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A census is a count and description of the population of an area. When available, census records can provide names, ages, occupations, marital statuses, birthplaces, and family members' relationships. Censuses can also provide clues that lead to other records. A census may list only selected people for a special reason (such as males between the ages of 16 and 45 for military purposes) or the whole population. The percentage of people listed depends on the purpose of the census and on how careful the enumerator was.

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Contents

Purposes for Taking a Census

Various types of censuses have been taken by civil authorities to determine such things as:

  • Makeup of the population.
  • Religion of the population.
  • Military readiness.
  • Taxes for support of the state church (called tithes).
  • Taxes for poor relief (called poor rates).
  • The number and identities of eligible voters (recorded in poll books)

Civil or Government Censuses of the Population

Government censuses of the population are particularly valuable because they list nearly all the population at a given time. The Irish government took a census in 1813 (which no longer exists), then every ten years from 1821 through 1911. Due to the Irish Civil War of 1921-22, another census was not taken until 1926. The next census was taken in 1936. Starting in 1946, censuses were taken every five years through 1971. Since 1971, censuses have been taken every ten years.

Availability

Only parts of the early civil censuses survive. The censuses from 1821 through 1851 were mostly destroyed in the 1922 fire at the Public Record Office in Dublin. The censuses from 1861 through 1891 were destroyed by the government sometime after statistics had been compiled from them.

The 1901 census is the first complete census available for Ireland. The 1901 and 1911 censuses are available to the public and are now online, but all censuses taken since 1911 are not. The 1821 to 1851 censuses are divided by county, barony, civil parish, and townland. The 1901 and 1911 censuses are divided by county, electoral division, and townland.

Because many of the earlier censuses are not available, census substitutes are especially useful for Ireland.  These include tax, religous and poll lists among others.  See the below section on census substitutes for more information on census substititues.

Content

You will find the following information in the various censuses:

1813. The 1813 census was the first official census of the population of Ireland and was taken under the Parliamentary Act 52 Geo. III., c. 133. The work was commissioned to be done under the direction of the Grand Juries, but was so poorly executed that a second Act of Parilament was passed, 55 Geo. III., c. 120 and led to the enumeration of the 1821 census. Before the destruction of the Public Record Office in 1922, hardly any returns were known to be in existence, see Deputy Keeper Report XXVIII, pp. 9-10.

1821. The 1821 census lists—for every member of the household—name, age, occupation, and relationship to the head of the household. The census also records the acreage held by the head of the household and the number of stories each dwelling had. This census was taken under the Parliamentary Act 55 Geo. III., c. 120. and a decennial census was consistently taken until 1911.

1831. The 1831 census lists only the head of the household, the number of children and adults in the household, and the religion of each household member. This census was taken under the Parliamentary Act 1 Will. IV., c. 19.

1834. The 1834 census was a result of an initiative by Daniel O'Connell in Parliament to reflect the correct numbers of Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. It came to be known as the "O'Connell Census." The 1831 census was used as the basis for the 1834 census and members of the Catholic clergy and others throughout Ireland were used to identify and add religion to the 1831 population schedules. Many of these census lists have been published in various genealogical, historical, and archaeological periodicals in Ireland.

1841. The 1841 census lists—for every member of the household—name, age, sex, relationship to the head of the household, marital status (and if married, the number of years married), occupation, and birthplace. This census was taken under the Parliamentary Act 3 and 4 Vic., c. 100.

1851. The 1851 census lists the same information as the 1841 census. In addition, it has two schedules that were filled out if applicable. One reported absent members of the household and provided the standard census information plus the current place of residence for each. The other listed members of the household who had died since the last census and recorded for each the cause and year of death, age at death, sex, relationship to the head of the household, and occupation. This census was taken under the Parliamentary Act 13 and 14 Vic., c. 44.

There is an index to the heads-of-household for the 1851 census for the City of Dublin. It has been published on CD by Eneclann. This was taken from a transcript available in the National Arhives, Dublin.

The best description of the availability of the censuses from 1821-1851 is contained in an article by Stephen A. Royle, Department of Geography, Queen's University, Belfast titled "Irish Manuscript Census Records: A Neglected Source of Information,” Irish Geography, Volume 11(1979): 110–25.

Certified copies of extracts from the 1821, 1841, & 1851 Irish census

1901. The 1901 census lists—for every member of the household—name, age, sex, relationship to the head of the household, religion, occupation, marital status, county of birth (except for foreign births, which give country only), whether the individual spoke Irish, and whether the individual could read or write.

1911. The census lists the same information as the 1901 census and adds for married women the number of years she had been married to her current husband, the number of children that had been born to them, and the number of their children who were still alive.

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland has some census records for Northern Ireland. All other census records, including the surviving early fragments, are kept at the National Archives. For a more detailed list of surviving census returns, see:

  • Begley, Donal F., ed. Irish Genealogy: A Record Finder. Dublin, Ireland: Heraldic Artists, 1981. (Family History Library book Ref 941.5 D27i.)
  • Ryan, James G. Irish Records: Sources for Family & Local History. Rev. ed. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 1997. (Family History Library book Ref 941.5 D23r.)
  • Magee, Sean, compiler and editor, The 1851 Dublin City Census, Chart’s Index of Heads of Households, CD-ROM. Dublin, Ireland: Eneclann, Ltd., 2001. [60,000 names and addresses and all 33 Ordnance Survey Town Plans of Dublin City from 1847.]
  • Wood, Herbert. A Guide to the Records Deposited in the Public Record Office of Ireland. Dublin: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1919. pp 286-287. (Family History Library book British 941.5 A3ip.)
  • Cargill, David C.  Irishmen in Scottish Census Records.  Two census returns in respect of Regiments stationed at Leith Fort and Piershill Barrachs in Edinburgh 1851.  Regiments - Royal Artillery - gives names, places of birth in Ireland, civilian occupation.  13th Light Dragoons only gives name, position in Army, age, where came from in Irleand, and wife and children possibly maybe listed too. Article The Irish Ancestor, vol IV, no.1, 1972 pages 8-14, Family History Library book ref. 941.5 B2i

1901 and 1911 Online

The 1901 and 1911 censuses can be searched online on the National Archives of Ireland Web site.

Finding Censuses Available at the Family History Library

The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the early census fragments. The library also has copies of the 1901 and 1911 censuses. Follow these steps to find the Family History Library film numbers.

  1. Go to FamilySearch Catalog search
  2. Click Place Search.
  3. Type the name of a parish and click Search.
  4. Click on the name that matches your request.
  5. Scroll down and click the topic of Census.
  6. Click on a title.
  7. Click View Film Notes to find the film numbers.

Searching Census Records

When searching government census records, remember that:

  • Ages may be inaccurate.
  • The name on the census may not be the same as the name recorded in church or vital records.
  • Names may be spelled as they sound.
  • Place-names may be misspelled.
  • Individuals missing from a family may be listed elsewhere in the census.

Also remember to:

  • Search indexes, when available, before using the actual census records.
  • Search records of the surrounding area if a family is not listed at the anticipated address.

Census Indexes

Many of the surviving fragments of the early Irish censuses have been extracted and indexed.  Indexes by surname and by address or street exist for the 1901 and 1911 censuses for many localities, including some online.  Census indexes can save you time. However, indexes may be incorrect or incomplete. Therefore, if you believe your ancestor should be listed in a census area's index, but he or she is not, search the actual census anyway.

Surname Indexes

Surname indexes exist for many census localities. To see a list of census indexes available online, go to the 'Census Finder' web page for Ireland and check the list for your county of interest.  Some are available at the Family History Library.  Some surname indexes are listed in Smith's Inventory of Genealogical Sources: Ireland, available at the library in the British Reference area.  Others are  listed in the library catalog.  To find them in the catalog, see the instructions below under 'Finding Indexes.'

Some surname indexes are available online, particularly for the 1901 and 1911 censuses.  See 'Census Finder' , and also see the National Archives of Ireland web page for census returns

Sometimes, you may not  find your ancestor in these large country wide indexes. Perhaps, a mistake was made when these large indexes were made, or a person's name was not easy to recognize in the census enumeration book, or the surname was spelled differently. In such a situation, you may be able to find your ancestor in the census by using a smaller surname index for the parish or town of interest. When looking at a smaller index, it can also be easier to pick out an alternative spelling of a person's surname. These indexes are also ideal for finding all of the people with a specific surname in a specific location. See the instructions below under 'Finding Indexes' for a table containing links to the surname indexes for local places that are available at the Family History Library.

Street Indexes

If you know the address of an ancestor who lived in a large city, street indexes can help you quickly find that ancestor's census record when a surname index is not available. Street indexes for the 1901 and 1911 census referencing streets in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Limerick, Londonderry, and Waterford are available at the Family History Library under the title:

  •  Ireland 1901 and 1911 Census Street Index. Typescript. 3 vols. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982. (Family History Library book Ref 941.5 X22i; fiche 6035493-95; see also below.)

These volumes can give you the microfilm number of the records where your street of interest appears.  Street indexes do not exist for earlier Irish censuses.

The following sources may help you find an ancestor's address to look for in a street index:

  • Old letters
  • City, occupational, postal, or commercial directories
  • Birth, marriage, or death certificates
  • Church records of christening, marriage, and burial
  • Land and property deeds
  • Probate records
  • Newspaper notices
  • Tax records
  • Voting registers or poll books

Finding Indexes

To find census indexes online, use the links given previously.  To find indexes at the Family History Library, follow these instructions:

  1. Go to theFamily History Library Catalog.
  2. Click on Place Search.
  3. Type in the name of a parish and click Search.
  4. Click on the name that matches your request.
  5. Scroll down and click on any version of the topic Census—Indexes.
  6. Click on a title to view the details.
  7. Click View Film Notes to find the film or fiche numbers.  If the index is in book form, the library book number will be given in the title details.

Below are the links to find the Family History Library call numbers for local placename indexes. If a county is not in the table, then there are no local indexes for that county in the library's collection when this wiki entry was made. (You may want to check the library catalog to see if additional indexes have been added to the library's collection by doing a place search for a specific county.)

County Antrim Indexes County Cavan Indexes County Cork Indexes County Down Indexes
County Dublin Indexes County Kilkenny Indexes County Longford Indexes County Wicklow Indexes

Religious Census

In addition to the official government censuses, religious censuses were taken at various times. For example, in 1766 the government required ministers of the Church of Ireland to compile a return of all heads of household in their parishes. The name of the head of household, the religion of each family, and the activities of Catholic clergy in the area were noted in this census. All the original returns were deposited in the Public Record Office, Dublin, and subsequently destroyed in 1922. Extensive transcripts survive for some areas and are deposited in local archives in Ireland. Copies of surviving transcripts are also available at the Family History Library.

Religious Censuses 1740 and 1766

The two primary Religious Censuses enumerated in Ireland were for the years 1740 and 1766. These censuses were taken by the parochial clergy under the direction of Parliament to determine religious persuasions. In some instances, only the number of Catholics was recorded while the names of Protestants were recorded showing the bias toward Protestantism.

Some ministers chose to take censuses of their parish or congregation for their own purposes. These records are usually in the custody of local ministers. Copies of the records may have been deposited in an Irish archive as well.

Surviving religious census records and sometimes the repositories where they are located are listed in:

  • Begley, Donal F., ed. Irish Genealogy: A Record Finder. Dublin, Ireland: Heraldic Artists, 1981. (Family History Library book Ref 941.5 D27i.)
  • Grenham, John. Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide. 3rd ed. Dublin, Ireland: Gill and Macmillan, 2006. (Family History Library book Ref 941.5 D27gj 2006.)
  • McCarthy, Tony. The Irish Roots Guide. Dublin, Ireland: Lilliput Press, 1991. (Family History Library book 941.5 D27mt.)

To determine which religious censuses are available at the Family History Library, consult the following sources:

  • Smith, Frank. Smith's Inventory of Genealogical Sources: Ireland. (Family History Library book 941.5 D23s.) This source contains information about many published religious censuses, particularly those reprinted in periodicals and which may not appear in the Register of Ireland below.
  • Register of Ireland Census and Census Substitutes. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985. (Family History Library book Ref 941.5 X23c; film 1,441,023 item 1.) This library reference contains a county-by-county list of the library's religious census returns, along with their call numbers.

Religious census returns available at the Family History Library are also listed in the Place Search of the library catalog under the following headings:

IRELAND, [COUNTY] - CENSUS

IRELAND, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CENSUS

Religious Census, 1814

Mr. Shaw Mason petitioned the clergy of the Church of Ireland (Established Church) to help him correct the returns of the 1813 census (see Ireland Census). He requested that they return the number of families in their parishes stipulating the religion and the average number in each household. Likewise, he also appealed to the Presbyterian Clergy for similar returns of the congregations over which they presided. The collection was destroyed in the Public Record Office in 1922, but extacts may exist in various Irish genealogical collections. The collection originally contained the correspondence and returns made by the clergy.

Wood, Herbert. A Guide to the Records Deposited in the Public Record Office of Ireland. Dubin: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1919, p. 286. (Family History Library book British 941.5 A3ip.)

Census Substitutes

Census substitutes are records that, like censuses, provide lists of individuals living in a specific area. Census substitutes may give the occupation, religion, residence, relationship, age, and/or the value of the property of the individuals they list. For more information, click on the link to go to the article on Ireland Census Substitutes.

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