1901 and 1911 Census of Ireland
The first government census of Ireland was taken in 1821 and again every decade until 1911. Unfortunately the vast majority of the 19th century Irish census returns have been destroyed, with only a few small fragments surviving.
This means that the only complete surviving returns are from the 1901 and 1911 census of Ireland.
Both Irish census returns recorded the name, relationship to the head of the household, religion, education, age, occupation, marital status, place of birth, language and whether the individual was blind, deaf, dumb or a lunatic. The 1911 Irish census also included a section for the particulars of marriage, which recorded the length of time that a couple had been married, the number of children born to the marriage and the number of children still living at the time of the census.
It is not necessary to emphasise the value of the information recorded on the 1901 and 1911 census of Ireland. If your ancestor was residing in Ireland at the time of the 1901 or 1911 census of Ireland, the main focus of your research should be to locate their census return. The information on the return will help to identify earlier generations of your family. The census is freely available to search online on the genealogy website of the National Archives of Ireland
The entire 1901 and 1911 census of Ireland have been digitised and are available online at the National Archives website (Free).
Each search field requires the exact spelling of the surname, first name or townland, as it was recorded in the return. At the time of the census your family may have used a different variant of your surname when they filled in the return. I would recommend using the Surname Search facility on John Grenham’s website to identify the various spellings of a particular surname that were in use in the 19th century. First names can also be recorded in different ways, for example, Patrick may be recorded as Pat or even Patt and Catherine may be recorded as Kate or Katie. You may have to try different variations of a name before you locate the correct return.
If you are having difficulty locating an individual in the census, try searching for all occupants of a particular townland. You should be able to establish a townland address for your family using a birth or marriage certificate for an event that took place close to the time of the census. The correct spelling of a townland can be obtained from the Placename Search at John Grenham’s website.
The advance search option allows you to search the Irish census returns by county of birth, occupation, religion and marital status. I would always recommend using a broad search, such as all males with the surname Murphy who were married and would have been approximately 35 years old in 1911 and were born in Co. Kerry. You can then organise your list alphabetically by forename to try and identify the individual you are looking for. This means that you won’t miss someone whose first name might be spelled differently or might have been incorrectly transcribed.
Individuals who were inmates of prisons, workhouses and asylums at the time of the census were recorded only by their initials. If a family member is missing from the household census return, you can search for them by their initials to see if they might appear in a workhouse or prison. Other information, such as gender, age and county of birth, may help to identify a potential family member residing in an institution.
The website will show you a transcribed version of the census return. Remember to tick the box “Show All Information” in the top right hand corner, as this will reveal all of the information recorded on the return. Any scrap of information on the census return may prove vital to your research so make a note of everything.
Below the transcript is a link to the original household return. Always check the original record to make sure that the information in the transcript is correct. Below the link to the household return are also links to other associated forms. I would always recommend taking a look at Form B1, which is a description of the building occupied by the family.
Form B1 records the material that the building was constructed out of, how many windows were at the front of the house and how many rooms were occupied by the family. There is also a return for the number of out offices or farm buildings on the property, describing the function of each building. All of this information can help to build a picture of the life and circumstance of your family.
When the old age pension was introduced in 1908 an applicant had to prove that they were old enough to receive the pension. Irish men and women, who were born prior to 1864, when civil registration in Ireland commenced, they could not provide a birth certificate as proof of age. Instead of a birth certificate, they applied for a copy of their 1841 or 1851 census to act as proof of age. These applications survive and contain information from 1841 and 1851 census returns that have since been destroyed (for more information on the destruction of 19th century census returns click here). These census search forms have been indexed and published online by the National Archives of Ireland on their genealogy website.
Getting the Most from the 1901 and 1911 Census of Ireland
The original 1901 and 1911 census of Ireland returns contain a great deal of information, all of which may prove useful to your research. Be sure to look at the information under all headings:
1. Name and Surname.
2. Relation to the Head of the Family: Make a note of how all of the inhabitants of the house were related. You can sometimes identify a mother-in-law, uncles, aunts, cousins or neices and nephews residing in the same house. The name of the mother-in-law of the head of the household will help you to establish the maiden name of his wife.
3. Religion: As you work back to earlier generations of your family it will be necessary to search parish registers for baptisms and marriages. The religion of the family will be important when it comes to identifying the correct parish registers to search. The census can also help to identify a mixed marriage, where a husband and wife are of two different faiths.
4. Education: This will indicate whether your ancestor could read and write. For older members of the household it is possible that they could once read and write but because of failing eyesight and age, they are now recorded as being unable to do so.
5. Age: Ages recorded in the census are vital for determining when a person was born. However, the ages given in a census return were not always accurate. It is important to compare the ages given in the 1901 and 1911 census to identify possible a discrepancy. The introduction of the old age pension prior to the 1911 census caused many older members of the household to advance their age by some years.
6. Profession: The occupation or profession of your ancestor, as it was recorded in the census, can be a helpful clue for your research. You may be able to track down employment records for police (Royal Irish Constabulary), army, maritime, factory workers, miners or even gardeners or servants on an estate.
7. Particulars of a marriage: This records whether an individual is married, widowed or single. The 1911 return also records the length of time that a couple was married, the number of children born to that marriage and the number of children who were still alive. This can help to identify children who may have been born to a family, died as infants and are no longer remembered. It can be quite a shock to find women who had given birth to 15 or 16 children of whom only 1 or 2 survive.
8. Where Born: This section records the county of birth of each individual and will prove vital for your research. In some cases, individuals also recorded the town or city of their birth and you can sometimes find ancestors who were born in England or the United States but had returned to Ireland by the time of the census. Ancestors who were born in India were likely the children of someone serving in the British Army or with the East India Company.