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Irish Genealogy:  Irish Administrative Divisions: Poor Law Unions

Irish Civil Registration Districts 
(formerly Poor Law Unions)

The final administrative division to discuss is the Poor Law Union.In 1838, under the Poor Law Relief Act, these divisions were set up for the maintenance of the local poor.Initially there were 130 Unions set up with a workhouse in a market town.The system was meant to handle up to 1% of the population, however it became overtaxed by the potato famine.By 1850 there were 163 Unions, the borders of which often overlapped other civil boundaries, including counties. The Poor Law Union became the Registration District for recording births, deaths and marriages which is why it is important for you to note this administrative division from the Alphabetical Index to the Townland and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland.

Civil Registration for all births, deaths and marriages began in Ireland in 1864, although Protestant marriages were recorded from 1845.The information recorded in the indexesincludes the surname, given name, the registration district the page and volume number.I can tell you that looking for Michael Daly was a lost cause for me without knowing where he was from.There is an index of civil registrations for each year (and after 1877 for each quarter of each year) and they all included dozens of Michael Dalys.Once I finally identified the townland (civil parish, barony and poor law union) I was able to quickly find his birth record.In fact, I was able to look at all the Dalys from Claremorris and reconstruct the family, discovering that Michael Daly’s father had been married three times and had nine surviving children from the three marriages!

The process for finding civil records is much easier today because of the indexes created by the LDS.I’ll talk about civil registration in more detail in the future, but to emphasize the issue mentioned above regarding overlapping boundaries, here’s a few examples.Ballyshannon Registration District encompasses parts of Leitrim, Donegal and Fermanagh.Ballymahon includes parts ofLongford and Westmeath and Enniskillen covers parts of Cavan, Fermanagh and Tyrone.Here is a list of the registration districts and the counties they cover and a map of the districts can be found here.

Happy Hunting!

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2018