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Best Genealogy Sites for Irish Research: National Archives of Ireland - Census

The National Archives of Ireland was one of the two sites mentioned in the article that prompted this series, 101 Best Sites for Genealogy. Without a doubt, it is a good site and it is totally free, but it would not be my first choice (as indicated by the previous posts). First, I would rather be there onsite (although it is still closed due to the Pandemic) and second, it can be a bit confusing. Before you jump into this site you need to know where your ancestors lived in Ireland and have done some basic research in the resources already mentioned. About a year ago the National Archives put a new front end on the site, but everything behind it is still the same. It looks simple, just click on "Genealogy." That brings you to another new screen.

Whenever working with an online database, site you should explore it before you jump into searching. There are a number of guides and resources that can be helpful. In the section on "Researching family history" they point out:

"While there are many family history websites with digital resources and search facilities that permit surname searches, it is important to remember that to focus your searches and assess the relevance of search results, it is useful to have additional information on the parish or townland in which your ancestor lived and the approximate time period. Searches in surname indexes are generally of value only if the surname is fairly unusual as they can yield a long list of people with the same surname, but with no way of knowing which, if any, are connected with the family being investigated."

I hope this sounds familiar to you because it is something I point out in almost every blog!😀. There is so much to explore here, that it will likely take a few weeks. Today I'm going to focus on the 1901 Census.

If you've been researching in Ireland for a while, it likely didn't take long to discover the disaster of Irish Census records. For the US and many other countries, the Census is a "go to" record set when you begin your research. In the US we have census records back to 1790 and full nominal census records beginning in 1850. The only "lost" census is 1890. Census records in Ireland began in 1821 but unfortunately, the oldest surviving complete census for Ireland is 1901. So what happened? You might think that everything was lost in "the fire." That is not the case. Yes, the fire at the Public Records Office in Dublin in 1922 was devastating but what was lost at that time were the census records from 1821-1851. Like our (US) 1890 census there are fragments from those years that survived. If you're lucky enough to have ancestors from a surviving locality...great, but sometimes only one family in one townland survived. All of the surviving fragments prior to 1901 are imaged and searchable at Here's an article by John Grenham.

What happened to the 1861-1891 censuses is more depressing...they were destroyed by the government. The 1861 and 1871 were destroyed shortly after they were taken; the 1881 and 1891 were pulped during World War I due to a paper shortage. The destruction was complete...nothing survives. That means that (with few exceptions) nothing survives for the 19th century which is why creative genealogists are always looking for census substitutes!

I'm sure many of you are thinking why bother, my ancestors emigrated long before 1901. As I frequently mention, it's likely that not everyone in the family emigrated. If you know the locality of your ancestors, look for individuals of the same surname from that area in 1901 and 1911and research them. It will pay off if you are incorporating DNA in your research and wondering about the surnames that show up on your match list!

If you click on the block for 1901 and 1911 Census, it takes you to an interim page which explains the census. You should read this when you first start researching.

If you click on the 1901&1911 Census in the left bar, nothing happens, because you're already on the page. This is where I think the interface is a bit clunky. You need to click where it says "NationalArchives Census website." Once you start using the site, the easiest way to get there is to just type into your browser. I use the site so often that as soon as I type census it brings up the URL.

Read this page before you click on Search the census! There's lots of good information.

The digitization of the census records was a joint project with Library and Archives Canada and launched in 2007. Today you can find the 1901 and 1911 census on the major genealogical websites and it is free as well, although on Ancestry and Findmypast, you need a user name and password if you don't have a subscription. On MyHeritage you can select Search Historical Records and select Census>UK and Ireland. In all these cases the results will take you to the NationalArchives site.

On top of the basic search you can select the year of the census you wish to search. Notice that the default is 1911 so make sure you change it if you want to search 1901. You can also search the surviving fragments of the 1821-1851 censuses. When you select one of those years, only the counties where there are surviving fragments will appear in the drop down. Remember, don't get too excited since these are very limited. For the most part, these are going to be exact matches even if you don't click the box. The names are transcribed as they appeared in the census and not corrected. If you are not finding someone, try a different spelling. Spelling is also important when typing the name of the townland and DED. If you're not sure, leave it blank. Also note that the census is compiled by District Electoral Division (DED).

This may be a new jurisdiction for you. Unless you are sure, I wouldn't put anything in here. If you know the locality, you can use IrishAncestors to go to the parish, click on the townland for 1901 and the results will give you the name of the DED. If I select from the Site Map Down >Drumgooland > Ballymaginity and select 1901 I learn that the DED is Leitrim.

The 1901 census was completed on 31 March 1901, one page for each family. The head of the household was to prepare and sign it, however as you see at the bottom, Lucy could not write (although according to the census data provided she could read) so it was completed by the Constable, and Lucy made her mark. It includes the names of each member of the household present on the census date, their relationship to the head of the household, their religion, whether they could read and/or write, age, occupation, marital status and the county where they were born. (You should be skeptical of all of the ages and use them as approximations.) Most will indicate whether they speak the Irish language, English or both and if there is any disability (deaf, dumb, blind, etc.)

I have been working on updating my Moughty research. I started by printing out a Register Report from my software beginning with the earliest known ancestor (Patrick Moughty born about 1752). I then went through it and made a list of missing information I needed to research. Some is information I need to obtain in Ireland and unfortunately, because of COVID I won't be going this year. Those items went into my log which I keep by repository. Much of the missing information was on collateral lines. The brother of my husband's 2nd great grandfather Thomas Moughty had seven children. Thomas died in 1879, and his wife Lucy survived him. I found her in the 1901 Census.

Two sons, James and Thomas and a daughter, Catherine were living with her and unmarried (they never did marry). Thomas Donnelly and William and Ellen Dunigan (also Dunican or Duncan) are identified as nieces and nephews. Are they? They were all born after civil registration so working with I was able to find their birth registrations and identify their mothers as Anne Moughty and Ellen Moughty. James, Thomas and Catherine were all found in church records at along with their additional siblings, Margaret, Anne, Rose and Ellen. Since all but Margaret were born in the 1850s their marriages were likely to be after civil registration. I knew that Margaret had emigrated to Buenos Aires and married there thanks to correspondence with a cousin descended from the Moughty family living there. Using the civil registration records, Anne married Edward Donnelly and died in 1911 and Ellen married Patrick Dunican and died between 1901 and 1906 (when Patrick died he is listed as a widower). Note that some families were better than others registering births, deaths and marriages. So now I know that rather than niece and nephews, these are actually grandchildren of Lucy.

Next week I'll look at what happened to this family in the 1911 Census and discuss the differences in the format. I'll also include a short video.

Happy Hunting and Stay Safe!

Don't forget to register for the Celtic Connections Conference. It's been extended so you can enjoy all of the lectures from July 31 - September 30. All of the speakers will also be participating in Chats.

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