Using the 1901 and 1911 Censuses Online
Both 1901 and 1911 censuses are online at www.census.nationalarchives.ie
NAI has also licensed full copies of the database (without images) to the subscription sites Ancestry.com and FindMyPast.ie. Their versions are free to search, without registration on Ancestry, after free registration on FindMyPast. They have a number of advantages over the NAI site. Both use surname variants by default, so a search for 'Burke' will also find 'Bourke', for example, and both allow a search to cover multiple members of a household, for example fetching all returns that include a John Byrne listed as father and a Patrick Byrne listed as son. This can make it easier to zero in on potentially relevant returns. The NAI and Ancestry versions are currently the only ones to include more than 100,000 corrections made since 2017. Since the NAI version offers the fullest search flexibility it is the version covered in detail below.
A complete database transcript of all Forms As (the household returns) is searchable, with search results linked to images of the original return, to the enumerator's abstract for the townland or street (Form N), to the House and Building Return (Form B1), which gives details of the nature of the dwelling and the names of landholders for each household, and to the Out-Offices and Farm-Steadings Return (Form B2) for farms.
The images were created from the LDS microfilm copies of the originals. This means that the sequence of images online follows the sequence on the microfilm, which in turn follows the arrangement of the originals: the returns for each townland or street are grouped together and preceded by the Form N, Form B1 and, if one exists, Form B2. There is no facility on the site to browse through the returns sequentially, as they appear on the microfilm, but it is possible to do this simply by adding or subtracting 1 from the file number (starting 'nai' ) in your browser's address bar, or by using the census browsing tool at swilson.info. This can be useful if you suspect that a household return has been omitted from the transcription. At the time of writing, a significant number of returns, particularly related to single-street villages, remain untranscribed, but it is possible to track down the images. Shane Wilson has developed a useful free browsing tool for the site.
One further consequence of the use of the microfilm copies is worth keeping
in mind: the microfilm of 1901 omitted the reverse of the majority of returns. This
is where specific place-identifying information was recorded-street numbers,
townlands, parishes-and its omission is regrettable. However, almost all the
information can be reconstructed from the enumerator's abstract (Form N).
Unlike most if not all the overseas census material now searchable online, the
Irish 1901 and 1911 returns are the originals filled out by the householders
themselves and have a vivid immediacy that can be very poignant.
The search form
The search function on the site is very powerful and very flexible. A few points
need to be kept in mind:
- Every single item recorded on Form A is searchable. This means that virtually
any information already known can be leveraged to identify a relevant return.
For example, there were 736 John Byrnes in Dublin in 1911. But if you know
that your John Byrne was married and had two children in 1911, the number
of potential candidates is immediately reduced to just 14. Sometimes thinking
laterally is useful. An unusual sibling's name, a specific occupation, a cousin
who joined the Plymouth Brethren - virtually anything recorded by the
census can be used as the key to finding the right household.
- The search form has an ambivalent relationship with wild cards and spaces. Entering 'Abbey Street' (without the quotation marks) in the Townland/Street field and selecting Dublin as the county will return all townlands or streets in Dublin city and county that contain either 'Abbey' or 'Street', which is not much use. Entering 'Sackville Street' (with the quotation marks) will return all townlands or streets that contain those exact letters, so 'Sackville Street Upper', 'Sackville Street Lr.' but not 'Sackville St.' The '*' wild card can be used in any text field to represent any sequence of letters, so 'Mor* ' will return Moran, Morin, Moriarty ... But it is not possible to use the wild card at the beginning of a word, so it is impossible to search for all surnames ending in 'orum' , for example. The DED (District Electoral Division see below) can be used to search large towns: entering 'Clonmel', for example, returns all entries for Clonmel East Urban DED, Clonmel West Urban DED and Clonmel Rural DED.
- There is no surname variant function on the site and, as with the Townland/Street search, by default all entries that include the sequence of letters entered as a distinct word are returned. Searching for 'Mahon' returns all Mahons and 'Mc Mahons' (with a space) but no 'McMahons' (without a space). The site does give ample warning of the slipperiness of both surnames and placenames.
The 'browse' function and DEDs
The site also allows users to browse by geographical area. The hierarchy used is:
County =>District Electoral Division =>Townland/Street.
District Electoral Divisions originated as subdivisions of a Poor Law Union, grouping together a number of townlands to create a constituency for the election of members to a Poor Law Board of Guardians. As the Poor Law was funded by property taxes, the aim in creating the DEDs was to have areas that produced roughly similar tax takes. This meant that their boundaries ignored natural community borders, such as counties or parishes. It also means that it can be difficult to work out the geographical relationship between DEDs. The only readily accessible map of DEDs dates from the 1930s and can be found on www.loganim.ie , under 'Resources'/'Toponymy'/'Boundaries'.
In urban areas the problems posed by DEDs are even more acute. A boundary
could run down the middle of a street or bisect it in other ways, with a slightly
different spelling in the other DED. The only way to reconstruct all the returns for
a particular street is to use great care and many wild-card searches in the
The civil parish place-name listings on this site are based on the 1851 Townlands Index and have direct links to the corresponding 1901 and 1911 DEDs on the NAI site. This site also provides click-through maps of the surnames of heads of household in each DED.
A map from the 1930s showing the boundaries of DEDS (and local registrars' districts) is available on the placenames site www.logainm.ie.
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