Newsletter 2: June 30, 2016

Pender's 'Census'

Pender's 'Census of 1659' (Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1939) is not a census. It's not Séamus Pender's fault - the Royal Irish Academy manuscript had been known as a 'census' since the mid-nineteenth century. What he did was simply an excellent job of editing and organising a deeply flawed set of documents.

The flaws arise from the documents' purpose. They were part of the preparatory work for the mass confiscations to take place under the Cromwellian Commonwealth. Although the returns differ in format from one part of Ireland to another, they were designed to answer two simple questions: Who has possession of the land? And who is likely to oppose or support their dispossession?

These questions are answered by the two listings, of the names and addresses of the landholders, 'tituladoes', defined by the OED as "things that have only a nominal existence", and "Numbers of English, Scotch or Irish".

The tituladoes list is useful for anyone studying the landowning classes, Gaelic, Old English or New English. But the lists and numbers of the common people are much more interesting, providing as they do one of the very few glimpses of ordinary Ireland in the mid-seventeenth century. They have long been used in surname studies - MacLysaght based much of his work on them.

And the fact that they include numbers (but of what? Fighting men? Households? Families?) as well as rough locations is an irresistible temptation for someone with an itch to map. So that's what I've done.

The basic surname search (e.g. Phelan) now includes a small link in the lefthand column labelled "Phelan in 1659", which takes you to a summary page showing a composite map summarising the locations of the name and all its variants. A summary page plastered with disclaimers and health warnings, I should add.

If you want to view individual variants, the links to the right of the map provide a way to do that. They can throw up some interesting nuggets. For example "Whelan" outnumbers "Phelan" more than two-to-one in Griffith's. Two centuries earlier, the "Ph-" version was more than ten times more common than the "Wh-".

It might also be interesting to produce county-by-county maps showing the top fifteen or twenty names in each county. It's on the ToDo list.

If you're interested, there's more on the background to Pender in a blog post from earlier this month .

Placenames in Catholic parishes

The way the site works is to allow a quota of five free record-reference page-views over a 24-hour period, after which users are asked to subscribe. What the heck is a "record-reference page-view"? In general, the rule of thumb I've followed is that if it was free on the old Irish Times/Irish Ancestors site, it's not a "record-reference page-view" that counts towards the quota.

So full marks to Geraldine Nugent who first of all spotted that I'd left out the old service that allowed users to go from the Catholic parish listings to the place-names covered by the parish.

And double-plus full marks to her for pointing out that the service was now counting towards the quota and shaming me into moving it back to the fully free side. Unfortunately Geraldine won't hear about her double-plus full marks because the reason she shamed me into making the service free again was that she didn't want to subscribe and so won't be getting this newsletter. ;)

Newspaper archives

One of the new features on the site is a much revamped Newspaper Index listing (e.g. Cavan). The aim was to make it easy to see at a glance what newspapers for each county have been digitised, what years are covered and where the digitisations are. As I'm sure you know, one of the two principal sites is The good folks there have offered a 25% discount on all monthly and yearly subscriptions to all recipients of this newsletter (and all recipients' cousins, nephews and acquaintances). Just enter the discount code JGDISC25.

The site

Getting the site to work at all has been quite an adventure. For example, if you were trying to access it between the hours of 2 pm and 12 midnight on May 29 last, you probably had a problem. That's because at 1.59 pm on May 29 last, I accidentally deleted the entire thing. Without a proper backup. I immediately took the first step in recovering from something like this by banging my head repeatedly against the wall, while chanting "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!"

Eventually, after 10 hours, I found a two-week-old backup and got things running again. Kind of. I'm still discovering how much I'd managed to do in those two weeks. One thing a number of bright sparks discovered before I did, is that it was possible for about a week to continue to register for a free month without subscribing. I know who you are.

This newsletter

I promised no more than one of these things a month, almost all about the records and no marketing guff, so here you are. And if you come across something I should have listed, please let me know.

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