Irish Roots »

  • Problems with the Tithe Books

    November 26, 2012 @ 9:39 am | by John Grenham

    Mistranscriptions are the price we have to pay for the convenience of researching online. Unwelcome and infuriating they can be, but when kept to a reasonable level and accompanied by record images, they are a price well worth paying – the 1901/1911 census site makes the case very persuasively.

    So when readers began to point out mistakes in the new National Archives Tithe Books site – – I just took a deep breath and tried to take the broader view. Alright, maybe Flatley is misread in no fewer than ten different ways in a single parish, (Knock in Mayo and Flattey, Hattley, Halley, Hattely, Hatley, Huttley, Slatterly, Slattery, Thally, and Harley, just for the record). But the record images are still there and can be searched manually if need be.

    Then some hair-raising peculiarities started to emerge in browsing the record images. Dunmore in Galway is lumped in with Dunmore in Kilkenny. Caher in South Tipperary is mixed in with Caher in Kerry. Aglish in North Tipperary becomes Aglish in Waterford. It appears that the notion that there might be two parishes with the same name never crossed the transcribers’ minds. God help anyone searching in one of the four separate parishes in Galway called Ballynakill. The only possible conclusion is that no checking of the transcriptions took place. And the result is a bit of a dog’s dinner.

    Let me be absolutely clear: the National Archives staff are not to blame for this. They are doing heroic work under atrocious conditions. The fault lies squarely with their masters in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, who give their underlings a ball of string and a piece of Blu-tack and tell them to build the Taj Mahal. If the Archives had control of its own budget, something like this just would not happen. And if ever there was an argument against giving civil servants direct control of our cultural institutions, this is it.

    A postscript: the Archives have just responded to the (wave of) criticism of the quality of the transcripts with a clarification of where responsibility lies (here), and a detailed error correction function on the search page (example here). Hats off to them.

    ['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at]

  • Morpeth conference

    November 14, 2012 @ 2:57 pm | by John Grenham

    Gabriel Byrne’s dyspeptic take on The Gathering in 2013 has at least drawn more attention to it. But despite the hooting and jeering (see below), interesting things are happening. More and more local groups are actually taking up the idea of researching the descendants of those who emigrated from their area, and making clear that they are very welcome to come back. Something about the idea chimes with Irish notions of hospitality and extended family. As well as chiming with our beloved begrudgery.

    As part of the preparations for next year, the Department of History at NUI Maynooth is hosting a conference on Saturday November 24th next titled “The Gathering: Local History, Heritage & Diaspora“. Some very interesting speakers will discuss the concept of reverse genealogy and the practicalities of engaging with our diaspora.

    One of the main aims of the event, however, is to draw the attention of local history and genealogy groups to the Morpeth Roll. This is the huge testimonial to the departing Chief Secretary of Ireland George Howard, Viscount Morpeth, in 1841. Apparently organised by Daniel O’Connell’s supporters and encouraged by the Catholic Church, more than 250,000 signatures were collected in the space of a month. The giant roll recording them has been in Castle Howard in Yorkshire for the past century and a half and has only just been transcribed. As renowned local historian Mario Corrigan will show, local historical expertise brought to bear on the Roll can turn it into that most precious of genealogical treasures, a pre-Famine census.

    But to do that, the widest possible range of researchers need to engage with the Roll. So come one, come all. It sounds like a great Saturday, and a great project.

    ['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at]

  • Tithe on

    November 11, 2012 @ 1:00 pm | by John Grenham

    If we still had the early nineteenth-century Irish census returns – 1821, 1831, 1841, 1851 – then the Tithe Applotment Books would be an obscure backwater for researchers, of interest only as an afterthought. Thanks to the catastrophic destruction of 99% of these census returns in 1922, however, the Tithe records have acquired an unnatural importance. Quite simply, they are the only surviving island-wide survey of who was living where in the 1820s and 1830s.

    The Books were created between 1823 and 1838 as a result of The Composition Act (1823) which required that tithes due to the Church of Ireland, hitherto payable as a portion of agricultural yield, should now be paid in money. As a result, it was necessary to put a monetary value on the potential output of every eligible land-holding and the Books are the parish-by-parish record of this valuation.

    These are exclusively rural records. Anyone not involved in agriculture was omitted, and even within agriculture there were exclusions: most pasturage was exempt, for example. On the other hand, as ever, the tax fell most heavily on those who could resist it least, poor tenant farmers for whom few other records survive. At a (wildish) guess, perhaps 40% of households are recorded here in some form.

    And because the Church of Ireland was the State (“Established”) Church, everyone, including Dissenters and Catholics, were required to pay these tithes. If you think the Household Charge is unpopular today, imagine the fury 180 years ago. The resulting “Tithe Wars” raged through the early 1830s until finally, in 1838, direct tithe payments by tenants were abolished.

    The Tithe Books have long been widely available on microfilm but, because they are handwritten and had such a peculiar genesis, they have been under-appreciated. No longer. The National Archives, in cooperation with the Mormon Church, has digitised their entire 26-county collection and made it available free at Happy hunting.

    ['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at]

  • More graveyard buzz

    November 4, 2012 @ 7:57 pm | by John Grenham

    A few weeks ago I wrote about the Northern Irish gravestone and graveyard management site Like buses, you wait for ages and then umpteen graveyard management sites come along at once.

    First, Marie Mannion, Heritage Officer for Co. Galway, points out that the County Council is supporting a project in the North-East of the county to map each graveyard, then photograph and transcribe every gravestone and make the end result available online, along with a Google Earth aerial image. So far, the project has covered just thirteen graveyards (see , but it promises to become very useful indeed for Galway research.

    On a different scale altogether is the site This is designed by archaeologists and aims to facilitate community-focused grassroots cemetery projects. Teams of volunteers are trained in using GPS-enabled smart-phones and cameras to survey the graveyards, and the results are combined on the site with text transcripts, maps, and audio and video interviews. When done well, an extraordinary multi-dimensional record of the graveyard emerges. The site has records of about 350 graveyards, but actual headstone transcripts from fewer, perhaps 60 or so. Most seem to be in the Tipperary-Kilkenny-Waterford area, but the potential exists for much broader coverage.

    And then of course, there are the large numbers of transcriptions already done: for Northern Ireland by; for Wicklow and Galway by the Cantwell family at; for almost every part of the country by volunteer transcribers at; for (at least parts of ) seven counties by FÁS schemes at

    The difference with the new projects is largely technical. A digital photograph of the headstone relieves that sceptical genealogical itch like nothing else. Precise GPS coordinates make it child’s play to locate the most inconspicuous grave in the largest cemetery. It would be great to see the existing transcripts used as the jumping-off points for broader projects.

    ['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at]

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