Ireland Census

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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:

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 the dwelling had.

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.

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.

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.

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. (FHL book Ref 941.5 D27i.)
  • Ryan, James G. Irish Records: Sources for Family & Local History. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 1988. (FHL book Ref 941.5 D23r.)

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.

  1. Go to
  2. Click on the link to the Family History Library Catalog.
  3. Click Place Search.
  4. Type the name of a parish and click Search.
  5. Click on the name that matches your request.
  6. Scroll down and click the topic of Census.
  7. Click on a title.
  8. 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.  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

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

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. (FHL 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 the Family 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.

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.

Some ministers took 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. (FHL book Ref 941.5 D27i.)
  • Grenham, John. Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide. Dublin, Ireland: Gill and Macmillan, 1992. (FHL book Ref 941.5 D27gj.)
  • McCarthy, Tony. The Irish Roots Guide. Dublin, Ireland: Lilliput Press, 1991. (FHL 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. (FHL 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. (FHL 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:



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, age, and value of the property of the individuals they list.

Old Age Pension Records

Old age pension records were kept by the Irish government starting in 1909 for individuals who filed a claim for an old age pension. Anyone filing a claim had to provide proof of birth or age. In the early days of the program, many people filing claims had been born before civil registration began in 1864. Consequently, they had to find other proof of their birth or age. Church records of baptisms or christenings were hard to find or did not exist. The government decided to accept copies of the 1841 and 1851 census records of these individuals as proof of age. As a result, old age pension records preserve some of the information from the 1841 and 1851 censuses, which were largely destroyed in 1922.

Most of the surviving old age pension claims are for Northern Ireland and are filed at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Some surviving claims for the Republic of Ireland are held at the National Archives. The Family History Library's copies of Irish old age pension records are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under


Tithe Applotment (taken 1823-38) and Griffith's Primary Valuation (taken 1848-64)

Tithe Applotment books, Griffith's Primary Valuation records, and later land valuation records are valuable census substitutes, because they record the names of the owners or occupiers of the land. For more information on these census substitutes, see the "Taxation" section of this outline.

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