This post looks at a very useful free Irish genealogy resource; Shane Wilson’s swilson.info website. The site is packed full of historic maps, directories, databases and other useful information to help you find your Irish ancestors.
I’ve linked to this site in several places on Bespoke Genealogy, so I thought it would be a good idea to have a good look at it here.
The article is another in the series looking at useful Irish genealogy resources. For previous posts, check out the Ireland Blog page here.
This post will look at the main resources on the site. However, I recommend that you have a good look around to see what else is there.
Townland Index and Database
The townland database is at the heart of Shane’s site and is where it all began.
A townland in Ireland is a small area of land and usually the smallest civil land division. Knowing the townland where our Irish ancestors lived is extremely useful in making research progress. See the Irish land divisions page to see more on this topic.
Townlands were used on many official documents such as census returns, civil records and property records. So, knowing the townland makes it more likely that you’ll find the right person when searching these documents.
Shane Wilson’s Townland Database is based on data from the General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes & Baronies of Ireland which was published in 1861 by Alexander Thom & Co of Dublin. A scan of the original can be found on the Internet Archive.
There are five different search pages with different ways of finding information:
- The main database search page is where you can enter a name of a townland and the result will show you which civil parish, barony, poor law union and county it’s in. It also shows its size in acres. If you get several results, you can filter by county, poor law union, barony or civil parish.
Townland Search screen
- The Advanced Townland Search page allows you to search using wildcards only which is very useful if you’re not sure of the correct spelling.
- The Townland Explorer page allows you to find all the baronies, poor law unions and civil parishes in a particular county. You can then drill down by clicking on these places and get a full list of townlands for that particular place.
- The New Townland Explorer lets you search by townland or town.
- Finally, the Placename Search allows you to search for any place, not just townland. This is useful if you have found the name of a place on a document, but don’t know whether it’s a townland, village, town etc.
The site has a very useful Database with over 1000 links to historic Irish directories, both on free and subscription sites. There are also some links to directories that can be purchased on CD or as a download.
You can filter your search by county and date.
Shane also hosts some, mostly Dublin centred, directories on his site.
Shane’s website has some very useful parish resources relating to the two main denominations in Ireland; the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland.
The Catholic Parishes Directory is based on an 1848 publication. You can enter a parish name, or find it by clicking on the name of a diocese or by clicking on the map. This will give you a list of parishes in the diocese showing the associated post towns and counties. Clicking on the View icon will take you to the relevant page in the directory itself.
You can also look for a Catholic parish (and other churches) by searching for a location on Google Maps using this page.
If you know a civil parish and want to find the Catholic parish (or vice versa) for that area you can use the Catholic Parishes and Civil Parishes Links database. This will give you a Google map showing the location of churches as well as link to the relevant parish registers on the National Library of Ireland website.
The Church of Ireland Parishes and Churches database also allows you to link to civil parishes and vice versa.
The website hosts some great high definition historical maps of Ireland, including John Speed’s 1610 map which really is a thing of beauty!
There are also some local historical Dublin maps on the site.
The Surname Distribution database allows you to type in an Irish surname and see how it was distributed across the island in the mid 19th century. The result will give you a list with quantities by county as well as a distribution map. It shows that my own surname, for example, was most popular in County Cavan.
The data comes from the Griffith’s Valuation of 1847-64.
You can also use the Surname Cross-Reference tool to find which counties had a distribution of two different surnames. This is very useful if you don’t know which part of Ireland your immigrant ancestors came from. As an example, in my own family, I have a Connor married to a McCrea living in Scotland. I know that they came from Ireland sometime before 1851 where they also probably married. I don’t know where in Ireland they’re from. This tool gives me a few possibilities to check out:
Surname cross reference page showing parishes with both Connor and McCrea names
You can also check out the Top Irish Surname list based on data from 1890. No surprise to see Murphy at number one. Some of my names are fairly near the top.
There are several other resources on the site that I’ve not mentioned, so I recommend that you have a good look around. Shane has done a fantastic job here; it really is a free Irish genealogy treasure trove.
If you want to read more about Irish genealogy, I recommend these books:
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