Maps and genealogy: Where were my ancestors in the 1850s?
1:00 p.m. Tuesday 21 February 2017
by Dr Paddy Waldron
The Ordnance Survey Office was established in 1824.
The original survey of the entire island of Ireland at a scale of 6
inches to 1 mile was completed 22 years later, in 1846.
Ireland became the first country in the world to be entirely mapped at
such a detailed scale.
details can be found on the OSi
website and a full history in JH Andrews' A Paper Landscape,
repr. Four Courts Press, 2006.
Since about 2010, the OSi's historic maps of Ireland have been
available online at maps.osi.ie.
More recently, additional layers have been added at geohive.ie.
There is an open source competitor at OpenStreetMap.org.
John Grenham has written ('Glory be to the Ordnance Survey', Irish
Times, 8 June 2015) about what happened when
"the Ordnance Survey Ireland maps website (maps.osi.ie) was taken
offline and the worldwide Fraternity of Historic Map Nuts held its
The official boundaries and spellings of townlands have
largely remained fixed since the survey of 1824-46, with one or two
minor exceptions, e.g. Ballybrown and Moyarta.
the past and/or in some browsers, Google Maps had strange
polygons in place of the
true townland boundaries.
As (a) spellings of personal names in official records are far more
fluid than spellings of townland names in official records and (b)
there may be more than one person with the same name living in nearby
townlands, it is advisable to find the townland first and then look for
Taken almost two centuries earlier, in 1656-1658, the Down
Survey of Ireland was the
first ever detailed land survey on a national scale anywhere in
the world, e.g Barony of Moyfarto (now spelled
(Note that Moyarta East and Moyarta West are two townlands in the
Barony of Moyarta. Moyarta East and Moveen West were separated in the
Down Survey by the
Lisheen River; the part of the 17th century Moyarta East adjoining the
Lisheen River is now the separate townland of Breaghva.)
The 17th century Down Survey maps, 19th century Ordnance Survey maps
and 21st century Google maps have been overlaid on each other, e.g. Kilkee (note two Doughs in Clare
have been confused).
The Tithe Applotment Books generally
pre-date the Ordnance Survey, so that they often use non-standardised
boundaries and spellings.
There are no matching maps and poor handwriting has also resulted in
many transcription errors.
For example, Moyarta East appears to still include Breaghva and there
further differences between the transcriptions by the National Archives and by Clare County Library.
The good news is that finding your ancestral home on maps becomes much
easier from 1846 on.
A Step-by-Step Approach
There are similar websites for other parts of the world, e.g. Philadelphia.
- For rural locations, identify the relevant townland:
- You may already know the townland from family tradition
or be able to establish it from records of emigrants from Ireland
preserved in their destination countries (tombstone inscriptions,
- Many emigrants to Australia, and elsewhere, called
their houses after their native townland.
- To confirm the townland name, search for your
ancestor's or relative's name in Griffith's Valuation or the 1901 census or 1911 census.
- The Hunt Museum is in the townland of Prior's Land.
Hunt Museum is
also marked on Google Maps.
- To find my way here, all I needed was a URL linking to a
little red plus on a map and/or a URL
linking to the driving route from home
- Griffith map reference no. 14.
- In rural areas, scroll back to the first page for the
parish or townland and note the Ord. S. map sheet or sheets on which
townland appears, e.g. Knock.
- For urban locations, identify the street address(es) and
- The same location may have different numbers in
- Griffith's Valuation
- 1901 census
- 1911 census and/or
- local usage (trade directories, etc.)
- I like to use "no. " to denote Griffith numbers,
"house" to denote census numbers and no prefix to refer to local
- e.g. 6 Frances Street in Kilrush is no. 56 Frances
Street in Griffith's Valuation, house 9 in Frances Street in 1901
and house 45 in Francis [mistranscribed sic]
Street in 1911.
- Streets can be renumbered when new houses are inserted
in gaps or houses are divided or merged.
- As seen here, it is sometimes necessary to visit the
in the Irish Life Centre in Abbey Street in Dublin in order to check
the revisions of both maps and valuation lists.
- Check the townland index for:
(particularly when there are multiple townlands with the same name).
- civil parish
- Poor Law Union (PLU, Superintendent Registrar's
District, Registration District)
- Check the 1901 census or 1911 census for:
In 1911, Rutland Street was in Limerick No. 3 Urban DED.
- District Electoral Division (DED)
- Check the logainm.ie maps for:
Limerick No. 3 Urban DED is in one of the Limerick City Dispensary Districts.
- Dispensary District (Registrar's District)
Not surprisingly, it is in Limerick No. 3 (St. John's) Dispensary
District, as can be confirmed in George Handran's Townlands
in Poor Law Unions.
- In a new browser tab or window, locate the townland at maps.osi.ie:
- It may show up using Search, By Name
- It will almost certainly show up using Search, By
- In problem cases, search for a nearby townland.
- Townland boundaries are red; parish boundaries are
green; barony boundaries are yellow.
- Move the precise location of interest to the red +
symbol in the centre of the window and copy-and-paste and/or bookmark
- Other map websites are missing this crucial red +
placeholder or equivalent.
- In a second browser tab (or window), locate the townland at
- On the search results screen, follow the
"Click here to the map in an [sic] new window"
- Zooming in may not bring you exactly to the townland
you want - so it may help to know whether the townland straddles more
than one Ord. S. map sheet.
- Zooming and panning do not change the URL, so it is not
possible to bookmark a precise location.
- The URL includes a temporary "mysession" parameter, so
one can successfully bookmark or link to only the search results page.
- Use Ctrl-Tab and Ctrl-Shift-Tab (or Alt-Tab and
Alt-Shift-Tab) to switch back and
forth between maps.osi.ie and askaboutireland.ie tabs (or windows).
- The askaboutireland.ie maps may be more recent than
Griffith, but findmypast.ie sometimes has
earlier maps, contemporaneous with Griffith.
- It can be helpful to use Ctrl-PrintScreen to capture a
relevant section of the map and then annotate it using your favourite
- Case studies:
- Lisheencrony bog:
- Whelans of Sragh:
- In Sragh (199056.Tif)
Valuation (20 Aug 1855),
Whelan, sen., occupied a house and office (no. 6a) with rateable annual
valuation of 1 pound on 21a 3r 12p. He must be the father of
Patrick Whelan, jun. and Connor Whelan who jointly occupied a poor
quality non-residential holding of 138a 2r 5p (no. 5), with rateable
annual valuation of only 3 pounds each (and who are both buried in
Kilmacduane Cemetery). The Clare Journal report of the death
Connor's son Thomas in 1889 refers to "his uncle's haggard a short
distance away", i.e. Patrick jun.'s haggard.
- In Sragh in Griffith's Valuation, Connor Whelan
occupied a house and offices (no. 4a) with rateable annual valuation of
1 pound on 19a 2r 20p. Patrick Whelan, jun., also occupied a
house and offices (no. 3a) with rateable annual valuation of 10
shillings on 18a 0r 32p and two further non-residential holdings of 5a
0r 15p (no. 1) and 3a 2r 20p (no. 2). The immediate lessor in
cases was Rev. Richard Walsh, then approaching his eighties.
three residential holdings adjoin each other, largely bounded on the
south by a minor road and on the north by the Doonbeg river, and appear
to have originally constituted a single holding.
- There is no evidence that John Whelan in no. 34a is
to the other Whelans of Sragh.
- There is no building marked on the holding of
Patrick Whelan, sen. or Patrick Whelan, jun. in the first edition 1840
Ordnance Survey map, so perhaps two new houses were built just after
that, on the occasion of the division of the Whelan lands between
father and sons, presumably as part of a marriage settlement.
- In the Tithe Applotment Book of 13 Apr 1826, the
townlands of Doonbeg, Mountrivers and Sragh were all combined as Dunbeg
(index; original page, annotated; second version, not annotated).
- Downeses of Killard:
- By a strange coincidence, I was prompted to
research this family three times around the time that I first gave
- In Killard townland (in Killard civil parish) in
Griffith's Valuation (1855), there
were two Downeses:
- Patrick Downes (nos. 34a, 35, 36 and 37)
house and offices with rateable annual valuation of one pound (no. 34a)
on 3a 1 30p and three further separate holdings of 13a 1r 20p, 3a 0r
10p and 1a 1r 2p; and
- James Downes (nos. 38, 39 and 40b) occupied a
and office with rateable annual valuation of 7 shillings (no. 40b) in a
garden of 30 perches on Michael Connors' holding and two further
separate holdings of 7a 3r 30p and 2a 3r 10p.
- All the Downes land was sublet from George Blackall.
- Plots 34, 35, 38, 39 and 40 all adjoined each other
so may originally have been a single farm which was
- Were Patrick and James brothers?
- Both had sons who married in 1873 so they appear to
have been of the same generation.
- For Patrick's house, see
For James's house, see
- Use the Modern Map/Historical Map slider in the top
right corner of the askaboutireland.ie window to identify the plot of
interest on the
present-day Google map.
- Put the red + on the Historic 6" OSi map on the plot of
interest and toggle to the present-day OSi Street Map for an
- In a third browser tab, locate the townland at maps.google.com:
- The Google Maps system may work better in Google
Chrome than in other web browsers.
- Find the plot of interest by searching and/or panning.
- Point-and-click the X in the search box in order to
remove the clutter at the left.
- Drag-and-drop the little yellow man from towards the
bottom right to the plot of interest. (The roads traversed by the
Google Street View cameras will be highlighted in blue as you drag.)
- To hide more clutter, point-and-click "Hide imagery" at
- Keyboard shortcuts:
- avoid the <Escape> key which will lose
your place and bring
you back from Street View to the map
- click while the cursor is an arrow in a circle and
then use the up and down arrows to drive forwards and backwards along
- in either mode, use the left and right arrow to look
- use + and - to zoom in and out
- Watch the two compass icons at bottom left (black arrow
pointing in the direction that you are facing, hidden if you are facing
approximately north) and bottom right (red
arrow pointing North) to get your bearings.
- To create a link or a bookmark to either map or Street
- point-and-click the column of three dots towards the
- select `Share or embed image'
- point-and-click `Short URL' tickbox
- Ctrl-C to copy
- You can also copy the long link from your browser's
- There is access to at least one set of Street View
as early as 2009 to as late as 2016 in
most parts of Ireland.
- Historians and genealogists will want access to older
images when the Google cameras have revisited the location: where are
- In a corner of Market
Square in Kilrush and on O'Curry
Street in Kilkee, one can experiment with time travel.