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Irish census records date back to 1821, but...

Other than a few 19th-century fragments,
only the 1901 and 1911 records survive

Irish Census records


Four Courts, Dublin
The Four Courts building on the River Liffey, Dublin.

The first Irish census was taken in 1813 but had so many flaws that the records were deemed useless and destroyed. A second, more successful, attempt was made in 1821 and a census was subsequently held every decade until 1911.

The information contained in these census records varied according to the year but always included at least the names of all individuals, their ages and their relationships to their head of household, plus some basic data about their land or home.

You could reasonably expect that as a result of such extensive record-taking (which started 20 years before all-names censuses were taken in England, Scotland and Wales, and 30 years before the USA), ancestral search through the 19th century would be a breeze.

Sadly, that is not the case.

1821 to 1911

The original census records for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed shortly after they are collected, and for some inexplicable reason (possibly for something as prosaic as a need to create additional storage space), the records for 1861 to 1891 were pulped, by government order, during the First World War.

Just a few years later, in 1922, an explosion and subsequent fire at the Public Records Office in Dublin destroyed most of the four censuses taken from 1821 to 1851. Only a few fragments of these censuses survive.

This means that the Irish censuses of 1901 and 1911 are the only complete sets available for your ancestor search. These have now been digitised and released, free, online, and you'll find links to detailed pages and blank transcription forms in the Related Pages box at the top of the right-hand column of this page.

19th-century census substitutes

Because virtually all of Ireland's 19th century census records were destroyed, family historians must instead rely on other genealogical sources for that period. These are collectively known as 'census substitutes'.

The most useful are land records (especially Griffith's Valuation), religious censuses, school registers, old-age pension applications and other miscellaneous lists of names such as trade directories.

Before you start looking into those alternatives, though, take a look to see if any of the fragments of Ireland's earliest censuses are worth pursuing. Their potential value will depend largely on whether or not you know your ancestors' place of origin.

See the links in the Related Pages box, top right.

1920s

An Irish census wasn't taken in 1921 due to the civil war which was raging throughout the island at that time. However, one was taken in 1926 in both north and south.

  • The Irish Free State Census covered the 26 counties that became the Republic of Ireland. The census returns are scheduled to be released in 2026 but the Irish Government has approved plans to release the resource early, as one of the major 1916-anniversary commemorative projects. These plans are not going smoothly...
    See the latest news about the 1926 census release.
  • The paperwork from the 1926 Census of Northern Ireland was destroyed during WW2. (Unbelievable, isn't it?)

1930s

The UK's wartime National Register: Taken just weeks after Britain declared war on Germany, this register of the population of Northern Ireland was a census in all but name.

The paperwork survives and access to it is currently controlled by Freedom of Information laws. If you have the names and addresses of individuals living in the six counties, you can make an FOI application, free, via PRONI. The FOI procedure is not in the slightest difficult, so don't be put off. More about the 1939 National Register.




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THE FIRE that supposedly burnt all the Irish records


Many people are put off researching their Irish family history because they are told 'all the records burned' in a fire during the Civil War.

As is usually the case, there is a shred of truth in this. There was a fire. And irreplaceable records were reduced to ashes. But get the whole story before you give up on your Irish ancestors, please.

Find out what really happened to Ireland's genealogical heritage on 30 June 1922.

 



 

Free census forms


When carrying out genealogy research using the 1901 Irish census, transcribe all the details of your ancestors onto these free blank census forms.

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