google-site-verification: google65e716d80989ba07.html The Armchair Genealogist: October 2010

Family Recipe Friday - Pumpkin Bread

This time of year is probably my favourite. The air has a chill, the wind whirls the leaves in a frenzy of orange, crimson and bronze. Cornstalks stand tall in the farmer’s fields while roadside stands are a sea of orange pumpkins. My thoughts immediately turn to pumpkin recipes.

Pumpkins have a long history with our ancestors. The first colonists became acquainted with pumpkins through the Indians. The natives boiled, dried, ground it into meal and made soup with pumpkin. The ground pumpkin meal was used like cornmeal for making puddings and breads.

Below I would like to share a family recipe for Pumpkin Bread. And for that Jack O’ Lantern you will be craving this weekend I have also included a recipe to roast up those pumpkin seeds. And if you’re feeling really ambitious check out Elana’s Pantry, she offers great directions on roasting a pumpkin rather than buying canned pumpkin. Happy Halloween everyone.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
1. Rinse pumpkin seeds under cold water and pick out the pulp and strings. (This is easiest just after you've removed the seeds from the pumpkin, before the pulp has dried.)
2. Boil seeds in water for 5 minutes.
3. Place the pumpkin seeds in a single layer and spray with a non-stick cooking spray, stir to coat.
4. Sprinkle with salt and bake at 325 degrees F until toasted, about 25 minutes, checking and stirring after 10 minutes.
5. Let cool and store in an air-tight container

Don’t be afraid to change up the flavours adding sweet or savoury seasonings.

Pumpkin Bread

11/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
¾ cup cooking oil
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup of canned pumpkin
½ cup of raisins

Sift together dry ingredients into medium size mixing bowl.

Combine in a large mixing bowl the oil and sugar. Mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg. Add dry ingredients, about ¼ at a time,beating until smooth after each addition.

Add pumpkin and raisins. Blend well. Turn mixture into a well greased loaf pan.

Bake at 350 F, for 60 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on rack. Delicious with butter.

Looking for another option for pumpkin, checkout Karen's family recipe at AncesTree Sprite for Pumpkin Banana Spice Cake
Related Reading

Calling All Ancestors - A History of Halloween

In a few days, we will be celebrating Halloween. A  day for children to adorn scary and cute costumes and parade from door to door filling bags with candy. Adults and children will carve pumpkins and set them a glow with candles. They will decorate their front doors in cheap scary apparel  in an attempt to create an ominously festive evening. After a couple of hours of handing out mini chocolate bars we will turn out the lights sit down on the couch to a scary movie and eat the remaining Halloween candy. (I always sub-consciously buy too much for this very purpose.) Halloween will be complete for another year will little thought to why and where this tradition began. Many don’t participate in Halloween anymore, and the rest of us don't really see it past the commercial event it has become, to line the pockets of candy and costume companies. October 31st seconds only to Christmas in retail sales.

There was a time when Halloween was about welcoming the spirits of dead ancestors to walk the earth. The holiday of dead spirits is in fact a tradition that dates back long before candy and costume companies got a hold of it. Two thousand years ago, the Celts of Northern Europe celebrated the first festival of Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-in’ meaning end of summer.) Samhain marked the beginning of winter and the Celtic New Year. This one night a year the Celts believed the veil between the living and the dead was most permeable allowing the spirits of the dead to roam the earth. Families set out food and wine just in case their ancestors dropped by for a visit in the form of a black cat.

For some it may have been a little unsettling sitting around waiting for spirits to manifest. This encouraged people to dress in costumes of the dead in order to camouflage themselves and blend in with the real spirits. Then parades began in the hopes of drawing the spirits away from their homes. Druid Priests built hilltop fires to encourage the end of winter and the return of the sun. For good fortune, people would bring the fires from the hilltop to hearths in their homes by way of carrying the hot embers in hollowed out turnips. To ensure a safe journey home and to ward off the evil spirits they would carve scary faces into the turnips, thus illuminating the first jack-o-lanterns.

By the middle ages, the Catholic Church established a trio of holidays known as Hallowmas, October 31st became all Hallows eve, November 1st became All Saints Day and November 2nd became All Souls Day. In place of setting out treats for the dead, Catholics were encouraged to offer “soul cakes” small pastries and breads to the poor in exchange for prayers for departed family members. Town’s people still masqueraded but now they dressed as angels, saints and devils and visited from house to house, a tradition that evolved into trick or treating. The Christian holiday was meant to end Samhain, instead it solidified the holiday of Halloween.

Halloween did not take hold in North America until the 19th century with the arrival of Irish and Scottish immigrants. Prior a Catholism based tradition was not a popular idea and in light of the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials, the thought of inviting devils to walk among the living was not highly encouraged. Once Halloween took hold in North America, it became a harvest festival, pumpkins replaced turnips, games and parties became the rage. As time passed, Halloween became less engaged by adults and became a children’s holiday.

Today, Halloween bears little resemblance to its origin. Many would suggest our ancestors were naive to believe spirits of the dead walk among us. However, I can't be certain the commercialism that revolves around October 31st today makes us anymore the wiser. I also have to wonder what Halloween will look like 100 years from now? Will it exist at all?

I for one would like to acknowledge the original intention of the day and would welcome sitting down to a glass of wine with the spirits of my dead ancestors. I may even get a few of my genealogy questions answered.... now that would be a treat.

Happy Halloween!

Irish Census Records - What Exists and Where to Find Them?

In recent weeks, we have examined some of the difficulties in finding our Irish ancestors. We’ve established that one key and initial step in locating your Irish family lies in understanding the Irish landscape and placing your ancestors in the proper county, townland and parishes. Once you have determined the location of your ancestor’s home, it’s time to turn your attention to what census exists for those counties and where you can find them.

You would think with location in hand you would be armed and ready to find an extensive list of census documents. However, that is not likely the case. A census of the Irish population was taken every ten years from 1821 until 1911. The original census returns for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed shortly after they were collected, likely for storage space. The records for 1861 to 1891 were pulped by government order, during the WWI. And of course, the infamous fire, in 1922 that destroyed the Public Records Office in Dublin taking with it most of the four censuses from 1821 to 1851 leave many family historians just a little frustrated.

Records for 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 no longer exist. However, small fragments of the 1821-1851 censuses have survived for the following counties. If you know your ancestors location (am I nagging yet) then perhaps you can find them in some of the few census records that exist for this period in these locations.

They are as follows.

Antrim 1851
Cavan 1821 and 1841
Cork 1841
Fermanagh 1821, 1841 and 1851
Galway 1821
King's County (Offaly) 1831 (supplemented 1834)
Londonderry (Derry) 1831
Meath 1821
Waterford 1841

Where to find provides a great list of links for all partial Irish census returns available online.

The 1901 and 1911 census returns are intact, are now fully searchable online, and free of charge at The returns are searchable by religion, occupation, relationship to head of family, literacy status, county or country of origin, Irish language proficiency, specified illnesses, and child survival information.

An Irish census wasn’t taken in 1921 due to the civil war, however, one was taken in 1926, it is hoped to be released in 2026. However, since the 1911 Irish census was released earlier, there is hope this census will also be available at an earlier date.

Because of the loss of so many census records, many family historians seeking Irish records have turned to “census substitutes” in the hopes of finding some significant information. The most important records to examine include land records, religious censuses, school registers, old-age pension applications and trade directories. The major census substitute for Ireland is Griffith’s Primary Valuation. This document is an Ireland property survey published county by county between 1848 and 1864. It was arranged by county, barony, Poor Law Union, civil parish and townland (location, location,location again) and includes an assessment of the value for every property within those boundaries and the name of each occupier.

My favourite website for searchinng Griffith Primary Valuation is at

If you want to understand what information can be learned from the Griffith Evaluation then I suggest you examine The Irish Genealogy Toolkit they offer a sample page and explanation of its content.

Other census substitutes include Tithe Applotment books, Estate Records and Registry of Deeds.

Tithe Applotment books are another important census substitute. In 1823, in an effort to revise the system of tithes payable to the Church of Ireland a valuation was carried out. Records contained in the Tithe Applotment books are arranged by townland (don’t mean to beat a dead horse) and list the names of the each land occupier, the size and quality of their land, and the tithe deemed payable. This was an attempt to determine how much would be payable by each landholder. The Tithe Applotment Books record the occupiers of tithe-eligible land, not householders. It was not a population census.

Estate Records include information about the wealthy families who owned large sections of land. They are useful because they can often name domestic staff, farm hands and craftsmen as well these wealthy families were landlords granting leases to tenant farmers and labourers.

Registry of Deeds covers mostly the 1750 to 1830 period, they are only valuable if your ancestors owned land and since the majority of the population did not, they may not be of use to you. However, if your ancestors did own land then you may find them extremely helpful because they often will name 2-3 generations.

In future posts, we will examine closer Tithe Applotment books, estate records and registry deeds in more detail as we move closer to finding your Irish ancestors.

Related Reading
Irish Genealogy - You'll Need More Then Luck
Irish Genealogy - Step One - Determining Where Your Ancestors Lived

A great book for learning more about Irish Genealogy can be found in John Grenham's Tracing your Irish Ancestors, the Complete Guide (3rd edition, Dublin, 2006).

Tuesday's Tip- Organizing Your Internet Research

I love tools that can help me keep my genealogy and writing research in order. Whether you are researching an ancestral hometown for your family history book, or investigating the history and events of a country in which your ancestors lived, keeping your information in order can be a job all unto itself. Perhaps your learning about the ins and outs of Irish, French or German genealogy or researching information for a blog post or article, then tools to keep your research notes organized is absolutely necessary.

Internet genealogy means reading through hundreds of websites to find your family information. Of course, you can bookmark all of these sites that you deem interesting and revisit them later, but I find when I go back I have trouble keeping straight what specifically I read on a particular website and I waste a lot of time retracing my steps.

Therefore, I turned to copy and pasting the information into a word document, for some projects I would copy information to OneNote, which is a great program that will also cite the website where you captured your information.

However, now I have found an organizing tool that has streamlined all of the above in one clean sleek click. The website iCyte has really moved citing websites from the stone ages.

ICyte saves web pages as “cytes”. After downloading the free browser plug-in, and registering you will acquire a handy icon that will appear on your browser toolbar. No worries, iCyte can be accessed using common browsers such as Firefox 3, Internet Explorer 7 or 8, Google Chrome and Safari.

In my opinion, ICyte is better than a bookmark. First, because if at some point the page becomes deleted or changed, iCyte has captured and saved the original page. Secondly, a bookmark only directs you to the webpage, and we all know webpage urls can break. Finding a lost URL is a do able task, but still yet another task.

With iCyte, once you have found a website you wish to save for future reference, simply highlight the text on the site and save by clicking the icon on your toolbar. Cytes can be organized into projects, assigned tags and you can add your own notes. If that isn’t exciting enough for you, I love that my projects are stored in clouds; I can retrieve them from any computer anywhere. I also love that cytes are preserved, as they appeared when you first made them, and the text-highlighting feature means you can draw you or your audience’s eye to whatever it was that you found interesting. A second icon on your toolbar allows you to open your account in a single click and view all your projects containing your cytes when you’re ready to go back and review your cytes.

Projects are private by default unless you choose to invite others to join your projects via email. You can also share your cytes via Twitter or Facebook or you even embed them in your blog. You can also share your cites via RSS feeds. RSS support allows members to receive real time feeds on public collaboration projects.

I love iCyte, it has made organizing my internet research quick, easy and painless and it’s free. Give it a try it is simple and easy to learn. No big learning curve, it offers short tutorials so you can feel comfortable in using it to its full potential immediately.

Below is an example embed cyte from a previous blog post

Watch the tutorial below for iCyte.

Family Recipe Friday - French-Canadian Baked Beans

This week I made another dish handed down from my French Canadian ancestors. Baked Beans are very popular in our family. Fèves au lard is traditional beans baked in a ceramic or cast-iron pot usually flavoured with salted pork or lard and sweetened with maple sugar.

The historical background for Quebec cuisine is generated from the fur trade, where many dishes contributed a high fat or lard content providing high energy in the middle of the cold winter. The strongest influence of traditional Quebec cuisine comes from France and Ireland, the two largest ethnic groups in the province. Many aspects of Canadian aboriginal cuisine also had considerable impact on Quebec cuisine.

Folklore suggests that sailors brought cassoulet from the south of France, once in Quebec they were adapted with available ingredients and emerged into the French-Canadian culinary tradition we are familiar with today.

 Maple sugar season in Quebec is one of the oldest culinary traditions. In the spring, many sugar shacks offer traditional meals of eggs, baked beans and ham all drizzled in maple syrup. Boiled maple tree sap is poured over the snow, which then hardens and is eaten as a treat.

The following is my family's recipe for baked beans. It has been adapted over the years so I often will replace the lard and cook a roast of pork in the beans, or replace the brown sugar with maple syrup. Maple syrup is expensive so a combination of syrup and brown sugar is also a great combination.

French-Canadian Baked Beans

1 pound Navy Beans
1 medium onion
1-3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
½ cup of lard
1 cup of brown sugar

Rinse beans, then cover with water add onion and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Transfer to a large casserole pot; add the lard and brown sugar. Taste, adding salt, pepper and more sugar depending on how sweet your preference.

Baked covered for 1 ½ - 2 hours until desired thickness. Remove cover for the last ½ hour to thicken if desired.

Try them; you will never go back to canned beans.

Old-Fashioned Family Recipes by Family Historians
This weeks feature: Banana Pumpkin Spice Cake by Karen at AncesTree Sprite

From the Archives: Defining Today's Family

In response to last week's post by George Geder at Geder Genealogy titled What is a Blended Family? and the Geneablogger's post for Open Thread Thursday, I am pulling out a post from the archives from last year that I feel expresses my thoughts on today's family and genealogy.

This week, I read an article in the latest issue of NGS Magazine entitled What is a Family? by Harold E. Hinds Jr. The subject of this article was based on his Grandmother’s two bibles. These two bibles outlined two very different concepts of his family. Like many families, there were sometimes aspects of our ancestor’s lives that were considered in appropriate and so some of our relatives took it upon themselves to rewrite their families’ history.

Today, we have a different situation. Our society is very welcoming to all varying degrees of blended families. We have traditional marriages with a husband and wife. We have gay marriages or relationships, as gay marriage is not yet legal everywhere. We have children conceived in test tubes, with unknown fathers. The list goes on; there are as many different styles of families today as there are people. I have no problem with any one of these styles of families. Love is love. However, my genealogy software certainly does.

My concern is that unless we give proper due diligence to recording our families’ histories, 100 years from now when our descendants take on the task of genealogy, they may be at a lost. For example, how will a gay relationship appear on a census? Will it appear as two men or two women living together, possibly with children in a family unit? Our censuses today do not define these non-traditional families. In many cases, marriage certificates for these relationships will not exist, one less document for the genealogist to find. If census records don’t record these family units properly, then they may not be identified in history as a family unit.

Many men and women have now multiple partners in their lifetime. This was quite uncommon in the past. Usually multiple spouses were a result of the death of a partner at a young age. Divorce was not an option. Today men and women have multiple partners and never marry. They may have children from many different relationships. Sometimes a father is listed on a birth certificate, sometimes not. Many times, there can be several relationships in a lifetime, with no marriage certificates for any. Let’s face it, there are many more variables today when defining a family then our ancestors could even imagine.

I am not here to pass judgement on any of these relationships. However, as a family historian, writing a family history book, I can attest to the fact that recording these relationships and noting their make-up is very important. Our genealogy programs today are limiting, and if we don’t take the time to record these families with truth, then future genealogists are surely going to be at a considerable disadvantage.

So as I read the article What is a Family? I am appreciative that society today is open to all families no matter what the make-up is. The fact that we can talk openly about the many blended families that make up our communities today is one advantage we have over the past. No longer are we so traditional, so strict in our thinking that families need to rewrite their stories, hide secrets and deny families’ members their identity.

However, we must also be responsible for recording these families properly. There will be a shortage of marriage certificates, proper censuses, completed birth certificates, that will define today’s families. They deserve to be recognized in history for the family unit that they are.

Eventually databases and software programs will catch up and give us the options to record them with accuracy. Quite possibly, even our census takers will record these records with truth, however until then, there will be a gap in our history and some families may get lost in the shuffle before our methods of recording catch up with the families of today. The next Canadian Census is in 2011 and there is a movement in place to insure that questions do not discriminate against same sex marriages. It will be interesting to see if our government, will rise to the challenge of ensuring today’s families are recorded and defined in history.

In the meantime, these special family units should look to their own resources, such as writing their own family history books, to insure that their family is recorded in history. Particularly those families of today and recent history, who have yet to be recorded in past censuses and have no marriage documents to define their relationships, they need to give serious thought to writing a family history book for their descendants.

The History of the Canadian Thanksgiving

Every second Monday in October, that being today, Canadians gather to give thanks.

The History of the Canadian Thanksgiving has its own origins separate from the American Thanksgiving. The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Orient. He did not succeed but he did establish a settlement in Northern America. In the year 1578, he held a formal ceremony, in what is now called Newfoundland, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. This was considered the first Canadian Thanksgiving. He was later knighted and had an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him called Frobisher Bay.

French settlers also having crossed the ocean and arriving in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain held huge feasts of thanks and shared their food with their Indian neighbours.

During the American Revolution, Americans who remained loyal to England moved to Canada where they brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada. Resulting in the many similarities, the two holidays share today.

In 1879, Parliament declared November 6th a day of Thanksgiving and a national holiday. Over the years many dates were used for Thanksgiving, the most popular was the 3rd Monday in October. After World War I, both Armistice Day and Thanksgiving were celebrated on the Monday in which November 11th occurred. Ten years later, in 1931, the two days became separate holidays and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day and remains to be celebrated every year on November 11th.

On January 31st, 1957, Parliament proclaimed...
"A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed ... to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.

Today, Thanksgiving is a day to not only give thanks for the bountiful harvest, but for all the wonderful benefits that come with living in such a great country, and for the grace of sharing it with family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Family Recipe Friday - Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

This is guaranteed to open up some conversation. Where did the cabbage roll originate? Why do I ask, it seems there are as many versions of cabbage rolls as there are cultures in this world. Then within each culture, and among different families there are varieties of recipes for what we call Cabbage Rolls.

I always believed our cabbage roll recipe was the work of my Polish ancestors. I soon  learned that many nationalities have laid claim to the infamous cabbage roll and there has been much debate on the subject.   German, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Asian or Italian  all offer up a version of the peasant comfort food. 

Wikipedia saysA cabbage roll (also stuffed cabbage or Hungarian pigs in a blanket) is a dish consisting of cooked cabbage leaves wrapped around a variety of fillings. It is common to the peasant cuisines of Europe and Western Asia, and has also found popularity in areas of North America settled by Eastern Europeans.

So where do you believe cabbage rolls originated from? Did your ancestors leave you a cabbage roll recipe? Do you have a family favourite version of this infamous recipe? Here’s mine.

Kowalsky Family Cabbage Rolls

1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1 large Cabbage
2 Cups Long grain rice (some prefer to cook the rice ahead of time, I do not)
1 Onion chopped fine
Ground sage 2 tsp
Ground poultry seasoning 2 tsp
Salt and pepper
1- 48 oz  can of Tomato juice

Mix above ingredients adding small amounts of tomato juice until meat mixture is moist.

Boil cabbage, cut out core,
Roll about ¼ cup of meat into leaf of cabbage, lay in casserole dish
With remaining tomato juice season with sprinkle of sage and poultry seasoning. Pour over cabbage rolls, making sure they are well covered.
Cook, covered in 350F oven for 2-3 hours until cook through. You can add more juice throughout the cooking process to keep the rolls moist and covered in sauce.
Serve immediately or they freeze well for future use. Makes about 12 rolls.

Old-Fashioned Heritage Recipes by Family Historians

Hickory Nut Cake

Historical Research for Your Family History Book - A Helpful Guide

I have often posted about writing a family history book that people will want to read. We’ve discussed many times that making your family book interesting rather than just a recitation of your ancestor’s vital statistics is key to engaging family members in read your family history. A creative family history book happens when you can place your ancestors in their hometown at a period in time and paint a very detail and vivid picture of their life. How do you paint this picture? By researching the historical period in which they lived, along with the country, province and town.

Were not just talking about a timeline of wars and politics and how they effected your ancestors although still very important information. In order to make their lives personal and real you need to convey the social histories of the time. These include some of the following – food, furniture, entertainment, housing, medicine, disease, money, religion, shops and towns, transportation, weapons, women, marriage, clothing, hairstyles, crime and law enforcement, work and industries.

Where do you find this information?

Begin by reading - encyclopedia articles, general histories, reference books, many can be found at your local library or online through digital libraries, and more importantly focus on the social histories of a time or a particular area your ancestor lived. Social histories offer a view of everyday life. The more specific you can be with the place and time the more personal you can make your story. You can start with these online resources.
The Reference Desk

Local historical societies are a great place to start. Historical societies have original documents and pictures, they may also offer works of art, photographs, antiques of household items and dress, all helping you to see and feel the life of your ancestors.

Historical sites can also bring history to life. There may be a historical site in your ancestor’s homeland. Some historical sites offer re-enactments or a historical tour, where you can visit these landmarks through the eyes of your ancestors.

New and used bookstores offer many out of print history books, and local bookstores may offer an excellent section on local history that you many not find in a big box bookstore or online.

The Internet opens a limitless offering of information. You can find sites on virtually every time period covering everything from clothing to detailed historical events. Don't forget digital libraries that can help you find out of print books online. Other helpful sites include:

The European Library
Household Cyclopedia

By gathering your historical data, you will add life to your writing that will engage your readers. However, be aware, like researching your family history you may feel like there is no end. Remember you are writing a family history not a history textbook. Gather just enough material to help validate and bring your ancestors to life and begin writing. Do not get lost in the research.

By combining your ancestor’s personal information along with the social histories of the time and place, you can marry the two and create a compelling life story about fascinating people – your family.

Related Reading
The Ultimate Guide to Writing Your Family History

Another Genealogy Job - Blogger Wanted

In honour of Family History Month,  Family Tree Magazine  is seeking  a genealogy newbie to blog about exploring his or her roots. They are looking for someone who has just started or has not yet started their research and has some writing skills. The blogger chosen will have access to all of  Family Tree Magazines products, classes and services. He or she will blog twice a week telling about his or her experiences.

This is a great opportunity for someone starting out in genealogy. Good Luck everyone. Just wish I qualified.

You can read more details about this position at the Genealogy Insider. Deadline is October 31st, so act fast.

Genealogy Jobs - Posting at Ontario Archives

The Ontario Archives based in Toronto, Ontario has posted a position for a senior archivist. Below are some of the details of the position, for further details and how to apply click here.

Organization: Ministry of Government Services
Division: Archives of Ontario
Job Term: 1 Permanent
Location: 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd, North York, M5A 2C5, Toronto Region
Compensation Group: Ontario Public Service Employees Union
Salary: $1 193.57 - $1 375.95 per week*
Posting Status: Open Targeted
Job Code: 7964 - Librarian 3
Schedule: 3-7
Category: Administrative and Support Services
Job ID: 30645

Archivists at the Archives of Ontario acquire and manage records with high evidential, informational and legal value, documenting the key activities and decisions of the Government of Ontario and the development of Ontario society. We seek a Senior Archivist to accept this exciting opportunity to work on the Collections Development and Management team.
You will:
• appraise and acquire archival records from government and private sources
• arrange and describe records according to institutional standards
• provide reference services to clients
• participate in outreach activities
• provide team and group leadership to archivists and temporary staff for functional/cross functional projects
• independently plan and conduct appraisals, develop provincewide acquisition plans and strategies and determine scheduling priorities
• provide expert advice on archival practices to management and other staff at the Archives
Please note: you may be required to move 35-50lb containers of archival material.
Further details are available at Ontario Public Service Careers.

Win a Research Trip to Salt Lake City!

In honour of Family History Month, Family Tree Magazine is pulling out all the stops and offering The Ultimate Family History Giveaway Sweepstakes. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to win something, not that I ever do , I thought I would share this with my readers.

Family Tree Magazine has put together a nice package of gifts worth over $2000.00. You can enter every day for the month of October. Click here to enter.

Below is the list of impressive gifts.

• A weeklong Salt Lake City research trip: Free registration to a Family History Library Research Retreat from Family History Expos plus a free six-night stay at the neighboring Salt Lake Plaza hotel

• Annual subscription to

• 2-year PremiumPlus membership to, RootsMagic 4 software, Getting the Most from RootsMagic book, RootsMagic tote bag, 4GB RootsMagic flash drive, Personal Historian software, and Family Atlas software

• 1-year Research Membership in the New England Historic Genealogical Society, including access to, plus a 1-hour consultation with a professional NEHGS genealogist

• Three gift certificates for any spiral-bound or paperback book from Arphax Publishing's Family Maps or Texas Land Survey Maps series

• Annual subscription to GenealogyBank, Google Earth for Genealogy DVD and Genealogy Gems Podcast Premium annual membership

• 10 Years of Family Tree Magazine DVD, The Family Tree Sourcebook and a 1-year Family Tree VIP membership

If you happen to win, be sure to let me know.
( The Armchair Genealogist is in no way affliliated with Family Tree Magazine, just sharing the love.)

Irish Genealogy - Step One - Determining Where Your Ancestors Lived

Before you begin googling surnames, and seeking church records and vital statistics for your Irish ancestors you must establish the single most important piece of knowledge about them, where did they live, their precise place of origin, their place name.

In order to establish an ancestor’s place name you must understand the landscape of Ireland through its administrative and political divisions. Not only will this help in identifying an ancestors hometown, but it will also open up the possibility of a variety of other Irish record sources you may not have considered.

The administrative and political boundaries are confusing to say the least; provinces are divided into counties, which are divided into civil parishes. Civil parishes are made up of townlands, all of which can cross each other. Baronies can cross civil parishes, Catholic parishes and civil parishes cross each other, poor law unions cross county and parish boundaries. Are you confused yet? Let’s break it down in very simple terms.

Ireland is divided into four provinces – Ulster, Connaught, Munster and Leinster. However there was once five, the fifth being Meath which is now part of Leinster and Ulster.

Each province is divided in counties, there are 32 in all, from their they break down into poor law unions 163, baronies 331, civil parishes 2508, townlands 60, 462, and dioceses, 4 with 22 parishes in each. Therefore, it is not sufficient to know that your ancestors for example, lived in the county of Kilkenny. You must determine where in the county they made their home in order to find the appropriate records.

Poor Law Unions were a result of the Poor Relief Act of 1838. It divided the country into districts or “unions” for the purpose of tax collection. In 1898, the Poor Law Union replaced the civil parish and barony. The Poor Law Unions are the key to the electoral divisions and electoral divisions are the key to land records and finding your family. District Electoral District are subdivisions of Poor Law Unions and consist of a number of townlands. Some land records are arranged by DED, so important information to know. Census returns are also arranged by DED, inorder to find a census return for an ancestor you have to establish the DED for any relevant townland or urban street.

Baronies are a historical subdivision of a county. They were created, like the counties, in the centuries after the Norman invasion; Baronies are still used for land registration and have virtually remained unchanged since 1898.

In Ireland civil parishes originally coincided with ecclesiastical parishes of the Church of Ireland, the established church from the time of the Tudor re-conquest. Church parish boundaries changed after its disestablishment in 1869 but it did not affect the civil parishes. Civil parishes and church parishes are not the same. The Roman Catholic Church has a separate parish system. There may exist several congregations within each civil parish. One parish church could serve several civil parishes, or perhaps such as in Northern Ireland, where more than one Church of Ireland is within a civil parish.

Townlands are a unique feature of Ireland and is one of the most ancient divisions in the country. It is in the Townland you will find the location of the church where your ancestor’s births, deaths and marriages were recorded. To locate the Townland, you need to know the county and civil parish. Just to make life confusing, there could be many townlands of the same name in a county. Towns are not townlands. Towns or villages may be located within a townland. Townlands may range from a few acres to several thousand acres. Within townlands, are smaller communities some not large enough to be towns and may only include a few houses, these ‘fields’ or ‘farm names’ may be more commonly known to the local people.

Dioceses in Ireland - The diocesan system of the Catholic Church government in Ireland was set up by the Synod of Rathbreasail in 1111 and modified by the Synod of Kells in 1152. Ireland is divided into four ecclesiastical provinces each headed by a metropolitan archbishop. There are 26 dioceses in total, each led by a diocesan bishop. 

Now that you have an understanding of the divisions of Ireland, with the help of some of the resources listed below, you can begin to uncover a more precise location of your ancestors.

The single most important tool in identifying an Irish place name is The General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns, parishes and Baronies of Ireland. It is based on the 1851 census, and offers an alphabetic list of townlands identifying the parish, barony, county and Poor Law Union to which they belong. It can be located in many libraries, at most large LDS family history libraries, you can find it online at IreAtlas Townland Database (this is a free site)

The Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis (1837) lists all the parishes, baronies, towns, villages, and counties in Ireland with some local information including an account of agriculture and industry and the major local houses and their owners. It can be viewed online at Library offers you a view of maps showing the civil and Roman Catholic parishes in a county. By clicking under the place names tab, you can find the names of all townlands within a civil parish, where the parish is located in its county, names of neighbouring parishes, and the 10 most common surnames in the parish in Griffith’s Valuation. You can also cross-reference two surnames within the same parish. This is a pay-per-view site.

Once you have established, the province, county, barony, civil parish and or catholic parish along with Poor Law Union and Townland, you will have acquired some very valuable information in narrowing the exact location of your ancestors and therefore opening the window to understanding what records exist and where to find them.

Irish Genealogy- You'll Need More Than Luck