Irish Roots

January 11th, 2010

John Grenham


I know I’m going on about this, but I can’t help it. The National Archives census site (www.census.nationalarchives.ie) has just taken another quantum leap. From January 1st the 1911 has been searchable on all of the information in the original return. So if you want to know how many 40-year-old, blind, widowed, Irish-speaking Presbyterian publicans born in China there were in Co. Leitrim in 1911, just click on the “More Search Options” button. (There were none, unfortunately).

More seriously, the site now offers rich veins of information that can be mined in an almost infinite variety of ways. From the viewpoint of genealogy, it means that virtually anything can be leveraged to try to identify an individual. Even if all you know is that your great-grandfather was a John Murphy born in Limerick sometime around 1880, you can winnow out all the thirtysomething-year-old John Murphys who reported Limerick as their county of birth, and start narrowing further from there. (There were 19).

But the real wealth of the site is the opportunity it offers for local history and specialist or micro-history. Whether it’s the story of Irish lighthouse-keeping or professional photography or acting, or just blacksmiths in Mallow, whether your interest is the geographic distribution of the Plymouth Brethren or the numbers of those who refused to specify a religion in Antrim, the raw material is all now instantly available. The relaunched version is also significantly more accurate; most of the user-submitted corrections have been incorporated, with more to come.

It's a real reminder of just how enjoyable it can be to snoop on other people’s lives. One 18-year-old recruit (“W.A.”) in Wellington Barracks in Dublin was apparently a golf caddy before he joined the British Army. Who knew?


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.


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