Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland
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Gleanings from the censuses of Ireland, 1813-1851

Curated by Dr Brian Gurrin.

About this Collection

The loss of the pre-Famine Irish census records was a tragedy, personal details of millions of people went up in smoke. But now, careful detective work is uncovering some of these lost lives. Before the fire of 1922, family historians had copied details of many individuals and families, and sometimes even of entire districts, from the original records. These transcripts – often just scribbled notes and jumbled jottings – are turning up in archives and libraries. While they are only a tiny fraction of what was lost, each transcript is one more piece of the jigsaw. Dr Brian Gurrin, Research Fellow in Census and Population Records, is busy hunting down these copies (he has gathered 50,000 names so far!). Every name that can be deciphered and placed in a precise location will be made public in 2025 – but for this year, to whet the appetite, we are making 4,000 names from the census of 1821 available. Browse this collection, with sample households from every province, and stay tuned for many more names (over 200,000 according to current research) coming on stream in 2025. 


The first statutory census of Ireland commenced in May 1813, although it failed to fully enumerate the national population. The next national census, held in conjunction with the third census in Britain, took place in 1821. Despite the failure of the inaugural survey, the second census was hugely ambitious, aiming to record the names and details of all inhabitants of Ireland. When it was completed the names of 6.8 million Irish citizens had been recorded. By the time the Public Record office opened, in 1868, four more national censuses had been taken in Ireland, in 1831, 1841, 1851 and 1861, and the returns for the first three of these, along with the outputs from the 1813 and 1821 surveys, were moved to the archive, where they perished in 1922.

What do the records contain?

Modelled on the British censuses of 1801 and 1811, the first Irish statutory census (1813-15), was a modest undertaking, requiring enumerators (typically barony high-constables) to return abstract numerical demographic statistics for their areas. In spite of this, the enumeration did not take place in some areas, with some entire counties defaulting. The failure to report a national population meant that no results from Ireland’s first statutory census were officially published.

The second national population inquiry, held in 1821, was ground-breaking in terms of its scope and its aims. The British approach was rejected in favour of a complete census of the country, requiring the enumerators, whose credentials were verified in advance of appointment, to record the names, ages, and occupations of all inhabitants in their respective areas. The details of 6.8 million citizens were recorded, and ultimately bound into 479 weighty volumes, which were stored in the Record Tower in Dublin Castle, and abstract results from the survey were published to parish level.

The 1831 census represented a backward step, requiring enumerators to record only the names of the householders, with numerical details taken for remaining household members. Because of this, only about 1.385 million names were recorded in 1831. As occurred after the 1821 census, one volume of 1831 parish-level statistics was also published.

As was typical of the time, the 1813, 1821 and 1831 censuses were canvassed inquiries, with enumerators going from house to house, questioning the occupants, and recording the required details. In 1841 a new approach was taken, with household census forms distributed in advance, for literate householders to complete themselves. Since 1841, all Irish censuses have employed the self-enumeration approach. The 1841 and 1851 censuses recorded the names of 8.175 million and 6.552 million names of citizens respectively. Thus, about 23 million names were recorded in the five censuses which were located in the Public Record Office. Following the 1841 survey, for the first time, the abstract demographic statistics were published to townland level.

Although some original records have survived from four of these five censuses (the 1831 census was completely destroyed) the vast majority of the census records have been lost. Unexpectedly, however, the census returns proved popular with record agents and genealogists, and thousands of extracts were taken from the returns before they were destroyed. The introduction of the Old Age Pension in 1909 further boosted their importance, and thousands of applications were received at the Record Office for certified extracts from the returns, by people trying to prove their eligibility for welfare payments. It is intended that many of the surviving extracts and abstracts from the first five censuses (1813-1851) will be made available in digital format for use by researchers. Researchers will have access to the published reports, statistical data, never previously published, and a significant body of household extracts.

A new framework for old data

Making details gleaned from the lost censuses accessible to local researchers requires careful planning. How to attach every found name to its correct address and for the relevant census year? An entirely new framework was needed. So, a major part of our research involves creating a robust structure, showing provinces, counties, baronies, statutory parishes, and townlands for the entire island of Ireland, which can accommodate thousands of names across multiple censuses. The initial results, shown in the sample data released in June 2024, are working well. We look forward to revealing the entire set of names gleaned from census transcripts in 2025. Watch this space! 

A typed copy of abstract details from the 1813 Census of Ireland for Inch parish, Co. Down. The original record was destroyed in 1922 but this copy survives in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). The transcript is incorrectly dated 1812, the year the Act passed through parliament. Ref: PRONI T808/15014, f. 127.

Robert Pillow used an accounts ledger book to record a list of names from the 1821 census for parts of County Armagh. The explosion and fire of 1922 destroyed million of records from 1821, happily this copy survives in PRONI T636/1.

Thanks to the work of genealogist Philip Crosslé, and some careful deciphering to read his handwriting, these names from the 1821 census for Desertegny, Co Donegal were saved from oblivion. They are now held in The National Archives, Ireland. Ref NAI Crosslé Genealogical Collection, Smith notebook, III, pp 262-278.

Collection Name: Census Gleanings

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