Millions of files offer historic snapshot


1901 CENSUS GOES ONLINE:THE EARLIEST surviving complete Census of Ireland has been put online, giving access to more than 4.5 million records from 1901 for historians, genealogists and anyone curious about their family history.

Some 850,000 households on the entire island were covered in the census, which was taken on the night of Sunday, March 31st, 1901.

Minister for Culture Mary Hanafin described the service as “an important and exciting day for people all over the world who want to trace their roots”.

She added: “In a world which is very troubled, people want to know where they are rooted and are anxious to know about their background and their heritage.”

The latest records to go online are expected to rival the popularity of the 1911 Census records, which were went up on the web between 2007 and 2009 and have since attracted more than 260 million hits and seven million individual users, in spite of the fact that it has not been launched formally in the US.

There are no further complete sets of records to make available, as most of the census records from the 19th century have been destroyed.

Those from the early part of the century were lost in a fire at the Public Records Office during the Civil War in 1922, while some later records were pulped because of a paper shortage during first World War.

The 1901 Census provide information about a household on a single sheet, covering the following categories: first name; surname; relation to head of family; religious profession; education; age; sex; occupation; marriage status; where born; if the individual spoke English, Irish or both and if the person had a disability.

Digitisation of the records has cost almost €4 million and the work has been carried out by the National Archives in partnership with Library and Archives Canada over the past five years.

Ms Hanafin said the project brought history “a bit closer to us all” in searching for our ancestors.

The 1901 census shows her own great-great-grandparents, Patrick and Jane Hanafin, were clothes dealers living with their children and grandchild in Longford.

“That’s where my interest in clothes came from,” the Minister said. Ms Hanafin undertook to do everything possible in the coming months to enhance the storage facilities available to the National Archives.

The archives’ director of special projects Caitriona Crowe said most of the interest in census records was coming from Ireland and Britain, with the US growing steadily. Despite the absence of further complete census records, other documents would shortly be made available online and free, starting with the Applotment Books from the 1820s.

History at a click - famous names revealed

ANYONE WHO has tried to trace their family history using the 1911 Census, which has been online for several years, will have no problem extracting information from the 1901 Census that is now available.

The website also provides contextual material consisting of historical commentary, photographs and digitised documents from the period, as well as links to relevant scholarly and genealogical sites.

The information in the census is fully searchable by category, so even a small tidbit of historical information can open up access to the full records.

Being vague about matters genealogical, I know only that my late father’s forbears came from Delgany in Co Wicklow. But an instant search for “Cullen” and “Delgany” reveals a house of eight Cullens in “farm 11.1”, and two of them are listed as painters, which was my father’s occupation. Mary Cullen, who was three at the time of the Census in 1901, is probably the same “Aunt Mary” I remember meeting as a child when she was in a retirement home in the 1970s.

Far more interestingly, the census lists one James Joyce, then a 19-year-old student living with his family in Fairview.

Then there’s Peig Sayers, returned under her married name of Margaret Guiheen, living with her husband Patrick and in-laws on the Great Blasket Island.

Compared with the 1911 Census, when the Gaelic revivial was in full bloom, English is in greater evidence in the earlier records.

Even the 22-year-old Pádraig Pearse (inset) makes his entry as head of household in English in the 1901 Census, while 10 years later he fills the form out in Irish.

Meanwhile, Edward (Eamon) de Valera is listed as an 18-year-old boarder in Blackrock College.

Having accessed the basic information they have sought from the census records, users can then have the entire information on the return displayed at the click of a mouse. A further click brings up a pdf of the original census record.

The returns for both censuses also give details of houses, recording the number of windows, type of roof and number of rooms occupied by each family. Each house is classified according to its overall condition. The number of out-offices and farm buildings attached to each household is also given.

In addition to returns for every household in the country, both censuses contain returns for police and military barracks, public and private asylums, prisons, hospitals, workhouses, colleges, boarding schools and industrial schools among other institutions.

Access to all information is free.

The census website is