I am always surprised at the number of people in my classes who are stymied by Griffith's Valuation. Many take a look at it, then give up. With the absence of census and other records from the mid 1800's, Griffith's Valuation (GV) is the most useful tool a researcher has for locating family in the period of 1848-1864. Even if one's ancestors left Ireland before 1848, GV can help locate family members who stayed.
GV is not a census. Rather, it is a land survey that was taken for tax purposes. It is important to Irish genealogists because the GV records the names of each landholder and leaseholder, along with the landlords. It also describes the property.
Before the GV was put on the internet, it was indeed a difficult resource to research. One had to know the county and usually the townland in order to find the target person. However, now that the GV is available online, and for free at that, researching by surname is possible. The best GV site is the one offered by Ask About Ireland (the digitalization is owned by the National Library and Eneclann). Click on the
Link to Griffith's Valuation search engine
Not only can you search by surname and geographic/political divisions, you can see and print out the original page of the GV, plus, in most instances, you can also print out a map of the landholding in question.
If you don't know the county or parish of your ancestors, you can search the surname distribution throughout Ireland and then narrow your search by the first name. Familial naming patterns might be of help to narrow down your results. If a couple were married in Ireland, you could try to cross reference the results of the two surnames--don't forget that in Ireland in the mid 1800's, people tended to marry others who lived in geographical proximity. This avenue of research can be slow and tedious, but it can produce results, particularly if the surnames are limited geographically. I must admit that for many of us searching for ancestors with widespread and common surnames, such as my Kelly's and Kavanagh's, searching the GV can indeed be overwhelming and nearly impossible without a knowledge of a county or townland.
If you are eager to learn more about the GV. the best article about the GV was written by James R. Reilly for the journal The Irish at Home and Abroad. Reilly instructs us how to glean every drop of information possible from the GV. The article can be found at the Leitrim-Roscommon site:
Reilly's Griffith's Valuation Article
One more important point to keep in mind when researching the GV: the GV was taken at different times in different counties. It began in 1848, and was not finished until 1864. If your ancestors emigrated during those years, your research of the GV might be affected. I use James Ryan's excellent resource book, Irish Records: Sources for Family and Local History, to determine the year that the GV was taken in each county before I dig into my research.
Here is a list of the counties and the corresponding GV years:
Antrim 1861-2; Armagh 1864; Carlow 1852-3; Cavan 1856-7; Clare 1855; Cork 1851-3; Derry 1858-9; Donegal 1857; Down 1863-4; Dublin 1848-54 (Dublin City 1854); Fermanagh 1862; Galway 1853-6; Kerry 1852; Kildare 1851; Kilkenny 1849-50; Laois 1850-1; Leitrim 1856; Limerick 1851-2; Longford 1854; Louth 1854; Mayo 1856-7; Meath 1854; Monaghan 1858-60; Offaly 1854; Roscommon 1857-8; Sligo 1858; Tipperary 1851; Tyrone 1860; Waterford 1848-51; Westmeath 1854; Wexford 1853; Wicklow 1852-3.