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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.
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.
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, 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.
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 gives 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.
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 1911 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.)
Finding Census 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.
- Go to www.familysearch.org
- Click on the link to the Family History Library Catalog.
- Click Place Search.
- Type the name of a parish and click Search.
- Click on the name that matches your request.
- Scroll down and click the topic of Census.
- Click on a title.
- 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.
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. 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.
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 exist for many census localities. 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' listed above, and also see the National Archives of Ireland web page for census returns.
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
To find census indexes online, use the links given previously. To find indexes at the Family History Library, follow these instructions:
- Go to the Family History Library Catalog.
- Click on Place Search.
- Type in the name of a parish and click Search.
- Click on the name that matches your request.
- Scroll down and click on any version of the topic Census—Indexes.
- Click on a title to view the details.
- 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.
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 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. An excellent summary of Irish Census Substitutes is available on-line at the Ireland Genealogical Projects web page.
The Pender "Census" of 1659
This "census" was probably taken during Petty's survey between December 1654 and the year 1659. It details the names of the large estate owners and the numbers of Protestants and Catholics in each parish. The original clan names are also noted with the numbers of individuals of that surname. See Pender, Séamus. A Census of Ireland, circa 1659: with supplementary material from the Poll Money Ordinances (1660-1661). Dublin: Stationery Office, 1939. (Family History Library book British 941.5 X29c.)
The Civil Survey was taken from 1654 - circa 1660. It was a survey of the holdings of landowners, their titles and tenures of their estates. Twenty-seven counties were included in the survey covering the provinces of Ulster, Leinster, Muster and a portion of Connaught. The Strafford Survey compiled c.1636 is available for the County of Mayo in the province of Connaught and serves as a substitute. For the Civil Survey, see: Simington, Robert C., editor. The Civil Survey, A.D. 1654-1656. 10 volumes. Dublin: Stationery Office, 1931-1945. (Family History Library book British 941.5 R2si.)
Books of Survey and Distribution
These were compiled c.1700 and are an official record of landed proprietors and their estates. They were used to access rents based on acreage called the "Quit Rent." This was payable each year based on land granted under the 1662 Act of Settlement and the subsequent 1665 Act of Explanation. Printed volumes are available for the counties of Clare, Galway, Mayo, and Roscommon. A typewritten manuscript from the Genealogical Office, Dublin is available for the County of Louth.
- Simington, Robert C. Books of Survey and Distribution, County of Roscommon. Dublin: Stationery Office, 1949. (Family History Library book British 941.5 B4b volume 1).
- Simington, Robert C. Books of Survey and Distribution, County of Mayo. Dublin: Stationery Office, 1956. (Family History Library book British 941.5 B4b volume 2).
- MacGiolla Cholille, Breandán. Books of Survey and Distribution, County of Galway. Dublin: Stationery Office, 1962. (Family History Library book British 941.5 B4b volume 3).
- Simington, Robert C. and Breandán MacGiolla Choille. Books of Survey and Distribution: Being Abstracts of Various Surveys and Instruments of Title, 1636-1703: County of Clare. Dublin: Stationery Office for the Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1967. (Family History Library book British 941.5 B4b volume 4).
- Genealogical Office. Books of Survey and Distribution: County Louth, 1659. Unpublished manuscript no. 541. Dublin: Genealogical Office. (Family History Library microfilm 100,225, item 3).
The Down Survey is a mapped record of landownership and selected items of settlement and topography. The survey was basically concerned with lands that were confiscated after the Cromwellian victory. The most important difference between the Civil and Down Surveys is that the Civil Survey areas were estimated by jurors, whereas the Down Survey lands were measured by trained surveyors.
Look in the Family History Library Catalog under the following heading:
IRELAND, [NAME OF COUNTY], LAND AND PROPERTY
An example for the County of Armagh is:
- Armagh County Museum. A Distribution of Forfeited Lands, Returned by Down Survey: Shewing whose they were in anno 1641 and to whom they are now set out: County Armagh. Unpublished typescript no. M9. (Family History Library microfilm 1,279,356, item 10).
The name has two meanings. 1) Refers to a citizen of an incorporated borough with the right to vote, 2) The elected official from that borough to serve as a representative in Parliament. The Burgess rolls obviously are records of the middle and upper class in the larger metropolitan areas of Ireland.
These were compiled in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries. A freeholder was the owner of a freehold. A freehold was a tenure of real property inherited in fee simple; fee tail; or for life.
A freeman was one who was admitted to the freedom of an incorporated city, town or borough. There were several ways to become a freeman. The most common were by birth (the father's name is usually listed), service, marriage, or fine.
- Admission by Birth was granted to sons, and sometimes daughters, of Free Citizens. Several generations of one family could hold the Freedom of an incorporated city at the same time.
- Admission by Service was granted to those who completed an apprenticeship in one of the trade guilds of the city and paid a fee.
- Admission by Marriage was granted to sons-in-law of Free Citizens.
- Admission by Fine was confined to prosperous professional men who were required to pay a substantial sum of money into the city treasury.
Two additional types of admission were also recognized:
- Admission by Grace Especial also known as Special Grace was equivalent to the modern Honorary Freedom, and was reserved for dignitaries and for craftsmen who were not in a trade guild.
- Admission by an Act of Parliament to "Encourage Protestant Strangers to Settle in Ireland" was granted to French Huguenots and Quakers from England.
Hearth Money Rolls
Initiated in 1662, the Hearth Tax was collected and recorded on Hearth Money Rolls within the Court of the Exchequer. They were collected throughout the decade of the 1660's as a result of the Hearth Money Act of 1662 and additional amending legislation. For additional information, see Ireland Taxation - Hearth Tax.
These are roll calls of officers and men in each military regiment. They exist for the 17th – 20th centuries. For example, the listing for the year 1631 lists 13,092 names of men and officers in the muster rolls. A detailed listing of these records is found in Gibson, Jeremy and Alan Dell. Tudor and Stuart Muster Rolls, A Directory of holdings in the British Isles, Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies, 1989. (Family History Library book British 942 M2gj.)
Look in the Family History Library Catalog under the heading:
Extracts of Muster Rolls were also made by Tenison Groves and deposited in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Belfast, see:
- Muster Rolls, 1698-1770 Family History Library microfilm 258,512
- Muster Rolls, 1743-1757 Family History Library microfilm 258,513
- Muster Rolls, 1757-1800 Family History Library microfilm 258,514
- Muster Rolls, 1800-1805 Family History Library microfilm 258,515
- Muster Rolls, 1805-1825 Family History Library microfilm 258,515
Spinning Wheel Premium Lists
To increase the production of linen and the linen trade in 1796, Parliament began subsidizing the flax industry by providing spinning wheels and reels to qualified flax growers. The names provided in these lists provide an excellent snapshot for a time period known for its lack of records. Records for the counties of Dublin and Wicklow do not appear to have survived. There is an index to these records that was produced by All-Ireland Heritage in 1986.
In the Family History Library Catalog, see heading:
IRELAND, OCCUPATIONS, INDEXES
IRELAND, BUSINESS RECORDS AND COMMERCE, INDEXES
- Surname Index for the 1796 Spinning Wheel Premium Entitlement Lists of Ireland. Vienna, Virginia: All-Ireland Heritage, 1986. (Family History Library microfiche British Access Services Window 6341104).
- Ireland - Linen Trade Board. A List of Persons to Whom Premiums for Sowing Flax-Seed in the Year 1796 have been adjudged by the Trustees of the Linen Manufacture. (Family History Library microfilm British 1,419,442).
The Strafford Survey was based on a series of inquisitions regarding land ownership in the Province of Connacht for the years 1635-1637. These were conducted by Thomas Wentworth who was the Lord Deputy and afterwards the Earl of Strafford. The basis for the survey was to produce revenue for the King and juries made up of the largest landowners in each county were instructed that their findings must be in favor of the king, or lose their estates. All but Galway conceded and the Galway jury abdicated after being severely fined by the Court of the Castle Chamber. Only the records for County Mayo survive.
The Tithe Applotment records were records of assessment placed on the occupiers and owners of land, taken from 1823 – 1837. Fifty-five percent of the parishes had been surveyed by 1830. The records list the names of the tenants, townlands, area by acreage, valuation of the property and the amount of the tithe payable. The Tithe Composition Acts required that payments be made in cash, rather than in-kind. The money collected went to the clergy of the Church of Ireland parish. This record was indexed by surname in the Householder's Index created by the staff of the National Library. The original records are in the National Archives of Ireland, Dublin. The 273 volumes for Northern Ireland were deposited in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Belfast. See the Taxation section of this page.
Commonly known by the name of the originator, Richard Griffith, the "Griffith's Valuation" replaced the Tithe Applotment records as the means for collecting fees on tenements and land. The Griffith's Valuation was the original assessment and was conducted in the 1850's and 1860's. This record is also indexed in the Householder's Index mentioned above. The common mistake made by researchers is to cease the search after locating a potential ancestor in this record. Subsequent valuations were taken annually throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century and tracing a plot of ground through the later valuations can often give clues of death, migration, emigration, or the transfer of the property to another tenant or descendant. See the Taxation section of this page.
Valuation Revision or "Cancellation" Books
The Valuation Revision Books continued from where the Griffith's valuation began. They are available well into the 20th century. The Genealogical Society of Utah has this collection on microfilm. For a table of dates of coverage, see Dwight A. Radford and Kyle J. Betit, A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your Irish Ancestors, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books, 2001) 274. (Family History Library book British 941.5 D27gg).
To find this collection in the Family History Library Catalog, look in the Place Category under the heading:
IRELAND, [COUNTY], LAND AND PROPERTY
- 1911 Census of Ireland
- The National Archives of Ireland
- Irish Genealogy
- Ireland 1901 and 1911 Census Street Index
- Belfast City Census Street Index 1901 and 1911
- Cork City Census Street Index 1901 and 1911
- Dublin City Census Street Index 1901 and 1911
- Limerick City Census Street Index 1901 and 1911
- Londonderry City Census Street Index 1901 and 1911
- Waterford City Census Street Index 1901 and 1911
- Wexford City Census Street Index 1901 and 1911
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