Mapping a way of life - Your ancestor was born in Ireland, but can you paint a true picture of what

Abandoned Irish Cottage Co. Mayo

The National Archives of Ireland website provides an overview of what life was like for your ancestor. This interesting resource gives an indication of the urban and rural divide, showing how the development and expansion of the railways, population decline, emigration, disease and other social issues were reflected in everyday life.

If you want a slightly more personal picture the can show what life was like for your ancestor using information from the Valuation Office Books, namely the House and Field Books.

For example, your ancestor James Glynn lived in the townland of Ballygaddy, Tuam, Co. Galway, (parish of Kilbennen). There, in 1855 per the Primary Valuation he leased 2 plots of land from the local landlord James Browne, one measuring 7A 2R 10P and other a larger plot of 35A 3R 24P.

Taking the larger of these plots which included a house and land, out-offices and a cottier’s house you can check the Field Book and House Book translators to discover what kind of crops James was likely to have grown and what his house would have looked like given the time and location. James’s home is described as follows:

Based on the size of his holding we can determine that your ancestor lived in a 3rd Class Cottage. In 1841, 37% of Irish dwellings fell into this class. This building had 2-4 small rooms, had a few windows, and could be made to be relatively comfortable…It's likely that your ancestor built this cottage with his own two hands. This cottage was rectangular in layout, single-storey, and had an open hearth at floor level situated on the long axis of the house.

It is likely that the roof of James’ house was made of thatch and included a simple dirt floor. The holding was large enough to necessitate out-offices or sheds. These would have been used to store tools, animals if necessary and perhaps food. He would have worked on the farm mending fences and walls, tending any crops, making sure the animals were fed and looked after and grown cabbage, turnips, potatoes and other crops for sale

Stone Wall Co. Galway

Because James's day-to-day activity was less physical, he didn't need to consume as many calories as his laborers. Thus, farmers with this size holding generally consumed 6-8 lbs of potatoes daily. His wife would have eaten 2/3rds of that, and a child a little more than 1/2. If this soil in Ballygaddy was ideal potato soil, James could have grown enough potatoes to support a family and feed some laborers, while having enough land leftover to grow enough cereal crops to pay his rent and retain some surplus.

You can follow this up further by having a look at the Cancelled/Revision Books in the Valuation Office in Dublin and learn too if the family were still in the same place and recorded in the 1901 and/or 1911 Census.

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