Irish Pension Records - Census Search Forms
An unlikely but useful genealogy resource and census subsitute.
The Old Age Pensions Act 1908 introduced a non-contributory pension for 'eligible' people aged 70 and over. It came into law in January 1909 across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
Those automatically disqualified included those in receipt of Poor Relief, institutionalised 'lunatics', and anyone who had been in prison within ten years of applying. Discretionary refusals could also be given to those who had been convicted of drunkenness or those who, while fit and able, had a history of 'habitual failure to work'.
During the first three months of 1909, 261,668 applications were made in Ireland. By 31 March 1910, 180,974 Irish pensions were in force.
Poverty in Ireland
The Journal of the Royal Statistical Society published in December 1910 suggested that the percentage of take up among those eligibile for the Old Age Pension 'could probably be accepted as approximately indicative of the relative poverty of the population'.
The level in England and Wales was 44.7%. In Scotland it was 53.8%.
In Ireland it was 98.6%, once again demonstrating the plight of the island and central governments lack of investment in it. The pensioner with an income of less than £21 received the full pension of 5s a week. The value diminished by 1 shilling a week for every extra £2.12.6 of annual income. An income of £31.10.0 per annum meant no pension was payable.
The pension was paid on a Friday and was administered by the Post Office.
Apart from being an interesting social development and of huge importance to the elderly living in poverty, the introduction of the Old Age Pension seems, at first glance, to have little to recommend itself to the average genealogy researcher.
The data that survives from Old Age pension applications are not really Irish pension records.In England, Wales and Scotland that is probably still the case, but Irelands situation was unique.
They should be known as 'census search forms used to establish eligibility for a pension'.
But that's a bit of a mouthful so they've become known colloquially and erroneously as Irish pension records.
State registration of births did not begin until 1864 in Ireland (much later than in the rest of Great Britain), so would-be pensioners had no official documentation to prove when they were born and how old they were. A system therefore had to be established to substantiate such claims.
The chosen method was for officials to search the 1841 and 1851 censuses (both still in existence when the Pension was introduced) for evidence of the claimants age.
The claimant had to provide the names of their parents and the address where they were living in March 1841 or 1851 (when the censuses were taken).
They also had to state the age they believed themselves to have been in the appropriate year.
Pensions Officers sent the particulars of the claimant on a Form 37 to be checked against the census for the townland or address provided to see if the claimant (many of whom were children or young adults at the time) could be discovered and his/her eligibility confirmed.
Both the 1841 and 1851 censuses were held at the Public Record Office in Dublin, where officials carried out the checks and returned their findings to the local Pensions Board.
When, as frequently happened, a search could not find the claimant, the form 37 was returned with 'not found' or 'no trace' written on it. But many searches were successful, and these can often provide outstanding genealogy material.
Some officials added the names and ages of every person living in the claimant's household at the time of the census. Others, unfortunately, merely confirmed the recorded age of the claimant.
Five shillings a weekThe level of benefit not more than 5 shillings a week for a single person and 7 shillings for a married couple had deliberately been set low for two reasons.
First, to encourage people of working age to set aside sufficient funds for their own retirement. And second, to be of value to the very poorest members of society.
While not overly generous, the full pension of 5/- was a useful sum. In 1909 a labourer's weekly wage was not much more than 10/-.
The 'green forms'
Some people chose to directly commission (and pay) the Public Record Office to search the old censuses on their behalf. In these cases, the PRO staff filled in what are now known as 'green forms'.
The Green Forms are are a completely separate collection to those mentioned above, even though they contain similar information.
The collection originally dated to 1909 but the first five years' of records were eventually pulped. However, the majority of green forms from 1915 to April 1922 survive.
Census Search Form 37s
Most of the Form 37s used by local pension boards are held by PRONI, in Belfast. They relate to people living in Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Derry, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Tyrone at the time of their pension applications and include those who had been born or spent their childhood in other counties. They are also available on microfilm, courtesy of the LDS, in PRONI's self-service microfilm room, and their contents were published in two books by Josephine Masterson (see right-hand column).
An additional collection of Form 37s is held by the National Archives of Ireland, in Dublin, covering most of counties Cavan and Fermanagh.
Census Search Green Forms
The 'green forms' are also held by the National Archives of Ireland in Dublin. County-by-county indexed books are readily available in the Reading Room.
Several thousand of these green forms have been transcribed privately and made available online at Ireland-Genealogy. Each record contains at least three names the applicant and his/her mother and father and many records contain additional names (siblings, grandparents etc) that can help your genealogy research.
Searching is free. To view a full transcript of a record costs GB£2. Payment is made by PayPal and the results forwarded by email.
Strangely, the website doesn't provide a summary of what its database holds. As far as I can ascertain or see on the site, it holds a complete set of records for counties Antrim, Armagah, Down, Fermanagh, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, Kings, Leitrim and Tyrone. It seems to have an incomplete set of data for Donegal, Limerick and Waterford. I don't know the status of the remaining counties. At May 2011 it appears to hold the details from about 37,000 Green Forms
Fraudulent pension claims
All systems are open to abuse, and the late start to civil registration in Ireland provided the argument for many of those who chose to brazen out a fraudulent application.
However it is worth bearing in mind that while some may have lied about their date of birth, many elderly people simply did not know exactly when they were born.
It had never been particularly important before. They had a rough idea of how old they were, but nothing precise.
However, there is no point denying that many bogus claims were submitted.
In the year after the first pensions were paid out, some 38,495 pensions were revoked.
Up to 1909, what little care was provided by the state came via the Poor Relief (which carried a stigma) or the dreaded Workhouse.
Such was the pension's novelty that long queues formed outside Post Offices on the first day of payments, as families, friends and neighbours ferried their elderly into town to collect their cash, and large groups of spectators gathered to watch them do so.
In Ennis, co Clare, the crowds and queues grew so big and excited that the police were called in to keep control.
Increase to 10 shillings
Ten years after its introduction, the Old Age Pension was increased to 10 shillings a week.
Pounds, shillings and pence
In 1909, Ireland's currency was British Sterling. One pound (£) was divided into 20 shillings (20/-), and shillings were divided into 12 pennies (12d).
The sum of five pounds, ten shillings and 6 pennies was usually written as £5.10s.6d, while a sum of just ten shillings and 6 pennies was more usually shown as 10/6 (and informally known as 'ten and six').
Both Britain and Ireland went metric in 1971, disposing of shillings and pennies but keeping the pound (or punt, in Irish). Each shilling became five pence (5p).
The Republic of Ireland converted to the Euro in 2002. Northern Ireland still uses Sterling. More about Ireland's money systems.
Published in book form
The PRONI collection of so-called Irish pension records were published by Josephine Masterson in two books:
These two books are widely available in genealogy research libraries around the world.