Find Your Family
in the 17th century
Trace Your Family Forward !
If you have come to a dead end with your 19th century research - start here! Find out where your family is located in the 1600’s.
Oh, yes, and don’t forget that your name was sometimes spelled differently than the way you spell it today.
Surviving the great events of the 17th century are rare annals in which our families are found. I recommend that you become familiar with them. It will pay you to know where your family was, or where it might have been at that time. We will outline some of these Annals here. They will help you make a very educated guess as to where your family is found in these turbulent times.
The Leading Authors
Rev. Geoffrey Keating.
Brother Michael O'Clery
These two men, compiled two of the greatest histories ever written on Ireland. Geoffrey Keating was born in Co. Tipperary around 1569. He would go to study in Europe and return to Ireland in 1610. He is the author of Keatings 'History of Ireland'.
Old Gaelic Works
Brother Michael O'Clery was born in Kilbarron Castle in County Donegal. O'Clery would also travel to Europe and return to Ireland. He was the primary author of the 'Annals of Ireland' by the Four Masters. Both O'Clery and Keating would complete their histories by 1636. Both works were written only in the Gaelic language. The two histories are very different however, in form and style.
As the 17th century began, these two histories did not exist. By the close of the century the old Gaelic way of life had been crushed. A few thoughtful men saw what was coming. In a final desperate attempt to record their heritage, they recorded it in these great histories. Something must have been in the air. Fergal O'Gara, lord of Moy O'Gara, sponsored the work of the Four Masters. The O'Gara would soon thereafter be stripped of his hereditary lands in County Donegal. His fate was not unique among the Irish.
The census of 1659 would also survive. It helped record the transfer of land ownership from the Irish to the new settlers from Scotland and England.
The North of Ireland
Another book we will consider here is 'The Conquest of Ireland"... An Historical and Genealogical Account of the Plantation in Ulster, by the Rev. George Hill. It records just how the Irish lost their lands, and what specific individuals assumed the ownership in the 17th century. Both the census of 1659; and the work by Hill give family researchers specific names and locations of families in that time period.
Also of note in the 17th century is the military defeat and exile of the 'wild geese' of Ireland. Many would end up in Europe. 'King James's Irish Army list' attempts to list every member in the ranks of the defeated Irish army, along with family history notes of any sort available.
17th Century Annals are remarkable:
1609 - Conquest of Ireland, an historical and genealogical account.
1634 - Keatings History of Ireland completed in Gaelic.
1636 - Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters, completed in Gaelic.
1659 - 'The 1659 Census of Ireland'.
1689 - King James's Irish Army List, records the 'Wild Geese'.
Keatings History Of Ireland
From the Earliest Times
Keatings "History of Ireland" records Irish history from the earliest times, in narrative form. It continues until the coming of the invasions of the 12th century. These invasions brought a great change in Irish family history. Many new families would become 'more Irish than the Irish themselves'. As they arrived and settled in Ireland, old Irish families were forced from their lands. In this book we find the old locations and characteristics of these families in written form. Compiled by 1634, Geoffrey Keating gathered together all the information he could find, and put it to pen in the Gaelic language of the day.
History and Legend
He included many legends and fanciful stories that had been passed down from generation to generation. Though criticized by some early on, those legends and stories are part of the richness of his history. His work is well recognized today. It includes the names and exploits of those that came to Ireland with the 12th century invasions. The topographical poems which locate and describe the old Irish families are also included in the IGF edition. Extensive footnotes, which become a book, in and of themselves, run throughout Keatings work. The first acceptable English translation of this history was not made until 1857, by the noted John O'Mahoney. This is the edition which the Irish Genealogical Foundation has published, and is available here today.
Untold for 250 Years:
Some 11 years earlier, the first major English translation of the "Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters", was made in 1846. It had taken nearly 250 years for both of the great histories to be translated correctly into English.
The Annals of the Four Masters
The Year by Year Record of Irish Events
The "History of Ireland by the Four Masters" is also called: "The Annals of Ireland"; "The Annals of the Four Masters"; or simply "The Four Masters". Michael O'Clery (O'Cleary, etc...), was sent out to collect all the existing history of Ireland, and to bring it back to the monastery in Donegal for a compilation into one great work. From the years 1632 to 1636 the compilation was so put to writing. It is written on a strict timeline, on a year by year basis, recording important events. The text is rather dry compared to Keatings History which reads more like contemporary works. The footnotes however, add a great deal to the commentary. Just as with Keatings History, the first major translation into English, was not made until the 19th century. It had taken that long for Ireland to recover and reclaim her past!
The First English translation
The first translation into English was made by Owen Connellan in 1846, for the 12th to the 17th centuries in Ireland. These are the most reliable years recorded. It was a special edition indeed. It is the only translation to bear the four color frontispiece at the head of the volume. It is also the only translation to hold the large family names map with hundreds of families given, compiled by MacDermott. The map has not been equaled to this day. It is the granddaddy of all maps showing the locations of Irish families. This is the edition that the Irish Genealogical Foundation has published, and is available here today. O'Donovan would come out with a translation a few years later covering the same years. Later still, he would complete a five volume set, which included the original Gaelic. The large five volume set was soon split into 7 smaller volumes. Due to its expense, reprints of his edition are held in larger reference collections. I am lucky enough to have both original works on hand. I have never seen another complete original 5 book set by O'Donovan
The Census Of 1659
Locate Families by County and Barony
About twenty years after the compilation of the two great Irish histories noted above, the "Census of 1659" was commissioned. This great work records who occupied the land at that time. As the Irish lost their holdings, new families and landowners were moving in. It gives a breakdown of each county by barony; parish and townland. At the end of each barony are given the principal names in that area, and the number of each. This is most helpful for establishing the location of families within the Irish county. It is also helpful for understanding spelling changes in place names and family names. The proportion of English, Scottish and Irish living in specific areas is also given. If a researcher is lucky he might find the full name of a 'titulado' listed on the census in a specific area.
Some Missing Counties
While it holds the title of a 'census' it is not a census in the modern sense of the word, and no returns have survived for Cavan, Galway, Mayo, Tyrone, and Wicklow.
W. H. Hardinge announced the discovery of the '1659 census' in 1864. So, it made its appearance a few years after the revival of the 'Annals' and 'Keatings History'.
Available on a County by County basis.
We have published the existing returns for each county in Ireland in our county genealogy and family history books. We have also published a special report on all of the family names found in this census. Each surname and county of location is given. The names are given in their original 17th century spelling, exactly as they appear on the census. The 1659 census is a primary source for locating surnames in the 17th century.
The Wild Geese, Exiled Irish Army 1689
Those who fought on the Irish side
John D'Alton,, born in 1792, compiled "King James's Irish Army List" in 1855. It focuses on the men who fought on the Irish side, who lost the battle, and were sent into exile as the Wild Geese of Ireland. The great civil war of 1689 spilled much blood and destroyed many families. Here is an attempt to gather all that was known on each family, sometimes tracing a them down to the 19th century. Some of D'Altons source materials have been lost to time, but his book remains as a one of a kind reference work. The Irish Genealogical Foundation published this work, and it is still available, though in short supply.
The Plantation of Settler Families
Landowners and lands Listed
"The Conquest of Ireland ..... An Historical Account of the Plantation in Ulster " by George Hill, records the plans and schemes to settle Ireland. These plans were in effect while the rare annals of Ireland were being compiled. The records are from the 17th century, with a focus on the Province of Ulster.
Old and New
It tells us of the old Irish who were being displaced, gives us specific plots of land, and who owned or held the land. The records begin just before the completion of the 'Four Masters' and 'Keatings History of Ireland'. Family history is recorded in several instances, and the footnotes can trace a family down several generations.
The four volume set was reproduced complete by the Irish Genealogical Foundation and it is available today. One volume is dedicated to Pynnars Survey (not 'Penders' 1659 census!). Another volume covers the Londonderry settlement. Yet another covers Land Grants with the specific individuals given. The first and largest volume of the set covers Irish families before the settlement and details exactly how the plans were put in place to take the lands from the native Irish.
The Irish Genealogical Foundation has recently published this set, with an added index to each volume. This is a rare set, with valuable information for historians and family researchers.
Early Heraldic Works
From the Chief Heralds of Ireland
1690- The Irish Book of Arms. (Sir James Terry)
1722- The Irish Compendium
1768- The Peerage of Ireland by Kimber
1806- The Peerage of Ireland by DeBrett
1897- Visitations of Ireland by Crisp & Howard.
2000- The Irish Book of Arms. (2000)
Many heraldic works were compiled in the 18th and 19th centuries. They recorded the nobility of Ireland, as determined by the political powers of the day. Arms were usually displayed for the families in question, along with family history and proof of descent. This can be invaluable for family researchers.
Family History Included
Many of the families were originally of English or Scots heritage. "The Irish Book of Arms" (I.G.F. edition. 2000.) contains several hundred illustrations of coats of arms and crests from the lesser known works shown above. Family history notes are also given. It also includes the more modern arms of Irish families granted under the Irish regime in the 20th century. The newer edition also contains the names given in the brief 'Irish Book of Arms' compiled by Sir James Terry, Athlone Herald, around 1690.
The 19th Century Revival
Rebirth of the Irish Heritage
1843 - Tribes & Customs of Hy Many (Ui Maine)
1844 - Tribes, Customs & Genealogies of Hy Fiachrach
1846 -52 - First Translation of the Four Masters
1855 - King James's Irish Army List 1689, first published.
1857 - O'Mahoney translates Keatings History
1864 - A History of the Clanna Rory.
1880 - Genealogical History of Milesian Families
1890 - Birth Index of Ireland
Rebuilding the Character of a Nation
We have seen how the greatest annals of the 17th century were compiled just before the final fall of the Irish. The coming of Cromwell and penal laws changed the face of Ireland. It was not until some 250 years later that the Irish would reclaim their own history. Both the 'Annals', and Keatings 'History', are published in reliable English for the first time in the mid 19th century. The 'Annals of the Four Masters' was first translated into English by Connellan in 1846!
O'Donovan at the forefront
John O'Donovan would help spearhead the revival of Irish history. In 1843 he published the "Tribes and Customs of the Hy Many", which covers Galway and Roscommon. The original Gaelic language version was on the left hand page, and the English translation on the right hand page of his book. Likewise, he translated and published "The Tribes, Customs and Genealogies of the Hy Fiachrach", which covered Counties Mayo and Sligo, in the same format in 1844. We have published both of the foregoing works, in their original form, including the original Gaelic and the English translation. O'Donovan would use the same format in the translation of the 'Annals', several years later.
His works are very scholarly and valuable.
O'Hart, Milesians, Government surveys
There were several well known works by John O'Hart in the 19th century, and he compiled a great deal of data on Irish families. Many lesser known works come to the fore at this time as well. "Families of the Clanna Rory" was originally published in 1864; 'Milesian Families' was published in 1880, and it is essentially an account of the dates and locations of the Celtic families who came to Ireland, and of those who were not of Celtic extraction. The "Birth Index of Ireland" covered births, names, and locations in 1890. The names and locations given in that work give us a guide not just for the year 1890, but for 1850 and 1840 etc. If a family is found centered in a particular county in 1890, then it is a good bet that they have been there for several generations.
Most of these are Foundation publications, available here today.
The 20th Century
The Modern Era
1903- A Social History of Ancient Ireland by P. W. Joyce
1923- Irish Names and Surnames by Woulfe
1957- Irish Families by MacLysaght
2006- Irish Families, great & small by O'Laughlin
The 20th century brought a new explosion of work that would greatly help those in search of family history. 'A Social History of Ancient Ireland' by Joyce was a massive compilation, with information on every facet of Irish life and history.
The First Modern Work
The Rev. Patrick Woulfe published his comprehensive and organized work, 'Irish Names and Surnames' in 1923. It set a new standard for all that followed. Edward MacLysaght, chief herald of Ireland, came out with his 'Irish Families' in 1957. That work set aside the heraldic works of former times, and confirmed an 'Irish' heraldic authority, recognizing more traditional Irish names. From 1980 to 2008, Michael C. O'Laughlin compiled a 34 volume set on Irish Families and genealogical research, the first of its kind and scope.
We dare not forget two of our living authors. William Marmion, who wrote "Gaelic Titles and Forms of Address" and "Irish Knighthoods"; and Edward Kneafsey, who first wrote and plotted the location maps for "Surnames of Ireland". Both have increased our knowledge and understanding of Ireland, and her families.
The rare annals we have mentioned here have proved most useful to our membership over the years. They are all unique. It is by no means however, an exhaustive account. We hope you will be able to enjoy them at your leisure, either at home or at your library, sometime soon!