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Irish Census Records - What Exists and Where to Find Them?

In recent weeks, we have examined some of the difficulties in finding our Irish ancestors. We’ve established that one key and initial step in locating your Irish family lies in understanding the Irish landscape and placing your ancestors in the proper county, townland and parishes. Once you have determined the location of your ancestor’s home, it’s time to turn your attention to what census exists for those counties and where you can find them.

You would think with location in hand you would be armed and ready to find an extensive list of census documents. However, that is not likely the case. A census of the Irish population was taken every ten years from 1821 until 1911. The original census returns for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed shortly after they were collected, likely for storage space. The records for 1861 to 1891 were pulped by government order, during the WWI. And of course, the infamous fire, in 1922 that destroyed the Public Records Office in Dublin taking with it most of the four censuses from 1821 to 1851 leave many family historians just a little frustrated.

Records for 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 no longer exist. However, small fragments of the 1821-1851 censuses have survived for the following counties. If you know your ancestors location (am I nagging yet) then perhaps you can find them in some of the few census records that exist for this period in these locations.

They are as follows.

Antrim 1851
Cavan 1821 and 1841
Cork 1841
Fermanagh 1821, 1841 and 1851
Galway 1821
King's County (Offaly) 1831 (supplemented 1834)
Londonderry (Derry) 1831
Meath 1821
Waterford 1841

Where to find themGenealogybranches.com provides a great list of links for all partial Irish census returns available online.

The 1901 and 1911 census returns are intact, are now fully searchable online, and free of charge at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/. The returns are searchable by religion, occupation, relationship to head of family, literacy status, county or country of origin, Irish language proficiency, specified illnesses, and child survival information.

An Irish census wasn’t taken in 1921 due to the civil war, however, one was taken in 1926, it is hoped to be released in 2026. However, since the 1911 Irish census was released earlier, there is hope this census will also be available at an earlier date.

Because of the loss of so many census records, many family historians seeking Irish records have turned to “census substitutes” in the hopes of finding some significant information. The most important records to examine include land records, religious censuses, school registers, old-age pension applications and trade directories. The major census substitute for Ireland is Griffith’s Primary Valuation. This document is an Ireland property survey published county by county between 1848 and 1864. It was arranged by county, barony, Poor Law Union, civil parish and townland (location, location,location again) and includes an assessment of the value for every property within those boundaries and the name of each occupier.

My favourite website for searchinng Griffith Primary Valuation is at askaboutireland.ie.

If you want to understand what information can be learned from the Griffith Evaluation then I suggest you examine The Irish Genealogy Toolkit they offer a sample page and explanation of its content.

Other census substitutes include Tithe Applotment books, Estate Records and Registry of Deeds.

Tithe Applotment books are another important census substitute. In 1823, in an effort to revise the system of tithes payable to the Church of Ireland a valuation was carried out. Records contained in the Tithe Applotment books are arranged by townland (don’t mean to beat a dead horse) and list the names of the each land occupier, the size and quality of their land, and the tithe deemed payable. This was an attempt to determine how much would be payable by each landholder. The Tithe Applotment Books record the occupiers of tithe-eligible land, not householders. It was not a population census.

Estate Records include information about the wealthy families who owned large sections of land. They are useful because they can often name domestic staff, farm hands and craftsmen as well these wealthy families were landlords granting leases to tenant farmers and labourers.

Registry of Deeds covers mostly the 1750 to 1830 period, they are only valuable if your ancestors owned land and since the majority of the population did not, they may not be of use to you. However, if your ancestors did own land then you may find them extremely helpful because they often will name 2-3 generations.

In future posts, we will examine closer Tithe Applotment books, estate records and registry deeds in more detail as we move closer to finding your Irish ancestors.

Related Reading
Irish Genealogy - You'll Need More Then Luck
Irish Genealogy - Step One - Determining Where Your Ancestors Lived

A great book for learning more about Irish Genealogy can be found in John Grenham's Tracing your Irish Ancestors, the Complete Guide (3rd edition, Dublin, 2006).

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