Often I encounter a townland name in Irish Civil Registration that the spelling is so mutilated that none of the databases help me. If on a birth, marriage or death certificate you encounter this, then there’s help on the horizon. Civil Registration was compiled by Poor Law Union, which is the same as the Superintendent Registrars’ District in civil registration.
To keep track of all this, in 1885 the government produced a series of pamphlets for 63 Poor Law Unions listing the Registrars’ District, the Electoral Division within the Registrar’s District, and then a list of townlands within each Electoral Division. Where more than one civil parish is involved the townlands within the Electoral Division are divided accordingly.
This really isn’t as confusing as it sounds. The pamphlets created a reference work the officials could utilize in completing the civil registration forms. It’s all laid out on paper with the correct government recognized spellings. Yet, how often the officials ignored this reference work is anybody’s guess.
How I use this work is if I cannot read a place name, then I go to this 1885 work, reference the pamphlet on the Poor Law Union I’m interested. Then I reference the Registrars’ District and start looking for anything familiar. The main categories are on the certificate anyway, so referencing the correct pamphlet is not a problem. Then I see what my options are supposed to be according to the government for recognized townland names. This is how I find what I’m looking for as some townland in my options will look like what I’m seeing on the certificate.
These pamphlets have been brought together and published by George B. Handran, C.G. as Townlands in Poor Law Unions (Salem, Massachusetts: Higginson Book Co., 1997). This excellent reference tool is available on CD.