Ireland Census and Census Substitutes (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Irish Ancestor  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

What the Census Returns Show

What you will see are the statistical pages filled out by the enumerators, followed by the actual returns filled out by the householders themselves, with their signatures. This is different to English Returns where the enumerators had to transcribe the householders’ pages into their own books.

In 1901 the information shown on the returns is the name, relationship to the head of the household, religion, whether able to read and write, age, sex, occupation, marital status, county (but not parish) of birth, whether speaks Irish and/or English, infirmities (deaf, dumb, blind, imbecile, idiot, or lunatic).

The 1911 census additionally records, for married women only, the duration of their marriage, number of children born alive, and number still living.

Certain people, notably inmates of lunatic asylums and prisons, and policemen, were not required to divulge their full names, and initials only appear on the returns. Not all householders followed the instructions precisely and thus variations appear quite frequently, for example many gave parishes of birth.


The survival of Irish census records is poor because:

  • almost all Irish census records from 1821-1851 were destroyed in the troubles of 1922.
  • the 1861-1891 household returns were deliberately destroyed by the government either to protect confidentiality or to recycle to make paper during the shortages of World War I.

Links to many free online censuses and census substitutes are available on Ireland Census Records.

General materials on censuses and some abstracts are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog – PLACE SEARCH - IRELAND - CENSUS – and – CENSUS INDEXES. To search for names on the householders returns go to IRELAND – [COUNTY] – [PARISH] – CENSUS DATE.

1821 Fragments only for Counties Cavan, Fermanagh, Galway, Meath and Offaly.

1841 Fragments for Co. Cavan only.

1851 Fragments for Co. Antrim and Fermanagh only.

1861 None. However an index of people on ships all around the UK is on fiche 6025599.

1871 None, but there is a complete alphabetical index to the Townlands and towns of Ireland in 1871 census available on fiche. However these are of poor quality and are difficult to read.

1881 None except those in the Royal Navy are part of the 1881 census index for England & Wales.

1891 None

1901 The first complete census of Ireland available.

1911 All of this is now available.

Street Indexes for 1901

Available for Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Limerick, Londonderry and Waterford and could be on permanent loan in your FHC on fiches 6035493-5. An example is shown in chart 16.

Chart: 1901 Census Street Index for Belfast

Street Name
Film Number
Abbey Street
Abbott Street
Abercoon Street
Aberdeen Street

Searching the Census Film

Finding the District, Parish and Family

Instead of the Enumeration Districts familiar to researchers in English censuses, the Irish census administration units are the numbered District Electoral Division (DEDs) and Townlands. These numbers appear in the ovals in the top RH corner of the Enumerator's Abstract (Form N) at the beginning of each District. For the 1901 the DED numbers can be obtained from the 1901 Townlands Index, and this will enable you to speed up your research by pinpointing the part of the film you need to concentrate on. However, this is not an essential step - one can read the names of the parishes equally well from the Enumerator's Abstracts.

Smart family historians know that families usually stayed close together, so reading the whole film can be most profitable. Your ancestor may be living with his wife and family, but his brother in the next parish may have his parents living with him; a similarity of birthplaces and dates will give clues to relationships which can be verified using other sources.

Census Dates

The censuses show who slept on the premises on the following Sunday nights. This includes members of the family, visitors, boarders, lodgers and servants.

6 June
30 March
7 April
2 April
3 April
5 April
31 March
2 April


It is essential to record every item from the census returns, including the DED and Townland numbers from the oval. You will want to consult them again and again in the future for different items, and it is extremely foolish to have to re-order the film and re-read the returns! The easiest way to do this is to use a proper census transcription form. It is suggested that for ease of filing you keep a separate transcription page for each surname. In addition, the serious researcher will get a photocopy of the entry for each ancestor.

One of the main uses of the census returns is to tell us when, and in which place, our ancestors were born, thus taking us back to the third main primary source, the parish registers, before civil registration of births was started in 1864.

Chart: Abbreviations Used in Census

Ag. Lab.
Agricultural labourer
Member of HM land forces of whatever rank
Female servant
Member of HM armed forces on half pay.
Independent - people living on their own means
Maker e.g. Shoe m.
Male servant
Not known
Member of HM naval forces, including marines, of whatever rank
Pensioner in HM armed forces
Rail Lab.
Railway labourer
Shopman (works in a store)

Extra Helps With Census

There are good chapters with useful background material on census in Grenham and Ryan’s books. There is also a good Irish section in Local Census Listings by Gibson and Medlycott. The Parliamentary Gazetteer 1844 is on fiches 6020358-82 and the 1871 Index to Towns and Townlands is on fiches 6020345-53 at every FSC.

Alternatives to Censuses

Because of the dearth of census material the Irish researcher has to be particularly creative about using other types of records, some of which are listed here. Further possibilities are explored by Ryan and Grenham and in the FamilySearch Wiki.


Chart’s Abstract of Dublin City Census 1851

Prior to the destruction of the 1851 census, Dr. D.A. Chart of the Public Record Office compiled a comprehensive list of the names and addresses of heads of households for Dublin City. This unique genealogical source has now been edited and converted to database format making it available to all researchers worldwide. It contains over 60,000 names and addresses (and some occupations) in the city of Dublin, together with 33 Dublin town plans from 1847 and is available from Eneclann  and at the FHL on CD #1053. Note that you can use the Request for Photocopies form for CDs too. Another place that may have the CD would be your local Family History Society.

Thrift’s Abstracts

Gertrude Thrift abstracted certain families from early census returns of 1821, 1841 and 1851. The index is on fiche 6035573(1) and the originals on film 0596418 (see notes about them on FamilySearch Catalog).

Church Registers and Vestry Minutes

Censuses may also be found in local church registers and in the vestry minutes (forerunners of parish councils run by the local worthies and closely linked with the church). There are plenty available, especially for the French and Napoleonic War period (1790-1815).

Claims for Old Age Pensions

Old Age Pensions were introduced in 1908 and those qualifying (aged 70) would thus have been born before 1838. Claims had to be supported by documents other than a birth certificate because civil registration only commenced in 1864. Many availed themselves of the facility the government offered to search the 1841 and 1851 censuses on their behalf to provide proof of age. The records are at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland and also on 24 microfilms 0993085 - 0993108 under FamilySearch Catalog - PLACE SEARCH - IRELAND - PENSIONS. Also see under FamilySearch Catalog - PLACE SEARCH - IRELAND - CENSUS - Census abstracts of 1841 and 1851 census of the various counties of Northern Ireland, pertaining to old age pension claim, 230 films 0258525 to 0258544. The abstracts are copies of the forms filled out from the claimant’s information which are annotated with results of the searches in the 1841 and 1851 census. Not everyone survived or remained in Ireland to qualify, but it is worth trying to see if a sibling applied, for often the whole household with names, ages, relationships to head of household and marital status is given. The system operated from 1908-1921.

Griffith's Valuation Lists

Griffith's Valuation Lists, compiled for valuation and rating (tax) purposes for houses, tenements and lands can be used as a substitute for the destroyed censuses. It covers the period 1847-1864 and contains names of tenants, lessees and owners of lands & buildings in named parishes. It even includes identifying nicknames for people bearing the same names. It is wise to note that where more than one family occupied one house then only the main tenant is listed. Griffith's Valuations are on 23 microfilms in FamilySearch Catalog - PLACE SEARCH - IRELAND - PUBLIC RECORDS - Ireland. General Valuation Office. General valuation of rateable property in Ireland, edited by Richard Griffith 1848-1861. Refer to the free LDS Resource Guide entitled The Ireland Householders Index (#34070).

Transcripts and name indexes exist. Ask About Ireland has a free name searchable index. Irish Origins has  a fully searchable online version of the lists for which you must pay. The index is also available on CD, and this may be available at your local family history society library.

National Schools Registers 1850-1950

A national system of non-denominational schools was set up in 1832, much earlier than in England (1870). The National Schools Registers 1850-1950 for over 1500 schools in the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone in Northern Ireland are extant. More than two thirds of them have pupil names.

Parish Histories

Parish histories published before 1922 frequently contain censuses of the area. Search for them on the FamilySearch Catalog, your local library network, secondhand bookstores online and the local public library or bookstore in Ireland.

Return of Owners of Land 1876

This records 32,614 owners of land of one acre or more in Ireland, identifying them by province and county, and giving their address along with the extent and valuation of their property. The Return is available on fiches 6393800-3 (7) from your FSC.

Spinning Wheel Survey 1796

This is also known as the Flax Growers Bounty List or thePremium Entitlements of the Trustees of the Linen and Hempen Manufacturers of Ireland. It lists the 52,000 people receiving free spinning wheels and/or looms for planting flax on their land. They received a loom for planting five acres of flax or four spinning wheels for planting one acre of flax that year. All counties are represented but most names are from the northern ones, but only Dublin and Wicklow are not represented. The average grant was 2 spinning wheels and Donegal received the highest number – 7,000. The surname index is on film 1419442.

Tithe Surveys 1823-1837

Those who paid church tithes to the Established Church were recorded from 1823-1837 by civil parish; there are also lists of defaulters. The Tithe Applotment Books exist for every parish in existence at that time but do not include landless labourers or urban dwellers without land, but is the nearest thing to a farm census.

Workhouse Records

The English workhouse system was imposed upon the Irish in 1838 so there are records of admissions and discharges from that time. However, the system failed miserably in Ireland because it was set up to encourage people to get out of the workhouse and get a job. The workhouse was to have conditions as poor as was consistent with health. Since there were no jobs in Ireland anyway most people preferred to die at home rather than in the workhouse. Thus even at the time of the famine Irish workhouses were only half full.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Irish Ancestor offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.