Monday, May 12, 2014

Irish Census Records

Thousands of Irish census documents, many dating back to the early 19th Century, have been made available to the public online for the first time. The vast majority of pre-1922 records were destroyed in the Irish Civil War by a fire at the Public Record Office, but some of the documents that survived the fire, and others held elsewhere, have now been collated and put online. They include partial census records from 1821 to 1851, a substantial amount from counties now in Northern Ireland. Surviving documents from the 1821 census include household returns from large parts of County Fermanagh. Many of the 1831 census records for County Londonderry have survived, and a substantial amount of 1851 census documents from County Antrim also remain intact. Most of them are not the original documents, but are contemporaneous copies of census forms archived in offices in what later became Northern Ireland. The surviving documents had previously been available to order from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) but they have now been published online, to access free of charge, by the National Archives of Ireland, which undertook the project in partnership with genealogical companies, FindMyPast and FamilySearch. In total, the newly available documentation relates to more than 600,000 individuals on the island of Ireland. Many of the records are from the years leading up to the Irish famine, which is reckoned to have killed nearly one-eighth of the entire population.
For people of Irish descent, tracing their family roots is notoriously difficult because of a series of documentation disasters. Full government censuses for the whole island of Ireland began in 1821 and continued at ten-year intervals until 1911. No census was taken in 1921, because of the Irish War of Independence. However, many of the records were completely destroyed prior to 1922, by order of the British government, on grounds of confidentiality. The original census returns for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed shortly after they were taken. Documents from the 1881 and 1891 censuses were pulped during the First World War. The majority of the returns for the four censuses carried out between 1821 and 1851 were destroyed by a major fire at the Public Record Office of Ireland. When the Irish Civil War began in June 1922, the government-owned building based at Dublin's Four Courts was among the first casualties. Almost all of the records it held, some dating back to medieval times, were destroyed in bomb explosions that set fire to the office on 30 June of that year.
As a result, the 1901 and 1911 Irish censuses are the only pre-partition censuses to survive in comprehensive form. Census records are normally kept confidential and only released 100 years after the original surveys were completed. However, because so many Irish census documents have been destroyed, the 100-year rule was suspended and the public were given early access to the 1901 and 1911 censuses. Further information and other related stories can be found at

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