By far the most popular records in the National Archives are the household census returns for 1901 and 1911. Many people consult them in the course of researching their family history, and they are also an important source for social, economic and cultural history. The return for the Joyce family was filled out on the night of 31 March 1901. The family was living at 8, Royal Terrace, Fairview (now Inverness Road), one of the many residences occupied by them on the north side of the city of Dublin during these years. The return lists every member of the household, from the head of the household, John Joyce, aged 51, and his wife Mary (May), aged 39, who was to die just two years later, down to the youngest inhabitant, Mabel, aged 8.
James Augustine Joyce, eldest child of the family is aged 19; his occupation is listed as “student”. He was attending University College, Dublin, on St. Stephen’s Green, where he was taking English, Italian and French. He is listed as having been born in Dublin, and as being able to speak both Irish and English. Four of his siblings, George, Eileen, May and Eva, are listed as having been born in Wicklow; this reflects the family’s period in Bray, where they moved in 1887. (John Joyce said that the train fare would keep his wife’s family away.) All members of the family are listed as Roman Catholic. John Joyce’s occupation is given as “Government Pensioner”, reflecting his previous employment as a rate-collector, a job from which he had been retired in 1892. He was to commute his pension a year later to raise the money to buy a house in Cabra.
One of the most striking things about the return is the list of the Joyce children’s ages: 19, 17, 16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9 and 8. When one adds in the early death of her first child and two miscarriages, May would have been pregnant almost all the time from 1881 to 1893. Her fervent Catholicism would have prevented her, like many more women, from using contraception.