Ireland’s census day is on the horizon. Few past census records have survived, but they are easy to access online so you can search for the roots of your family tree from home.
Most families contain at least one genealogy fan who could tell the most distant cousin exactly how they are related and where their common ancestors were born. It’s a fascinating hobby, one that demands a lot of time and relentless searching. Once upon a time, that searching involved traveling to wherever your ancestors came from – and sometimes only learning then that you had the wrong branch of the family tree.
In April, census enumerators will be visiting every home in Ireland to distribute forms. Every household is required to complete their form on April 24th to show who is under their roof that night and provide details about their age, family size, home, religious beliefs, ethnic and national origin and other information.
A census gives us a snapshot of a nation at a specific time, and it gives us the information we usually need to understand our family tree. It isn’t the only source of information; birth and death certificates, ship passenger lists, and assorted church records can also fill in the blanks. But finding your ancestors on a past Irish census gives you a good bit of information – if they were in Ireland at the right time.
Finding Your Family Tree Online
Unfortunately, few old Irish census documents have survived. The first attempt at a census in Ireland was in 1813, but that didn’t go well. The first successful census was in 1821. A census was conducted in Ireland every ten years after that until 1951, when it switched to every five years. Census records were often destroyed by both the British and subsequently the Irish government to protect privacy, and some records that were not deliberately destroyed were lost in a fire during the Irish Civil War.
The good news is that census records from 1901 and 1911 survived and are available online. They can searched at no charge. The Irish Health Service Executive now allows people to order birth, domestic adoption, marriage or civil partnership and death certificates online. Their records go back as far as 1864. Records from 1922 onward are for the Republic of Ireland only. Records for Northern Ireland can be found through the General Registration Office Northern Ireland; there is a fee to search online.
If you know the town or village where your ancestors were born and can visit, you can talk to the local church about finding old baptism, marriage or death records. The more information you have, the easier it will be. Be aware that the family name could be spelled various ways, including with an Anglo and an Irish version.