Sources for Local History
Máire Ní Dhonnchadha
Oughterard Newsletter June 2005
At first glance it appears that resources for local history as very scarce. Who has not heard of the destruction of official documents during the burning of the Public Records Office in 1922? However the huge growth of interest in Irish local and family history has brought many more sources to light. Records in private hands are gradually being published. Records relating to Ireland in other countries are being documented and those records in official repositories may one day be available to all.
This explosion of interest has been fuelled by emigrants; but people living in Ireland are beginning to take an interest too. Some people are lucky to have lived in the same area for generations but no matter how long they have been there it is likely that before that they came from somewhere else or intermarried with people from somewhere else.
There are many people in the Oughterard area whose families have lived in the area for generations. However the 20th century has seen a shift in population, with many new-comers arriving from other places. All are likely to be asked by tourists for local information. This is a look at the available sources.
The majority of the local population were Roman Catholics. The Roman Catholic Church holds records of baptisms and other records which are available by consultation. The other records most commonly available are the census returns of 1901 and 1911 and the Griffiths valuation.
The Griffith’s valuation was undertaken to provide information for local taxation. This valuation was arranged by county, barony, poor law union, civil parish and townland. It listed every landholder and every householder in Ireland. It listed the name of the person from whom the property was leased; description of the property; acreage; and valuation.
This valuation was never intended as a census substitute. The 1851 census has not survived, and so this valuation is the only detailed guide to where people lived in the mid 19 th century and what property they possessed. In addition, because the valuation records were subsequently revised at regular intervals, it is often possible to trace living descendants of those listed by Griffith. This valuation was so called because the Commissioner of valuation was Richard Griffith, a Dublin geologist.
Other major sources are Civil records. All births, deaths and marriages have been registered in Ireland since 1864. State registration of non-Catholics began in 1845. To understand the background to registration it is necessary to look at its origins.
Registration began as an offshoot of the Victorian public health system, in turn based on the Poor Law, an attempt to provide some measure of relief for the most destitute. Between 1838 and 1852, 163 workhouses were built throughout the country, each at the centre of an area known as a Poor Law Union. Each workhouse was built in a large market town, and the Poor Law Union comprised the town and its catchment area. Oughterard was such a place and everyone is aware that a work house was erected in Canrawer.
In the 1850s, a large scale public health system was created, based on the areas covered by the Poor Law Unions. Each Union was divided into Dispensary Districts, and a medical officer, normally a doctor was given responsibility in each district. When the registration of all births, deaths and marriages began in 1864, these dispensary districts also became registrar districts, with a registrar responsible for collecting the registrations within each district. In most but not all cases the medical officer for the dispensary district also acted as the registrar for the same area.
The registrar reported to the person responsible for all the registers within the Poor Law Union. Master indexes for the entire country were produced at the General Register Office in Dublin.Because of the history of the system, responsibility still rests with the Department of Health. The arrangement at present is that the local health boards hold the original registers, with the General Register Office, at 8-11 Lombard Street, Dublin 2 holding the master indices for all 32 counties up to 1921, and to the 26 counties after that date.
Under the original system, the local registrars forwarded their records to Dublin, where they were copied and then returned to the local office. As well as the master indexes for the entire country, the General Register Office also contains microfilms of all of these copy registers, and is the only part of the registration system which permits comprehensive public research.
In the 1980s, as part of the Irish Genealogical Project, local history and heritage societies and other interested bodies began to organise the indexing of local parish records. These were started as youth employment and training schemes. Little thought was given to their potential value. As the number of areas covered by the indexing projects grew their efforts were co-ordinated by an umbrella body, the Irish Family History Council, later to become the Irish Family History Foundation. A project was drawn up to transcribe and computerise not only all of the parish records of all denominations for the entire country, but all sources of major genealogical interest: the Tithes Books, Griffith’s valuation, the civil records of marriages of births, marriages and deaths, the 1901 and 1911 census returns, and local gravestone inscriptions. Government funding was obtained for this plan, known as the Irish Genealogical Project.
The overall aim of the project was to realise the tourist potential of Irish genealogy. By creating a single organisation which could combine the experience of professional genealogists with the speed and accuracy of local databases, it provided a comprehensive and affordable Ireland wide research service. Unfortunately this ambition is a long way off.
The very strengths which made the local centres possible, the voluntary ethos and the solid local roots have made it virtually impossible to co-ordinate their activities into single service. The centres continue to index records and provide research services. None of the centres allow direct access to their records – all research is carried out for a fee.
Galway has two centres covering east and west. Oughterard comes under West Galway although nothing is certain as the parish was once in Tuam diocese. All church records and a large proportion of the remaining records for the area.
The 1901 and 1911 census returns are available on microfilm in the reference library in Galway, as well as the Griffiths valuation of 1848-1864. These valuations took place in the Oughterard area in approximately 1855.
The records of the Poor House in Oughterard vanished in 1922. There may be records of the inmates available on the census returns of 1901 and 1911.