Irish Pension Records – Census Search Forms
An unlikely but useful genealogy resource and census subsitute.
To be eligible, applicants had to have an income of less than £31 and 10shillings per annum (£31.50), and had to 'be of good character'.
Those disqualified included people in receipt of Poor Relief, institutionalised 'lunatics', and anyone with a prison record within ten years of applying.
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.
The genealogical value of Irish 'pension' records
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 surviving documents are not really Irish pension records, nor old age pension applications.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 needed to be established to substantiate such claims.
The chosen method was for a search of the 1841 and 1851 census returns (both still in existence when the Pension was introduced) for documentary evidence of the claimants age.
The claimant had to provide their parents' names and their residence in March 1841/1851 (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.
The 'green forms'
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/-.
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 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.
Access to 'Irish pension records'
1. 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.
2. 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.
Ten shillings a week
Ten years after its introduction, the Old Age Pension was increased to 10 shillings a week.
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.
Surprisingly, the website doesn't provide a summary of what its database holds. A few years ago it held substantical collections of records for counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, Kings, Leitrim and Tyrone, and a few more for counties Limerick, Waterford and Donegal. By Autumn 2013 the geographical spread seems to have extended, and the site says it now holds 200,000 records.
3. Free online access to 'Irish pension records'
The collection of 'census search forms' held by the National Archives of Ireland has been digitised and is available free of charge on the NAI's free-to-view Genealogy website. The same records are also available free of charge on FamilySearch and FindMyPast Ireland. The collection is separate to those held by PRONI.
See my personal selection of the very best free online databases for Irish genealogy research. Click image.