1901 and 1911

Information Given

Although these returns are very late and therefore of limited value for some purposes, the information they contain can still be extremely useful. The 1901 returns record the following:
  • name;
  • relationship to the head of the household;
  • religion;
  • literacy;
  • occupation;
  • age;
  • marital status;
  • county of birth;
  • ability to speak English or Irish.

The returns also record details of the houses, giving the number of rooms, outhouses and windows and the type of roof. Family members of those not present when the census was taken are not given. The same information was again collected in 1911, with one important addition: married women were required to state the number of years they had been married, the number of children born alive and the number of children still living. Unfortunately, widows were not required to give this information, although a good number obliged in any case. Only the initials, not the full names, of policemen, soldiers and inmates of mental hospitals are recorded.

1901 census: form A
[1901: Click for larger image]
1911 census: form A
[1911: Click for larger image]


  • Age:
    The most obviously useful information given in 1901 and 1911 is age; unfortunately, this is also the information that needs to be treated with the most caution. Precious few of the ages given in the two sets of returns actually match precisely. Indeed in the decade between the two censuses, most people appear to have aged significantly more than ten years. The introduction of the Old Age Pension in 1908 may have been influential. Of the two censuses, 1901 seems to be the less accurate, with widespread underestimation of age. Nonetheless, if used with caution the returns do provide a rough guide to age, which can help to narrow the range of years to be searched in earlier civil records of births, marriages and deaths, or in parish records.
  • Location:
    When the names of all or most of the family are known, together with the general area (but not the precise locality), it is possible to search all the returns for that area to identify the relevant family, and thus pinpoint them. This can be particularly useful when the surname is very common: the likelihood of two families of Murphys in the same area repeating all the children's names is slight. For migrants to cities such as Dublin, Belfast and Limerick, the 'where born' column can be the only clue that allows a link with earlier records.
  • Cross-checking:
    In some instances, again when a name is common, it is impossible to be sure from information uncovered in civil or parish records that a particular family is the relevant one. In such cases, when details of the subsequent history of the family are known-dates of death or emigration, or siblings' names, for instance-a check of the 1901 or 1911 census for the family can provide useful circumstantial evidence. More often than not, any certainties produced will be negative, but the elimination of false trails is a vital part of any research. An illustration will show why: Peter Barry, born Co. Cork c.1880, parents unknown, emigrated to the United States in 1897. A search of civil birth records shows four Peter Barrys recorded in the county between 1876 and 1882, with no way of distinguishing which, if any, of them is the relevant one. A search of the 1901 census returns for the addresses given in the four birth entries shows two of the four still living there. These can now be safely eliminated and research concentrated on the other two families.
  • Marriages:
    The requirement in the 1911 census for married women to supply the number of years of marriage is obviously a very useful aid when subsequently searching civil records for a marriage entry. Even in 1901 the age of the eldest child recorded can give a rough guide to the latest date at which a marriage is likely to have taken place.
  • Living relatives:
    Children recorded in 1901 and 1911 are the grandparents of people still living. The ages-generally much more accurate than those given for older members of the family-can be useful in trying to uncover later marriages in civil records. When used together with Valuation Office records or the voters' lists at NAI or DCLA, they can provide an accurate picture of the passing of property from one generation to another. Fortunately, the Irish attitude to land means that it is quite unusual for rural property to pass out of a family altogether.
  • Extended family:
    The ease of access created by having both censuses freely searchable online makes it well worthwhile to trawl for other, related households. As well as expanding the family history, this increases the chances of picking up collateral information: because members of each household were required to describe their connection to the head of the household, the names of grandmothers, cousins or in-laws can often provide excellent clues for use in other records.