Search billions of records on Ancestry.com
   

The Wigtownshire Pages



Counties, Countries and Other Mysteries

by Crawford MacKeand
Great Britain, the main island of the British Isles, today comprises three countries, Scotland, England and Wales. Scotland and its neighbor England have been divided into administrative areas known as counties, or shires, since the early Middle Ages.

The counties are further divided into civil parishes, which generally cover the same areas as the parishes of the Church of Scotland in Scotland, and of the Church of England in England. These parishes once had a substantial civil government function but that has gradually been eroded to almost a nullity over the years. However, during the latter part of the last century, very many of the time-honored county divisions were also abolished in both countries, and modern maps often no longer show the traditional boundaries. New districts or regions often combine smaller counties, or break up larger counties, and are not often useful yet for genealogy.

Other district names have long histories too. In our area, Galloway today comprises Wigtownshire and Kirkcudbright, but in times past it has also included the Carrick district of Ayrshire and at least part of Dumfries.

Adjoining to the East are The Borders, a group of former counties which hold the border with England, much disputed for many years until about 1600. Across the Solway to the South in England is Cumbria, formerly the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland and a small part of Lancashire. To the West, not more than 20 miles across the Irish Sea, is Ulster, a province of Northern Ireland with which Galloway, and Wigtownshire especially, have very many strong historical and genealogical connections. Finally, not much further to the south, is the Isle of Man, which can furnish family links, often unsuspected.

Crawford MacKeand
Kennett Square, PA USA, rev. Dec 2013