, most of them tightly targetted ie the sites of archives and local libraries, sites confirming the availability and location of church records, sites dedicated to specific surname interests, historical events, locations etc.

The database can be entered from an All-Ireland page before proceeding to individual county pages. It's definitely worth bookmarking as you'll be referring to it frequently as your Irish ancestry research progresses.

Neighbours, friends and rent


Richard Griffith's Primary Valuation was the first full-scale valuation of property in Ireland (more about his Valuation here). It is one of the most important surviving 19th-century genealogical sources and plays a part in nearly everyone's Irish ancestry research as it records the names of householders in each county at the time the Valuation was carried out.

Alongside the householder's name are details of the lessor (if there is one) for that property or land, a summary of the property or land, plus its rateable value. Because it lists households by townland (or street in urban areas), it is quite probable you will find the names of other family members living nearby.

The Valuation was produced with maps showing exact locations for each household.

Indexes to the Valuation have been available for some time, and subscription sites have offered more detailed access to it, but this is the first site to bring the index, valuation records and maps to the public for free.

It is a prototype/test site and is still under development, so some features – expecially access to some of the maps – may not work for some locations. Hopefully, these limitations will be removed over time and this site will then become a staple resource for everyone engaged in Irish ancestry research.

Detailed maps of Ireland

This section of the page is being updated.

The First Edition 6-inch-scale Ordnance Survey maps of Ireland: They were surveyed between 1829 and 1843, so pre-date Griffiths Valuation by up to 35 years and provide an unprecedented insight into 19th-century life by capturing the physical characteristics of Ireland during a period of great upheaval, hardship and mass emigration. However, the reason for their creation was rather more prosaic: taxation!

Whatever the reason, such a nationwide mapping survey had never previously been attempted anywhere in the world.

At six inches to one mile, these are extremely detailed maps of Ireland's townlands. They are also rather beautiful.

They can be browsed online (by subscription) or bought on cd, or you can buy a large scale print to hang on your wall.

Irish Townlands

This section of the page is being updated

The Townland Database is a searchable database of all 60,000+ Irish townlands (and towns) as used for the 1851 census. It details the name of the County, Barony, Civil Parish, Poor Law Union and Province for each location.

It is an important website for Irish ancestry research because it helps you to find the various jurisdictions in which any given Irish townland is located. Since each jurisdiction keeps different kinds of records useful to genealogical study, it is critical to know the jurisdictions which covered your ancestor's birthplace or home.


Just for good measure, take a look at It's a government-funded project and in both English and Irish. It's easy to use and may add a little extra to your research.

Where next?

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By Claire Santry, Copyright© 2008-2018 Dedicated to helping YOU discover your Irish Heritage.
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