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Top 100 Irish SurnamesToday we’re going to do some “heavy lifting” – but in a nice and useful way. One of the things we wanted when we started Your Irish Heritage was to go “beyond Geneaology”.

Let me explain.

Sheila Cotter is one of our readers. I noticed from one of her questions on Facebook that she is finding it difficult to find specific details on her Cotter relatives before they left Ireland:

“Mike, my relatives left Ireland in 1892. Is there a census before 1911? Where?”

Maybe you can hear her frustration in that sentence too?

It seems that many of the people who enjoy what we do are also excellent part-time detectives. Maybe you have all the records for all the Irish ancestors in your family? Or maybe, like Sheila,  you’ve hit a brick wall or two – joined an “ancestry site” or talked to a geneaologist for some help.

But here at Your Irish Heritage we aim to look at the bigger picture – we aim beyond Geneaology. We look at the Tribes and surnames of Ireland – their homelands, customs and histories. We look at culture and heritage – the customs, ideas and language that have built up over many centuries.

And with this perspective you get a rich backdrop for the facts and lives of your individual ancestors.

So this week, I have put together a list of 5 internet resources (plus one bonus one) that I use all the time to answer questions on Your Irish Heritage. Have a look at them – play with them – maybe you have used them already?

At the end of the post – I invite you to share any resources you have found useful in the past.

Ready to go?

Back to Sheila as we’ll take the example of the surname “Cotter” (Sheilas ancestors) to help us along the way.

1. Surname Database

You can find it at:
www.surnamedb.com/Surname/cotter.

I find this database quite useful to give a quick insight into a name – specially when that name has both English and Irish origins. In this case, it tells us that while Cotter is an English name – it is also found in the Isle of Man AND County Cork:

“Here it is an anglicization of the Gaelic “Mac Oitir”, Son of Oitir, a personal name from the Old Norse “Otti”, fear, or dread and “herr” army.”

Does this mean Cotter is a Viking name? Maybe it is – but it really tells us that when surnames were set in place, this group decided to take a name after a distinguished ancestor who had a Viking first name. In the 800s – 1200s there was quite a lot of intermarriage between the Gaels and the Vikings – specially close to the Viking towns of Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Limerick – and in this case – Cork.

2. Irish Surnames and Counties.

You can find it at:
http://www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/surname/index.cfm

This is like a “Companion piece” to number 1. If you go to this link and search for the name “Cotter” – it will show you the distribution of all the Cotters throughout the counties from the Primary Valuation property survey of 1847-64. In this case we see there were 450 Cotter households in County Cork at this time (Sheila’s Cotters were from Cork).

I use this page all the time when answering surname questions as a quick check on how the name has moved over the centuries – as most surnames start off in one or two particular areas.

3. Ireland History in Maps.

You can find it at:
http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irlkik/ihm/index.htm

Beware of this one! You may spend more time here than you meant!!!

This is a fascinating project – goving a lot of historical information in a way that is nice and visual.

If you are looking for information concerning surnames – you need to start with the 1100ad map at the earliest. This is time surnames started to develop in Ireland.

On the right side of the screen – you will also see a “Surname” menu. Cotter is a Gaelic Surname what is based around a Viking first name – and if you look down through http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irlkik/ihm/irenames.htm – you’ll see it there as “Mac Oitir – (Mac) Cotter” – and it also gives the county/region you are most likely to find this surname.

Maybe you see your own name here?

4. Irish Castles Map.

You can find it at:
http://www.irishorigenes.com/irish-castle-locations

This is an interesting site – and I use it to check on which families owned which castles (this usually covers the time period from 1200 – 1650).

You can also type in a Surname at http://www.irishorigenes.com/clans-castles-database and it will give the locations of the castles associated with that name. Taking the surname Cotter as an example, we get 2 castles in the east part of County Cork:

  1. Ballymaccotter Castle
  2. Coppingerstown Castle

Were these relatives of Sheilas? Maybe. This information does give us where the actual powerbase of the Cotters were in the late medieval period – they had lands here that were worth defending with castles – and this often gives us a clue about the homelands of the clan.

But later (specially for Gaelic families) – they were dispersed to many other locations following increased plantation.

5. Online Irish Census.

You can find it at:
http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/

There are two census currently available online – 1901 and 1911 (and these are as old as it gets online). For me – this gives a snapshot of the maximum dispersion of a family surname up to almost modern times.

While Sheilas own exact ancestors had left the country by this time (they left in the 1880s) – the chances are that many of the Cotters remaining are relatives in townlands and districts near to her own homestead.

And many people with family links remain to this day for contact (e.g. through the Ireland Reaching Out project – Google it).

Here is a way to use the census:

Go to http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/

Choose:
– Census Year: 1901
– Surname: Cotter
– County: Cork

and we come up with 1989 individuals called Cotter in County Cork in 1901. I normally sort according to DED (Electoral Districts) and get a feel for the people of that name in the areas I’m searching.

6. Your Irish Heritage Blog (Bonus!!!).

Where you are right now!

Now I’m almost losing sight of another important resource. Since we started the Your Irish Heritage Blog – we have been answering lots of questions and the answers are there for you to search.

All you need to do is see the “Search Box” at the side of the page? Just put in the surname or county you are looking for – and you will find lots of articles and questions related to that item on the blog. AND – you can add to the information by leaving your own question or comment at the end of each post.

So thats it – thats my top 5 online resources to head to when I want to answer a questions about Irish surnames, castles and counties.

Now, 2 Questions For You:

1. What are YOUR favourite online resources for learning generally about your Irish Ancestry (e.g. like the resources shown above)?

2. What is your favourite resource for finding out specific details about your family (e.g. Ancestry.com, a specific geneaologist etc.)?

Please do let me know in the comment section below.

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