Module Two: Finding Your Townland

Locating the Origin of an Immigrant Ancestor

In this module you will learn about Irish land jurisdictions, and how to search for a townland using U.S. record, Irish maps, and other resources.

"Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O'Hara, that Tara, that land doesn't mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it's the only thing in the world that lasts." (Margaret Mitchell; Gone with the Wind)

Irish Land Jurisdictions

Modern Ireland is made of two countries - The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Ireland has 32 counties. In this next section we will look at the land divisions you will need to understand as you do your research.

Map of Ireland

Ireland is made up of provinces, counties, baronies, dioceses, parishes, and townlands.
  • Province: There are four provinces in Ireland - Ulster, Leinster, Connaught, and Munster.
  • County: There are 32 counties, six of them in Northern Ireland.
  • Barony: Usually an area of land within a county, based on old tribal jurisdictions called tuatha.
  • Diocese: An ecclesiastical division. There are 28 in Ireland.
  • Civil parish: A subdivision of a barony. It usually does not correspond to the ecclesiastical parish.
  • Townland: These are small areas of land. There are 64,000 townlands in Ireland. These are very important because they can identify specific land records.

The most important areas in your search are the townland or parish. This is the specific location where your Irish ancestors lived.

Although it may not be possible to research your Irish family past the early 1800s, since the Irish were a relatively immobile society you can identify your ancestral homeland. When you find it, it is likely that you have hundreds of years of history in that area.

For more information about each of the land divisions, read the article Irish Land Divisions.

How Do I Find a Townland?

The key to success in Irish research is finding the townland, parish, or at least county of origin. It is possible to be successful without this information, but it is much harder. The name of the townland is often garbled in family tradition - Emly becomes Emily, Knockfierna becomes Knock.

Some of the best places to look for information about the townland or parish of a ancestor are:

  • Family traditions
  • Obituaries
  • Death certificates
  • Gravestones
  • Local and church parish histories
  • Newspapers

If you can't find any information for your ancestor, try searching for their siblings.

For other ideas on resources to check, read the article Irish Ancestry, The Hunt for the Townland.

When you find a townland, there are several resources online to help you determine its parish, barony, and province. The Ireland Townland Database can provide this information. If you only have a parish you can enter the parish and county, and the database will list all of the townlands in that parish for you. You can also Google your parish and townland, and may be able to locate the townland on a map.

Localizing a Surname

If you haven't had any luck in locating a townland or parish, you may be able to localize the surname.

If your surname is unusual, it is possible to determine the most likely location in Ireland for research. If you surname is O'Brien, this won't work, as it is a very common name. One of my surnames is Leddin, which was fortunate as nearly all Leddins are found in eastern County Limerick.

The Irish Times website will allow you to search for a specific surname. The results of your search will show the most likely county location to search.

The standard source for localizing a surname is Edward MacLysaght's The Surnames of Ireland, which is available at and most family history libraries.

Module Two Assignments

Assignment One: Use the database listed in the course materials to find the province, parish, and barony for the townland of Ballynahaha in County Limerick.

Assignment Two: Where's Jeffrey? To practice your research skills, you will conduct a search for a missing person.

  • You are looking for Jeffrey Carey, and clues will be provided to you in an online module.
  • When the module appears in a new window, select the Home tab for the first clue. Each tab will have a new clue.
  • Let's look at the module: Where's Jeffrey?.
  • Don't forget to start by clicking on the Home tab. See if you can solve the mystery of Jeffrey's birthplace.

Assignment Three:
Continue your own personal research, looking for your ancestor's birthplace. Record your findings.


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