top of page

The 1911 Census—In Irish

Updated: Apr 29

A photo of the Patrick Martin house in Doagh taken by the author in 1997.

Another DNA match caused me to take a look at a family I haven't researched in a while...the Martin family of Magheracloone, County Monaghan. At the time of the partition, County Monaghan which is in the Province of Ulster, ended up as one of the three Ulster counties in the Irish Free State.    

To begin, there are a few differences between the 1901 and 1911 census.   The 1911 adds columns for the number of years married and like our 1900 and 1910 censuses in the US, shows the number of children born and the number still living for married females.   This can be a clue to missing children in your family tree.  Since births were registered beginning in 1864, try to search for all children of the surname in the locality.  This is obviously easier if you don’t have a common surname.  Since the early indexes don’t include mother’s maiden name, you can only search on Registration District and time period.  Using IrishGenealogy, you can then view the image of the registration and compare for the parents’ names to make certain you have the correct individuals.   The indexes for baptisms at RootsIreland are more flexible in searching although you are limited by the timeframes as many of the church records stop in the 1880s.  As always, be flexible with spelling and dates.

   So let’s look at the Martin family in the 1911 census.  By 1911 many of the children had emigrated to the US, but Patrick (the father) didn’t die until 1922, so he should be there.  I’ve visited the house in Doagh (picture above), so I know they remained there.  My search, however, provided no result. And a further search showed no results for any Martins in Doagh! Did they miss this entire townland? I went to the Census Search page at the National Archives site to Browse the records. To do this, you need to know the District Electoral Division. If you don't know it, go to the 1901 Townland Index and search on the Townland and County. Doagh is in the District Electoral Division (DED) of Drumcarrow. Back to the Census page and Browse for Drumcarrow, select it and it lists Doagh as one of the Townlands. So what aren't the Martins there? The entire Townland is indexed in Irish. There appeared to be multiple Martins (which I expected) but in Irish the names were Ni Mhartain, Ua Mhartain, Mac Giolla Mairtin, Ó Maírtín, Ó Mocháin, and Ua Mhártin (and you thought spelling variations in English were difficult)! I viewed each page looking at all of the “Padraigs” (or other names beginning with “P”) until I found the correct family.

The given names I could figure out, Patrick, Ann, Thomas and Elizabeth, but the surnames must vary based on sex (Mac or Mic), or possibly transcription errors (Nic). What is Giolla/Ghiolla?  Also, what is (bean)? I know that words in Irish frequently don’t have the same sounds we would ascribe to them in English and on a visit to Ireland in the 90’s, a cousin (descendant of Éilise) referred to her grandfather at “Paddy Wharer”…my spelling based on how she pronounced it.  When I asked her what this meant, she said there were so many Martins in the area, including a number of Patricks, that this Patrick was identified as the son of Maura. (I listened to an Irish pronunciation of Maura and it does sound like it begins with a W.)   I wrote to John Grenham for an explanation. He responded, "The 1911 was used as a protest platform by quite a few groups in the then United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland - suffragettes and Irish nationalists were just two. Filling the form out in Irish was usually an act of defiance - no one who was literate in Irish was not literate in English." He also referred me to Maire Mac Conghail who did the Irish-language transcription for the census.

Maire responded with a brief explanation of Irish grammar (which I'm not sure my mind is capable of grasping). You probably know that Mac is son of and Ó is grandson of. Nic replaces the Ó and refers to a daughter and bean refers to the spouse. Giolla/Ghiolla can be used to refer to a "follower of." Irish nouns all have a masculine and feminine form. Also sentence formation is based on the verb appearing first, followed by the subject, and adjectives follow the subject.

Notice that the instructions for the census are all in English and Patrick signed his name in English. This is the only census I’ve come across in my family written in Irish, but according to John there are actually quite a few.

So Patrick and Ann have been married 18 years and she has had one child (Elizabeth) who is still living. Remember that census information is self reported, so although censuses are an original record there may be errors. I've found the birth registration for Mary Ann Martin born 9 Apr 1909 in Doagh with parents Patrick and Ann Freeman but she doesn't appear in the 1911 census and I can't find any death record for her. It would appear that Ann has had 2 children and only 1 is still living. Interesting that the information on Patrick was written above then crossed out (this column was only for women). Patrick stated that he had 10 children with seven living. I have the death records for most of his children and in 1911 I believe there were at least 8 still living…the youngest child of Patrick’s first marriage was my husband’s grandmother. Her mother died the day after she was born. I’m going to have to go back and see if I can find any other children who likely died in infancy or shortly thereafter.

Checking the House and Building Return, there are no changes in the house from the 1901 census, and the names are all given in English. However, on the Out-offices and Farm-steading Return, the stable no longer exists and there are only 5 buildings.

So what about the next census? There was no 1921 census, as the country was in the middle of their War of Independence. The next census was done for the Republic of Ireland in 1926 and with the 100 year rule, that census will not be available until January of 2027. There has been a lot of effort put in to getting the government to release the 1926 Census early (as was done with both the 1901 and 1911 census). Over 15,000 people have signed a petition for an early release, but nothing has happened so far. If you would like to sign the Petition you can find it here.

What about Northern Ireland? There was also a Census of Northern Ireland done in 1926. Unfortunately, the 1926 schedules were destroyed after the statistical information was compiled. The statistical data can be downloaded from the NISRA site. The 1931 UK census only included England, Wales and Scotland since the 1926 census of Northern Ireland had been done. The 1931 UK census was subsequently destroyed in a fire. The release of the 1939 Register for England and Wales filled in the missing years but Northern Ireland was not included in this important record source. The records for Northern Ireland can only be accessed through a Freedom of Information Request, but the key is you have to have the exact address. Here's an article written by Claire Santry on the status of the 1939 Register for Northern Ireland.

If you've been unable to find your family (or descendants) in the 1911 census, try browsing by location to see if they completed the census in Irish.

Happy Hunting!

It's still not too late to register for the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium (NERGC) Conference. The conference has started but all of the lectures will be available online until May 31st. You can register here.

Recent Posts

See All



bottom of page