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Irish Census Records

Updated: Oct 20, 2019

   So far this year, I’ve discussed the basics of good research, Irish jurisdictions, finding your ancestor’s locality in Ireland, civil registration and church records.  So what’s next?  For most US researchers the question of census records comes up.  The good news is that all of the surviving records are online for free at the National Archives of Ireland.  So here’s the bad news.  The only complete surviving census records are for 1901 and 1911.


   Oh no!  Did the fire get them all?  Here’s where the sad story gets worse.  Ireland began doing censuses every ten years in 1821.  Because of a paper shortage prior to and during World War I, the government (still under the British) decided to pulp the 1861-1891 censuses.  That’s a 100% destruction of the records…only statistics survive, no schedules.*

   Then, the fire destroyed the majority of the 1821-1851 censuses.  Like our 1890 US census, there are some fragments that survive. As I've said multiple times, all records in Ireland are dependent on time and place, and if you’re lucky enough to have ancestors living in one of the areas where records survived, you are blessed! The National Archives has indexed all of the surviving fragments as well.   The 1901 and 1911 censuses were not in the Public Record Office and they survive in their entirety.  

   Even if your ancestor emigrated before 1901, you should still check the 1901 and 1911 census records in the locality where your ancestor lived, as it’s likely that some family members remained in Ireland. The census records are indexed by County and by District Electoral Division (DED).  If you haven’t identified this jurisdiction, search the parish or townland on the Index of Townlands, 1901.  

   So what information will you find?  There are multiple schedules to the Irish censuses.  When you search at the National Archives you will first get a transcription of the census.  The 1901 census was done on the 31 March and the 1911 census date was done on 2 April.  

Notice below the transcription, “View census images.”  The first choice is the Household Return.  There is one page for each family (interesting fact…our 1890 US census which was also destroyed in a fire, had one page per family).  There are columns on the return that don’t appear on the schedule, i.e., occupation, marriage status, where born, and literacy (read and write).  You will also find the signature (or mark) of the Head of the Household.   Notice on the upper right the “Number of Form B,” in this case, 2.  You will need that number as you move to the other schedules.

   The “House and Building Return” (B1) and the “Out-Office and Farm-Steading Return" (B2) are also important forms.  These will provide you insight into your ancestor’s life and social place in the community.  

Patrick Martin, number 2 on the list, has a house that is a private dwelling, with 6 outbuildings.  The house is built of stone with a slate or tin roof.  The instructions tell the enumerator to provide a numerical value based on the building materials.  Next, the number of rooms, in this case 3, and the number of windows in the front of the house, also 3.  The numbers are added up, and Patrick Martin’s house is given a score of 9.   The final column in this section classifies his house as a 2nd class house.  Although there are other 2nd class houses, notice that Patrick’s house, with a score of 9, is likely the highest valued house in the area.  We also learn whether the individual occupying the house is the landholder (leaseholder) or someone else.  Patrick Martin is the landholder, but notice on house number 1 Thomas McGrane is the occupier but Owen McCabe is the landholder.

   Form B2, the Out-Offices and Farm-Steading Return tell you about the other buildings on the property.   Patrick Martin has six additional buildings on his land…a stable, a cow house, a piggery, a fowl house, a barn and a workshop (which makes sense as he is a carpenter, as well as a farmer).  

   The last form is the Enumerator’s Abstract, Form N.  Patrick's holding is number 2.  The Abstract will list all of the jurisdictions. The Enumerator’s Abstract lists the holdings only by number, and provides the number of families living in a house, the number of males and females and the religion.  

   When searching the US censuses we provide a reminder to search a few pages before and after your ancestor to look for other potential family members.  Use Form B1 to do the same for the townland of your ancestor.  Who are the others with the same surname?  Are there others with the same given name as well…they may be children or cousins.  On the same page as Patrick Martin we find: Terence, Hugh, a second Patrick, Catherine, Myles, Thomas and Anne Martin; I also recognize collateral names of Lamb, McCabe, McEnerny and Freeman.  You need to research each of these individuals.  For individuals less than 37 years old, you should be able to find birth registrations (at which will give you the maiden name of the mother.  Although marriages are not all imaged, they are indexed from 1864 (1845 for Protestant marriages) and will give you the names of the fathers.  If the head of your household is widowed, you can also look for a death record (again, not all imaged yet). 

   Next week I’ll describe the differences in the 1911 census.

   Happy Hunting! 

*Irish Genealogy-Toolkit lists two limited transcriptions…1861 in Wexford and 1871 in Meath…that were done prior to the destruction of the originals.

All images shown here as examples are available free at The National Archives of Ireland site. The Index for the Irish Census of 1901 and 1911 is also available at Ancestry and FindMyPast however images are only available at The National Archives.

Do you know anyone who would like to research in Dublin or Belfast this fall? Please share my Irish Research Trips website with them and with your Genealogical Society. There are still some places left.

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Unknown member
Apr 30, 2019


Thanks for pointing that out. I'm don't think I've ever clicked on that box...I usually just go directly to the image.


Hi Donna

Thank your for your very clear descriptions of resources available (or not) for Irish genealogy.

Re the census schedules: if you tick the "Show all information" box (which appears TOP RIGHT on the screen), the columns for Occupation, Marriage Status, Where Born and Literacy then appear on the schedules.

Kind regards

Sheila Tumelty

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