Ireland's census records had always presented family history reseachers with one major problem: the lack of a name index. So the best Irish genealogy news in years came in 2005 with the announcement of a collaboration between the National Archives in Dublin (NAI) and Library & Archives Canada to digitise, index and publish online both the 1901 and 1911 paper census returns.
Were Irish family historians the world over really going to be able to access such an important collection from their own computers? Yes, indeed. But it couldn't be done overnight.
The lengthy process of digitising the census records was completed on 2 June 2010 when the 1901 returns were uploaded to join the 1911 returns on the National Archives of Ireland's Genealogy website.
Not only can the database be searched by name and location (the latter being particularly useful when you want to search for neighbouring extended family within the townland), if you use the 'More information' button on the Search form, you can narrow down your search by occupation, marital status, religion and several other useful filters.
In December 2007, the National Archives of Ireland released the 1911 census records for Dublin online. A second batch of records was promised for the following summer.
In December 2008 - six months late - the 1911 census returns (plus
historical photos and essays) for counties Antrim, Down and Kerry were also released online and was warmly welcomed.
With the December 2008 releases, the NAI confirmed their commitment to completing the project in 2009. Researchers were advised that the 1911 census records were to be placed online in three tranches before the end of summer while the returns for 1901 census were expected to be placed online in one fell swoop at the end of 2009. As with the Dublin, Antriim, Down and Kerry 1911 releases, contextual materials would to accompany the releases of some of the major urban population bases such as Cork.
On 29 July 2009 the National Archives of Ireland announced that the second of this year's tranches of releases (due 'mid-July') was delayed for over one month in order to achieve the required level of accuracy. The revised date of release was 'late August'. The date for the third tranche of releases was also knocked on by one month to 'late September'.
On 28 August 2009 family historians all over the world were taken by surprise when the National Archives of Ireland released 1911 census records for all the remaining counties.
On 29 December 2009 a redeveloped site went live to allow new search options for all 1911 census records including: Relationship to Head of Household, Literacy, Occuptation, Marital Status, County/Country of Origin, Language Proficiency, Specified Illnesses, Number of Years Married, Number of Children Born, and Number of Children Living. In addition, it was announced that the 1901 census records, with all data transcribed, would be launched between early- and mid-2010.
On 11 March 2010, at a seminar in Dublin, the NAI's project leader advised that the 1901 census would be online by the middle of June. Unlike the 1911 release, the 1901 records for all 32 counties was going to be released in one fell swoop. However, due to staff shortages at the National Archives, transcriptions and digitised images will not have been thoroughly checked before release.
On 17 May 2010 a date was announced for the online release of the I901 returns: Thursday 3 June. On 2 June 2010, one day earlier than advertised, the 1901 census of Ireland was released online and Irish family historians never looked back.
In September 2017 genealogist John Grenham MAGI announced that he was starting a long overdue project to correct mis-transcriptions in the online census database. It was to take him more than a year to wade through a huge backlog of researcher-submitted corrections and, if verified, amend the indexes.
March 2019: See John's comments on the completion of this project.