Irish Family History: Census Returns

Within the fourth publish out of six on Researching Your Irish Household Historical past, Nicola Morris explores the surviving Irish census returns, the place to seek out them on-line and get one of the best out of the data.

NB: Ancestry and Discover My Previous are free to go looking, however require subscriptions to view data.


Have I already talked about the destruction of the nineteenth century Irish census returns?  This loss seems to be the premise for the faulty perception that Irish family tree is not possible.

Inhabitants censuses as we perceive them at present started in Eire in 1821 and continued each decade till 1911.  Sadly, the census returns from 1861 to 1891 had been destroyed through the First World Conflict, probably due to a paper scarcity.  Within the 1922 Public Information Workplace fireplace the returns from 1821 to 1851 had been additionally largely destroyed.  Solely fragments of those early census returns survive.  Which means the one full surviving census returns for Eire are for 1901 and 1911.  Nevertheless, nearly as good genealogical miners, Irish genealogists know squeeze each final drop of knowledge out of what survives.

The 1901 and 1911 census of Eire returns have been freely revealed on-line by the Nationwide Archives of Eire (, however earlier than you begin looking out the census to your ancestor attempt to decide what about them, with a purpose to set your search standards…

Are you aware the title of the particular person you might be looking for?  
Attempt to set up the entire totally different variants underneath which their title could be recorded. For instance, Catherine Byrne may seem within the census as Kate, Katie, Kathleen or Katherine and Byrne could be recorded as Beirne, Burns or Byrnes.  

Use wildcards
The search engine for the Irish census returns on the Nationwide Archives web site requires an actual spelling and won’t present variants of names.  Because of this I’ll typically search utilizing wildcards.  By looking for Ok*t* or C*t* B*rn* I ought to be capable of see all attainable variants of that title.  Don’t underestimate the flexibility of your ancestors to make use of uncommon spellings for first names.

Strive swapping the forename and surname
The census was transcribed precisely because it seems on the unique return.  In some small circumstances, the top of family put the household surname within the first title area and the primary names within the surname area.  Which means the one technique to discover some households is to seek for Byrne Catherine, relatively than Catherine Byrne.

Verify for initials
Inmates of workhouses, prisons and establishments in addition to police constables in barracks, solely seem within the census underneath their initials.  If Catherine Byrne was within the workhouse on the evening of the census, she would seem as C. or Ok. B.  When you could discover a number of entries for a C.B. in workhouse and institutional returns, different figuring out data recorded on the census ought to make it easier to to slender down the sector of your search.  For instance, are you searching for a C.B. who was a feminine, single, age about 27, who was born in Carlow or a 68 12 months previous widower who was born in Dublin?  If Catherine had toddler youngsters along with her within the workhouse, they could seem in the identical return.  Infants stayed with their mom, so ought to be enumerated slightly below her entry. 

You would possibly verify the right return if you happen to discover C.B. with a male toddler J.B. (James Byrne).

It ought to be famous that policemen who had been within the barracks on the evening of the census and who had been recorded by their initials solely, listed their occupation not as constable, however the occupation they held on the time of their recruitment.  Don’t dismiss a ‘farmer’ listed by his initials in a police barracks, he was more than likely a constable who was a farmer previous to his recruitment.  

Image repeats info from previous paragraph with lego policeman

Keep in mind that ages given on census returns weren’t at all times correct.  As ages given in different sources might not be correct both, it’s at all times smart to maintain your search broad to start out with.  For instance, the age recorded on a loss of life certificates, significantly for somebody who has died in superior previous age, might not be appropriate. The age was normally given by the informant and never the deceased and could also be incorrect.  The true age of the deceased particular person could not have been identified by their partner or youngsters. Ages given on the precise census return had been normally given by the top of family, who could not have identified his spouse’s true age and thus given an incorrect age on the return.  A person with a spouse who was older than him, could have lowered her age to usher in into line with or beneath his personal.  The introduction of the previous age pension between the 1901 and 1911 census inspired older family members to advance their age to carry them nearer to qualifying for the pension.  The rationale behind that is that when the pension was launched, older members of the inhabitants born previous to 1864 when civil registration was launched, couldn’t present a delivery certificates as proof of age.  As a substitute, they might request a search of the sooner census returns that will verify their age in 1841 or 1851, thus assembly the age qualification for the pension.
Whereas age is a crucial think about figuring out the right census returns to your ancestor, don’t depend on your ancestor giving the right age on their census return.

Are you aware your ancestor’s occupation?
Occupations had been normally recorded on delivery, marriage and loss of life certificates. In case your ancestor was a cupboard maker, instructor or nurse, you should utilize the ‘advance search’ part to seek for all Byrnes who had been lecturers. Nevertheless, it is very important keep in mind how that occupation may need been described. A instructor could have been described as a N.S. Trainer (Nationwide College Trainer) or a policeman could have been described as a policeman, constable or RIC. In some circumstances an individual’s occupation could have modified, even between the 1901 and 1911 census, a labourer in a single occasion, could have gained employment as a cooper by the point of the subsequent census. Often, anybody who’s described as a pensioner has retired from service with the constabulary, military or navy.

Are you aware your ancestor’s faith?
The 1901 and 1911 census of Eire recorded the non secular denomination of the inhabitants.  You could be searching for a Byrne household who had been Church of Eire relatively than Roman Catholic and looking out by non secular denomination may also help to slender the sector.  In case you are uncertain of the faith of your ancestors, the census can be utilized to find out the faith of households with the identical title.  For instance, looking for a specific surname in Co. Fermanagh would possibly reveal that in practically all cases individuals with that title had been Roman Catholic, when the belief was that they had been Church of Eire.  Figuring out the non secular denomination of your ancestors in Eire utilizing the census will can help you focus your analysis on particular church data.

Are you aware when your ancestor was born and the age they may have been on the time of the census?
The search engine on the Nationwide Archives of Eire web site will record all entries with an age vary 5 years both aspect of the age given within the search type.  It’s attainable, as soon as the outcomes have been listed, to click on on ‘Age’ and have the outcomes listed in descending order from the youngest to the oldest, making it simpler to deal with a particular age vary.

Mine the data
I’ve already talked about that Irish genealogists mine the census for each scrap of accessible data.  When looking out the census on-line, don’t simply make a remark of the title, age and faith of the people, which is what you will notice in your preliminary outcomes.  Click on on the field: ‘present all data’.  It will reveal the birthplace, occupation, literacy, marital standing and language of the inhabitants in addition to their relationship with the top of the family.  The 1911 census additionally recorded the size of time a pair had been married, the variety of youngsters born to their marriage and the variety of youngsters alive in 1911.

The 1911 census return for Catherine Byrne at Baldonnell revealed that she was born in Dublin metropolis ca. 1866.  The presence of her brother, Peter Beatty, establishes her maiden title.  She had been married for 25 years, indicating that she married ca. 1886 and she or he had given delivery to 4 youngsters, all of whom had been residing in 1911 however solely three had been residing at residence.  It’s now attainable to seek for the wedding of a Catherine Beatty to a Patrick Byrne, farmer, ca. 1886, more than likely in a Roman Catholic parish in Dublin metropolis, the place Catherine was born.


Under the transcribed data for every household, you will notice hyperlinks to ‘view census pictures’.  All the time view the unique family return to make it possible for the transcribed data is appropriate.  In lots of cases it isn’t.  The opposite pictures related to the census may also be mined for data, significantly the Home and Constructing Return (Kind B1).  This return provides you with an outline of the home your loved ones occupied.  The return will inform you what number of rooms they occupied in the home, the supplies from which the home was constructed and what number of home windows had been on the entrance of the constructing in addition to the variety of out buildings or farm buildings on the property (that are described in additional element on the Out-Places of work and Farm-Steadings Return Kind B2).  The Home and Constructing Return can even provide you with an image of all of the households in a townland or on the identical avenue and every so often establish the owner of the property.  It’s not unusual, when inspecting the Home and Constructing Return, to note a cluster of households with the identical surname listed one after the opposite.  Are these households all associated?  Are they brothers or cousins who constructed their very own homes on a single household plot?  Is the widow residing subsequent door the mom of your ancestor, in her personal home, on the identical household plot?

Browse the census
If the deal with of your ancestor you will get an outline of your entire townland by searching relatively than looking out the census.  Nevertheless, with a purpose to browse you will have to know the District Electoral Division (DED) by which your townland is positioned.  A shortcut to figuring out the DED and the returns for a particular townland could be discovered on John Grenham’s web site  Search the Locations part to your townland.  When recognized, and also you open the web page for the parish by which that townland is positioned, click on on the 1901 or 1911 hyperlink.  You may be delivered to the census web site, to the web page regarding the DED by which your townland is positioned.  You’ll be able to then click on in your townland and see the surnames of every family within the townland with a hyperlink to every family return.    This route is useful when you might have failed to seek out your loved ones even when their deal with.  I’ve typically checked out the entire occupiers of a townland and found that the household I used to be looking for had been incorrectly recorded as O’Rogan, after I had been looking for Regans.

The 1901 and 1911 census of Eire are springboards for many household historical past researchers.  Discovering your loved ones within the census ought to inform you the place and once they had been born, once they married, the variety of youngsters of their marriage, their occupation, capacity to learn and write and faith, in addition to the kind of home they lived in and whether or not their neighbours may need been siblings or cousins.  All of this data is freely out there at

On the identical web site additionally, you will have the choice to go looking the fragments that survive from the 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 census.  Shopping this document set will show how little truly survives, however when you’ve got household from Cavan you might discover surviving 1821 returns, which could be searched by parish and townland in addition to by surname.

One different remnant of the nineteenth century census returns which were revealed on-line by the Nationwide Archives of Eire are the census search types.  These are the types utilized by candidates for the previous age pension requesting a search of the 1841 and 1851 census for proof of age.  The types embrace the title and present deal with of the applicant and normally their dad and mom’ names and the title of the townland they had been residing in on the time of the 1841 or 1851 census.  Notes on the shape can embrace the names and ages of different siblings of the applicant.  These types could be searched at

An important factor to recollect when looking out each of those websites is that the spelling of surnames, first names and townlands is as they seem on the unique return or as they’ve been interpreted by the transcriber.  In case you can not discover what you might be searching for strive utilizing wild playing cards or searching the census as a substitute.  Solely a really small variety of returns are literally lacking from the net assortment.  One of the best ways to find out whether or not a return is lacking is to match the townland returns for the 1901 and 1911 census.  For instance, a avenue in Clonmel recorded 27 homes in 1911, however the identical avenue in 1901 doesn’t seem.  This return is lacking however the microfilm copies can nonetheless be consulted within the Nationwide Archives of Eire and it’s nonetheless attainable to make a case to view the originals if you happen to can show their absence from the microfilm and on-line collections.

One final tip… strive subscription websites
Each and have listed the 1901 and 1911 census of Eire.  Probably the most helpful search device that these websites have to supply is that you would be able to seek for a couple of member of a specific family.  That is useful in case you are searching for somebody with a standard title, but in addition know the title of their dad and mom, partner or youngsters.

The 1901 and 1911 census of Eire returns are successfully the one census returns that we’ve got.  They’re a treasure trove of knowledge and the place to begin for researching your loved ones again into the nineteenth century.


Nicola Morris M.A.G.I is knowledgeable genealogist and member of Accredited Genealogists Eire. She is the director of Timeline Research Ltd, certainly one of Eire’s main genealogical analysis firms. Nicola has undertaken the Irish analysis for WDYTYA? in the UK and US and has appeared in quite a few episodes. She was additionally the presenter of the first collection of the Family tree Roadshow broadcast in Eire in 2011.

The penultimate instalment due subsequent week, will discover the data that act as substitutes for the lacking censuses.