There are a lot of people out there who know a lot more about local history than I do. Some of them have been kind enough to share their methods either online or in books and articles. I’ve found Bill Macafee’s work and publications by the Federation for Ulster Local Studies particularly helpful in getting me started.
What everyone agrees you need to do first is to get your boundaries and your names sorted out. This is because most of the sources you’ll be using have used one of a number of different ways of determining units of land. For instance, Kilwaughter is technically the name given to the ‘parish’ unit. Within that, there are 20 different ‘t0wnlands’, the smallest unit of land measurement in Ireland, and the one used most frequently in local studies sources. [This wasn't always the case; there's interesting stuff that's been written on the land divisions which were commonly used in the early modern period, but which have long since become obsolete.] Most Irish local studies focus on a single townland, but that really scares me! Because I’m not a local historian, I just think that will be too small. So I’m starting off with my 20 townlands and I’m going to see how I get on.
Working in the other direction, townlands and parishes in Ireland have been grouped into a number of larger units: baronies, dioceses, poor law unions (PLUs), district electoral divisions (DEDs) and parliamentary divisions, or constituencies, are the most common.
The most ‘authentic’ way to find these divisions is off the top of Form N, the Enumerator’s Reports for the 1901/1911 Censuses [see here for a more in-depth discussion of the Census].
1. Find anybody who lives in your area in the 1901 Census. If you scroll down the webpage, you’ll see a list of related census documents.
2. Click on ‘Form N’. At the top it will list all the relevant boundary divisions for your townland or parish.
The handier option is to use PRONI’s ‘Geographical Index’, which provides a variety of ways in which to search for and identify a range of geographical divisions.
Kilwaughter’s divisions are:
Townlands: Ballyhampton, Ballyedward, Ballykeel, Boydstown, Capanagh, Craiginorne, Demesne, Drumnadonaghy, Drumnahoe, Glebe, Headwood, Hightown, Lealies, Lowtown, Moordyke, Mullaghsandall, Old Freehold, Rory’s Glen, Sheriff’s Land, Skeagh
Barony: Upper Glenarm
Poor Law Union: Larne
District Electoral Division: Kilwaughter
Parliamentary Division: Antrim East
I printed out PRONI’s list of Kilwaughter’s townlands, and use it all the time. I’ve also got a list of all Kilwaughter’s divisions, and keep it above my desk. If you want to find anything, especially from large, government generated sources like maps and censuses, you’re going to need to know your boundaries.