Making Sense of Census

I believe most people are aware that the 1901 & 1911 census records are available online at

…… and in my November 2016 blog, I discussed the burning of many of our records at a fire in the Four Courts in Dublin during the the Irish civil war (1922-1923).  I have some additional information and a helpful guide for you that I thought you might be interested in.

It would be a genealogists dream to get hold of the 1821 census as information in relation to our relatives who lived in the 1700s would have been recorded.  However, what is done is done and we have to live with the fragments that we have. And in reality, we have only ourselves to blame.  Anti-treaty forces had occupied the Four Courts complex in April 1922, and had made the Public Record Office their munitions block, where they stored mines and ammunition.  They were asked, in person and in writing, on three occasions, to remember that the history of the country was in their safekeeping, but they did not seek another location for their munitions. When the Free State army began to shell the Four Courts in late June 1922, it was inevitable that calamity would follow and subsequently the 1821-1851 census records were mostly lost, amongst lots of other important records.

So, we can accept responsibility for not looking after the records that were left in our care when the English Government left in 1922.  However, the census records for 1861-1891 were disposed of pre-1922.  The reasons for their destruction vary from the English government needing paper during the war, a mistake by the English in assuming that if the census returns were destroyed that the enumerator’s books still existed as in England and Wales and many other theories including the fact that they wanted to destroy the documents as there would be no record of the 1 million people that died in the famine.

Anyhow, that aside, if you are seeking a relative from any of the pre-1901 fragments, you just might get lucky.

For example, this extract of the 1821 census shows the Kennedy family living in the townland of Balrothery, Dublin.  So if you are lucky enough to be related to this Kennedy family, you are very very lucky to have this record.

1821 irish census

If you would like to research these pre-1901 fragments, the best way to do so is to go to

The following options are available on the ‘Home’ page.

Most people select the option  ‘Search Census’. However, the best way to look for fragments is to select ‘Browse Census’.

When you select ‘Browse Census’, a list of the census records is displayed.

If you select say 1821, the picture on the left below is displayed.  This list represents the fragments that exist per county from the 1821 census. So, if you are looking for a relative from Cork, you can give up here – no fragments exist.  However, if you go back a page and select 1841, you can see that there are fragments of records from Cork – picture on the right below.

Using the Cork example in 1841, when I click on it, it shows only two baronies.  In Ireland in the 1800s, Ireland was mapped into counties, townlands, baronies, parishes (civil and church), DEDs (District Electoral Divisions), PLU (Poor Law Unions) and others.  It’s important in your research to understand these or where to reference these as they can be a great help in understanding where your relatives were instead of where you think they were.  I will explain this in my next blog but for the moment, only two baronies records survived in Cork

You can explore by clicking through from here, but it’s sad when you see partially burnt records like the one below from the Lynch family in Aghadown, West Carberry, Cork.

1841 Irish Census record

I hope you found this information useful and feel free to pass it on to friends and family who are interested in genealogy.  If they would like to receive my blog directly and a free ebook titled ‘a guide to tracing your irish family history’, they can subscribe using the box below.

If you have any luck with finding relatives in the pre-1901 fragments, please let me know as I’m sure the followers of this blog would love to hear your story.

Warm wishes

Making Sense of Census
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