IF YOU ARE NOT CONFUSED YET, YOU WILL BE (MAPS AND BOUNDARIES)
Researching US civil records is relatively easy, at least compared to Irish records. For example, think about the levels of government and administration in the USA, and envision layers of transparent maps. The top map is the outline of the whole country. LIft that map, and the states fill in the borders nicely. Lift the states, and the counties fill in the state outlines, snug as a bug in a rug (are my expressions revealing my age?). And so on with cities, towns, and townships. Nice orderly layers.
Not so with Irish governmental and administrative districts--their boundaries do not stack neatly, no smaller unit within a larger unit. Rather, it seems that each type of district has its own boundaries, independent of any other governmental unit.
Irish administrative boundaries reflect the turbulent politics and history of the country. Celtic, Irish, Norman, British, and Republican administrations have all made their mark and collected their records. There are the ancient Irish kingdoms, the Gaelic lordships, the baronies, the counties, the civil/Church of Ireland parishes, the cities and towns and townlands. Throw in the Poor Law Unions, and, if you are not confused yet, you are probably very good at chess, as well as genealogy!
If you have a geographical location for your ancestors, say a county of townland, you can aid your research by learning what other divisions and districts cover that location. Some of the links posted below can help get your started. A "must have" volume for your genealogical book shelf is Brian Mitchell's A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland. Mitchell's book has the best collection of administrative maps, as well as hard to find maps such as the Presbyterian congregations.
Make a chart listing all the districts and divisions pertinent to your ancestral location and have it handy while researching. For example, if you know the townland, you will want to record the Poor Law Union, civil parish, county, and barony in which it is located. You should also include the Church of Ireland diocese on your chart, regardless of your ancestors' religion, in case you need certain records such as wills filed in the perogative courts. Also note the pertinent religious congregations or parishes in your chart, as well as census and modern day electoral districts. Don't forget to include any estate on which your ancestor's home might have been located. When finished, your chart will be a one-stop resource guide for each ancestral location.
Noting the dates that certain records were collected at a location is also a good idea. Note the year that Griffiths Valuation was done for your county, and perhaps also record the year of the Freeholders and Tithe lists. Taking the time to note the Griffith's year for each of my counties of interest has saved me quite a bit of research time and confusion.
You might even break a brick wall by putting such a chart together because the chart will lead you to consider new record sources. For example, you might discover that estate records or Poor Law Union workhouse lists exist for your locality.
DEBORAH LARGE FOX......I am a former prosecutor and legal writer. I have published pieces in criminal law, Holocaust studies, genealogy, and travel. My story "A Fearless Parade" won the 2nd place prize in the 2010 So.California Genealogical Society Writing Contest. My blog "Help! The Faerie Folk Hid My Ancestors!" was voted, by readers, a Family Tree Magazine Top 40 Blog 2011.