Census records

Irish census records date back to 1821…

The initial Irish census was taken in 1813 but due to numerous flaws it was considered useless and destroyed. A second, more successful attempt was made in 1821 and subsequent decades until 1911 saw another census being conducted annually.

Information contained within these records varied according to year but always included at minimum all individuals’ names, ages and relationships to their head of household as well as basic data regarding their land or home.

From such extensive record keeping (done 20 years prior to all-name censuses in England, Scotland and Wales, and 30 years before in the USA), one might reasonably assume that ancestral searching during the 19th century would be straightforward.

Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Irish Census 1821 to 1911 – an Overview
Unfortunately, original census records from 1861 and 1871 were destroyed almost as soon as they were collected; perhaps due to space requirements during World War One or simply for unknown reasons (the latter might explain itself), 1881 to 1891 records were also destroyed on order from government.

Just years later, in 1922, an explosion and subsequent fire at Dublin’s Public Records Office destroyed most of the four censuses collected between 1821 and 1851, leaving only fragments surviving today.

As such, 1901 and 1911 censuses remain the only complete sets available to you for your Irish ancestry research – these have now been digitalised and made freely accessible online.

THE fire that destroyed all Irish records

Many individuals may be dissuaded from researching their Irish family history due to being told ‘all records were destroyed in 1922 fire’.

As is often the case, there is some truth to this argument.

There has been a fire, and irreplaceable documents, manuscripts and records were burned – but don’t give up hope on finding your Irish ancestors just yet! Please gather more information before giving up hope.

Gain more knowledge of what actually happened.

19th-Century Census Substitutes
Due to the destruction of virtually all 19th-Century Irish census records, family historians must rely on alternative genealogical sources during that era – these sources are commonly referred to as ‘census substitutes’.

Land records (especially Griffith’s Valuation), religious censuses, school registers and old-age pension applications can be particularly helpful as well as lists of names such as trade directories.

Before diving in and pursuing alternative avenues of research, take a moment to consider whether any fragments from Ireland’s early censuses might be worth exploring further – their value will largely depend on whether you know your ancestor’s place of origin.

Ireland did not conduct a census during 1921 due to civil unrest raging across its island, however two were taken in 1926 both north and south of Ireland.

The Irish Free State Census covered 26 of what would eventually become Republic of Ireland counties and was initially scheduled for release in 2026, however as one of several 1916-anniversary commemorative projects approved by Irish Government they plan to release this resource earlier. Unfortunately these plans have run into difficulty…
Stay up-to-date with the latest developments surrounding the 1926 census release. Unfortunately, during World War 2 all paperwork related to Northern Ireland census that included Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh London Derry Tyrone were destroyed (isn’t that amazing?!?).

At the outbreak of World War II, Britain issued its National Register. This register, gathering the names and dates of birth for all people living within households gathered by address, detailed their occupation, past experience in military services such as police or medical professions as well as any medical conditions they had previously undergone treatment for. It became a census-type registration of Northern Irish population (no such register existed for Republic of Ireland). By gathering each address’s details individually it noted full names, dates of birth and occupation for every household that lived within it, as well as any past experience such as military or medical service or profession experience or prior service experience among others.

Paperwork remains in existence and access is currently controlled through Freedom of Information laws.

If you know of people living within any of PRONI’s six counties, and wish to submit Freedom of Information applications free of charge via their regular enquiry form, PRONI offers an FOI application service which makes submitting FOI requests simpler than ever.

Do not be put off by what may seem to be an intimidating FOI process – don’t be dismayed.

Learn about the 1939 National Register.