Irish Roots

June 7th, 2010

John Grenham

Only one topic is possible this week, the 1901 census, now available free in its entirety at www.census.nationalarchives.ie.

For anyone who had ever tried to search the 1911 returns for a town of any size, never mind a city, finding the returns for Dublin scanned and searchable two-and-a-half years ago was like opening the shutters in a darkened room. Even those who knew something of the power and versatility of databases were astonished and delighted at the quantum leap in the quality of research the census site made possible.

So we may now be a little spoilt. 1901 is the earliest surviving complete census, but there is a temptation to say "More of the same". That would be a mistake: 1901 records the end of the 19th century rather than the start of the 20th. For those born over the preceding six decades, here are first and second cousins, nieces, nephews, grandparents, aunts, uncles. Here is the stuff to re-knit dimly-remembered family connections. It offers the Irish at home the chance to explore the dizzying outer reaches of our families, but it is only when the descendants of Irish emigrants grasp the potential to do this kind of family reconstruction that the true value of these records for Irish tourism will emerge.

This is possible because the site has hit so many bulls-eyes: digitised copies of the originals; clean, intuitive search interface; scalable database architecture; fast response times. Above all, it is free, making it possible to do the kind of lateral and open-ended research that reveals previously hidden family links.

Perfection is the enemy of excellence, and neither the transcription nor the microfilms on which it is based are perfect. But the site is indeed excellent. The National Archives, and Catriona Crowe in particular, deserve the highest praise.



Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.


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