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Irish Census Records

1901 Census of Ireland
Bernard Moughty Family

The history of the Irish census is a sad one. Census records in Ireland began in 1821 however the oldest surviving complete census is 1901. So what happened?

The government ordered the destruction of the 1861and 1871 censuses after the statistical information had been captured, and then the 1881 and 1891 censuses because of a paper shortage during World War I. The 1821-1851 censuses were then lost in the fire at Public Records Office in 1922 however, like our 1890 census, there are some fragments that survived.  There were also some transcriptions made for various reasons before the fire.  None of these are complete and vary in the number of people covered.  There is an 1851 Dublin City Census on World Vital Records, for example.  Ancestry has a database listed as the 1841/1851 Census Abstracts (one for Northern Ireland and one for the Republic).  These are extracted from the Old Age Pension Files where individual had to prove they were over 70 years old in 1908.  If an individual was in the 1941 census they sometimes extracted the listing for the entire family, so this would primarily be for individuals who remained in Ireland...possibly the parents of your ancestors.

The laws in Ireland require 100 years before the census data can be released but because of the fire and lack of records the 1901 and 1911 censuses were released in Dublin in the early 1960s.  Although available, there was never any national index created so you had to know the townland where your ancestors lived, and then read the entire townland to find them.   Finally, that’s changed as a joint project between the National Archives of Ireland and the Library and Archives Canada came to fruition this past year.  You can now go to the National Archives of Ireland site and search both the 1901 and 1911 census, and then view the digitized images.  Even better, not only the household schedules have been digitized but also the B1 and B2 forms which tell you about the house and outbuildings.   The Moughtys shown on the schedule above, lived in a second class house build of stone or brick with a slate or tile roof, 2 rooms and three front windows.  They also had a stable, cow house, calf house, dairy, piggery and a barn.

Each family was enumerated on a separate sheet completed by the head of the household and included name, age, sex, relationship to head of the household, religion, occupation, marital status, and county or country of birth.  The 1911 census also asked the additional question for married women as to how many children they had given birth to, and how many were still living (my favorite question in the 1900 and 1910 US censuses).

You might be thinking, how does this help me...my ancestors left Ireland long before 1901.   Typically, not all members of a family emigrated; parents, grandparents or siblings likely remained, so you may find family members still in Ireland in 1901.  Look for hints, such as unusual given names that are repeated in your family.  If your immigrant ancestors married in Ireland, also looked for areas where the two surnames overlap as people typically married very close to home.  A great tool for doing this is the Grenham’s Irish Surnames CD where you type in the surname of the husband and maiden name of the wife.  Besides telling you where these two names appear in the same parish, it will also provide information on what church records survive and where they can be found for each location.   

After the 1911 census, the next census to be done in Ireland was in 1926 (Ireland was in the midst of their civil war in 1921).  The 1926 census was the first census for the Irish Free State. The Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations (CIGO) has been working to have the government release the 1926 census early and has set up a petition on their website.  

Prior to 1821, there were some religious censuses taken (1740 and 1766) where the Church of Ireland ministers were required to determine the religious affiliation of the individuals in their (civil) parish.  Some listed names of the head of household, some just listed numbers, and some took down only Roman Catholics.  These were sent to the Public Records Office and were lost in the fire, however, many transcripts survive for individual locations.  You should check a list of the specific resources that survive in your ancestor’s locality.  You can check either John Grenham’s Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, or James Ryan’s Irish Records.  Both of these books should be available at your library.

Happy Hunting!

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2013