Full government censuses of the whole island were taken in 1821, 1831, 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911. The first four - 1821, 1831, 1841, and 1851 - were largely destroyed in the fire at the Public Record Office in 1922; surviving fragments are detailed below. Those for 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 were completely destroyed prior to 1922, by order of the government. This means that the earliest surviving comprehensive returns are for 1901 and 1911. The LDS Family History Library microfilmed the entire set of returns for 1901 and 1911, as well as all the surviving fragments, and these microfilms form the basis of the digitised online versions of the censuses which are now the principal means of researching them.
This census, organised by townland, civil parish, barony and county, took place on 28 May 1821, and aimed to cover the entire population. It recorded the following information:
Again organised by townland, civil parish, barony and county, this census recorded :
Very little of this survives, with most of the remaining material relating to Co. Derry in the form of enumerators' summaries. It is transcribed and imaged on the NAI census site, on FamilySearch.org and on FindMyPast.ie. The only names listed are of the heads of household, with a count of other household members. This was the first census to record religion, was therefore of interest in ongoing local sectarian arguments and quite a few local copies were made to provide ammunition. Details of locations and call numbers of any such copies will be found under the relevant county. The Derry parishes covered are given in the Derry county listing.
Unlike in the two earlier censuses, the householders themselves filled out these returns, rather than government enumerators. The information supplied was:
Only one set of original returns survived 1922, that for the parish of Killeshandara in Co. Cavan. There are, however, a number of transcripts of the original returns. The 1841 census was the earliest to be of use when state Old Age Pensions were introduced in the early twentieth century, and copies of the household returns from 1841 and 1851 were sometimes used as proof of age. The forms detailing the results of searches in the original returns to establish age have survived and are found in NAI for areas in The Republic of Ireland, and PRONI for areas now in its jurisdiction. The contents of the PRONI copy were published in Josephine Masterson's Ireland 1841/1851 Census Abstracts (Northern Ireland) (Baltimore, GPC 2010). Copies of the Northern Ireland search forms are also available at the LDS Library.
All of the Republic of Ireland forms are now imaged, transcribed and searchable at census.nationalarchives.ie, FamilySearch.org, FindMyPast.ie and Ancestry.com. The database lists around 5000 names relating to 1841 and around 59,000 relating to 1851 (see below).
There are a number of researchers' transcripts and abstracts compiled from the original returns before their destruction, and donated to public institutions after 1922 in an attempt to replace up some of the lost records. Since the researchers were usually interested in particular families, rather than whole areas, these are generally of limited value. The most significant collections are the Walsh-Kelly notebooks, which also abstract parts of the 1821, 1831 and 1851 returns and relate particularly to south Kilkenny, and the Thrift Abstracts in NAI. Details of dates, areas covered and locations for the Walsh-Kelly notebooks will be found under Co. Kilkenny in Chapter 13. The Thrift Abstracts are listed in detail in the NAI pre-1901 census catalogue, under 'miscellaneous copies'. LDS microfilm images are available via LDS Family History Centres. Counties for which significant numbers exist are given under the relevant county.
This recorded the following:
Most of the surviving returns relate to parishes in Co. Antrim, and details will be found in Chapter 13. An online transcript, of doubtful accuracy, is also available. The comments above on transcripts and abstracts of the 1841 census also apply to 1851. They are online at census.nationalarchives.ie, FamilySearch.org, FindMyPast.ie and Ancestry.com.
The official destruction of the returns for these years was commendably
thorough: virtually nothing survives. The only transcripts are contained in the
Catholic registers of Enniscorthy (1861) and Drumcondra and Loughbraclen, Co.