Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Irish Parishes: Civil and Catholic


Finding a source which has superimposed a map of County Mayo's civil parishes upon yet another map showing the county's Catholic parishes is not such a simple matter. One can find resources to show the one. And there are resources outlining the other. But finding a source which has put them together may be adding yet another needle-in-haystack to my research list.

True, there is Brian Mitchell's book, A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland, which could help—if only I had a copy. So today, we'll explore some online resources for virtually traipsing through County Mayo.

Our goal right now, as we explore the many possible Stevens surname variants appearing in the historic Griffith's Valuation, is to determine whether any of those governmental entries could also be mentioned in church records from that location. The trick, though, is converting the civil parish name to the Catholic Church parish name.

Right now, we've been looking at Stephens entries in Griffith's for County Mayo. While "Stephens" was not exactly how my husband's second great-grandfather spelled his name, I doubt he spelled it any way at all; when he signed his Declaration of Intent after arriving in Indiana, stating he came from County Mayo, he signed his name with an "X."

There are precious few entries in Griffith's for County Mayo under the name our family goes by: Stevens. There are, however, thirty six entries for the same county if we shift that spelling slightly to Stephens. It is now my task to determine how to convert those Stephens' civil parish names to Catholic parishes, so I can then search for possible church records. Simple, huh?

According to Griffith's, there are twelve civil parishes involved in this chase. As it turns out, I can find a handy listing of County Mayo's civil parishes at And I can also locate a listing of the county's Catholic parishes. Thankfully, the civil parish entry also converts those parishes into their Catholic counterpart in a streamlined table.

Thinking it might be helpful to have more information on these civil parishes, I looked at Wikipedia. Sure enough, that resource also has a clickable listing of County Mayo's seventy three civil parishes, with the blue entries cross-referenced with a separate entry outlining more information on that specific parish. But here is where my luck runs out, once again: all but two of the parishes I'm interested in are coded by Wikipedia in red, meaning no entry has been drawn up on that specific location. Likewise, going back to the resources at FamilySearch, many of the parishes about which I'd appreciate more information contain only the boilerplate wording provided as a starting point for volunteers at that website's wiki. At least some give a smattering of details.

Not to be deterred, I wanted to locate maps of the area. After all, I know nothing about County Mayo. It would help, in researching my Stevens family line, to understand where the founding ancestor might have  originated. Maps can be a great way to start that learning process.

Once again for County Mayo, it turns out I can find a map of civil parishes. Or I can find a map of Catholic parishes. But not both at once. If I want to compare the parish boundaries, I apparently will need to find my own program to combine them.

Bottom line: it looks like a lot of grunt work to align the two jurisdictions, so why not cut to the chase and see if there are any entries in the Catholic Parish records for County Mayo at all? Searching that record set on has always proven difficult for me. No matter how I set the parameters to search this record set, I either get that dreaded "zero good matches" message, or hits which include entries clearly not fitting my search terms. So I went for the gusto, took my chances, and searched for any church records in County Mayo.

There were, indeed, several entries which did apply to County Mayo. No Stephens, of course, no matter how I spelled it. But it did show me that there were some church records surviving from that time period and location.

There are many reasons why there might not have been any Stephens family members remaining in County Mayo. The first, of course, is that John Stevens might not have really come from County Mayo at all, and was reporting inaccurate—or misunderstood—information. The second reason, given the time period of his emigration, might be that his entire family was wiped out by the Irish famine. Beyond that, there could be several other reasons why this has become my research brick wall.

The question remaining now is, if the family John left behind had all perished, what could have caused their demise? Could they all have died of starvation? Or might there be other reasons why the family line didn't fare so well in County Mayo? This points me back to my original, suspected important goal: learn something more about the life and times of John Stevens' contemporaries, back in County Mayo.

1 comment:

  1. Have you tried this site?


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