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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 26, 2014 @ 8:43 am

    Why Irish administrative areas are so peculiar

    John Grenham

    One of the biggest problems facing newcomers to Irish research is the baffling, interconnected geographical system used both for registration of births, marriages and deaths, and for the 1901 and 1911 censuses. It has its origins in the workings of the Poor Law.

    Any user of the “Browse” element of the National Archives census website has seen each county subdivided into peculiar areas called “District Electoral Divisions”. These were created on the introduction of the Irish Poor Law in 1838; local property-holders paid a tax to cover its cost and Victorian scruples dictated that the taxpayers should have representatives to decide how to spend that tax. God be with the days.

    So DEDs were the miniature constituencies sub-divided out of each Poor Law Union area. The over-riding function of each DED was to represent a similar total property value, the reason for some of the weirdly unnatural areas they cover.

    The story doesn’t end there. The Poor Law later became part of the rudimentary public health system, and in 1851 every Union was divided into Dispensary Districts, each comprising several DEDs and under the care of a local doctor. With the introduction of civil registration in 1864, these Dispensary Districts were then pressed into service as local Registrar’s districts.

    The Registrar (generally the same local doctor) recorded all births, deaths and marriages in his area and passed them to his superior, the Superintendent Registrar, who was in charge of all the districts in his Poor Law Union. He made copies and passed them up to his own superior, the Registrar General in Dublin. Dublin then indexed them for the entire island, showing which Poor Law Union they came from. And these are the indexes still available in the GRO Research Room, transcribed on FamilySearch.org and soon to be available on irishgenealogy.ie .

    Why go into all of this? On the Irish Ancestors website, we have just finished assembling listings of all of the place-names within each local Registrar’s district, the first time this has ever been done online. Have a look: bit.ly/1tnEP8W .

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