Census returns

This guide was last updated in 2014

The 1901 and 1911 census represent the only complete surviving census returns for Ireland, despite the fact that the taking of a national census commenced in 1821.

Of the two surviving returns, the 1911 census is the most informative because it includes the length of time a couple were married as well as the number of children born to a family and the number of children still living. It may be a surprise to learn that your ancestor survived when eight or nine of their siblings perished.

The 1901 and 1911 census returns are freely available online at www.census.nationalarchives.ie. When searching the census, you will need to use the exact spelling of the name as recorded on the return. Some Irish surnames can have different spellings, such as McDonagh, MacDonagh, McDonough, etc. Try using wildcards to make sure you locate all possible variant spellings of the name.

If you find your ancestor in the census, always check the House and Building Return, Form B1, which recorded a description of their dwelling house. This can help to establish their social standing. Were they a family of fifteen crammed into a two room tenement or wealthy farmers in a large stone farmhouse?

Another potentially useful census for 20th-century Ireland is the 1922 Army Census. Completed in November 1922, this census identifies all soldiers serving with the Free State Army, a not inconsiderable force at this time. The return recorded their place of birth as well as the name and address of their next of kin. The census can be found on the website of the Irish Military Archives at www.militaryarchives.ie/en/home.

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