Official census returns and census substitutes

A systematic government census of the Irish population was taken every 10 years from 1821 until 1911.

No census was taken in 1921, but the work of taking census resumed in 1926. All census returns from 1926 onwards are closed to the public for 100 years in accordance with section 35 of the Statistics Act, 1993. The 1926 census will be released to researchers after 100 years.

Census of 1821–1851

Almost all census returns for the years 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 were destroyed in the former Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) in 1922. There are some surviving returns for 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851, however. These cover parts of the following counties and census years:


Antrim 1851
Cavan 1821, 1841
Cork 1841
Fermanagh 1821, 1841, 1851
Galway 1821
King’s County (Offaly) 1821
Londonderry (Derry) 1831, (1834 revisions)
Meath 1821
Waterford 1841

In addition, there are lists of names of heads of household taken from the returns of 1851 for part of Belfast City and for Dublin City (see list of 19th century census returns in the Reading Room of the National Archives). Surviving census returns are now fully searchable online on our Census website. Searching is free of charge.

Census of 1861–1891

No census returns of individual households survive for the years 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891. Census returns for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed in 1877 after census data was analysed and the census reports published. The returns for 1881 and 1891 were destroyed in 1918.

Census of 1901 and 1911

Almost all the original manuscript returns for each household survive for the thirty-two counties of Ireland for 1901 and 1911. The returns are arranged by county, district electoral division (DED) and townland or, in urban areas, by street. The returns for each townland or street in 1901 and 1911 consist of:

  • forms titled Form A, filled in by the head of each household, giving the names of all people in that household on census night and their age, occupation, religion and county or city of birth (or country of birth if born outside Ireland); and
  • forms (titled Forms N, B1 and B2) filled in by the census enumerator official taking the census, summarising the returns for that townland or street.

1901 and 1911 census returns are now fully searchable online across all categories of information recorded on the original census forms. Searching is free of charge. As well as surname searches, the returns may be searched by religion, occupation, relationship to head of family, literacy status, county or country of origin, Irish language proficiency, specified illnesses and, in the case of 1911, child mortality. This is possible by clicking on the ‘More search options’ tab. There are no maps corresponding to the 1901 and 1911 census returns.

Census Substitutes
Official Copy Census Records

Although almost all original census returns for the years 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 were destroyed in 1922, official copies of a small number of individual returns made by staff of the former PROI, or others, prior to this date have survived. A list of 19th century copies and certified copies is available for consultation in the Reading Room. There are some surviving returns for 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851. These are all now digitised and searchable on our Genealogy website.

Census Search Forms

Census search forms contain information provided by people to enable a search to be made in the original 1841 and 1851 census for proof of age in connection with claiming an old age pension.

The Old Age Pensions Act, 1908 introduced a non-contributory pension for eligible people aged 70 and over. It was implemented from January 1909 in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. To be eligible, applicants had to be 70 years old and have an income of less than £31.10.00 per annum.

Proof of age had to be provided with an application, but as civil registration of births did not begin in Ireland until 1864, some applicants had difficulty in providing documentary evidence of age. To overcome this, searches of the 1841 and 1851 census returns, still in the PROI at this time, as well as church registers of baptism were deemed acceptable documentary evidence of an applicant’s age. The applicant had to provide their parents’ names and place of residence in March 1841 or 1851. They also had to state the age they believed themselves to have been in the appropriate year.

Forms containing this information were sent to the PROI where searches were carried out in the 1841 and 1851 original census. When a search could not find reference to the applicant, the form was annotated with ‘not found’ or ‘no trace’ written on it. Even in the case of negative searches, the census search form will provide the applicant’s version of his family members’ names and location in 1841 or 1851. Many searches were successful, and these can often provide the names and ages of every person living in the claimant’s household at the time of the relevant census.

The census search forms are organised within each county, by barony, parish, townland or urban street and name of the applicant (including maiden name, where applicable). Census search forms are now available online and can be searched for free on our Genealogy website.

Agricultural Census

The agricultural census comprises two separate documents: one a return of livestock in Country Antrim in 1803–1804, the other an account of corn in the possession of the inhabitants of County Louth, c.1800–1816. The agricultural census was taken when the country was in a vulnerable state in the aftermath of the rebellions of 1798 and 1803. Both returns form part of the archives of the Office of Chief Secretary for Ireland held in the National Archives under reference CSO/OP/153/103 and CSO/OPMA/163, respectively. The documents provide details of live and dead stock as well as corn and implements, together with the names and addresses of the owner inhabitants of the areas for which the returns were compiled.

Religious Census, 1766

Not strictly a census, but none-the-less of genealogical importance, is the Religious Census of 1766. This census was authorised by a resolution of the Irish House of Lords and consists of returns of Protestant and Roman Catholic (Papist) heads of households, listing names in each parish. Sometimes only statistical information on the numbers of Protestants and Roman Catholics in a parish is recorded, however. The returns survive in original or transcript form. For further details, see Guide to the Religious Census, 1766.

Elphin Census, 1749

This census was taken under the direction of Edward Synge, Bishop of Elphin. He was anxious to know the proportion of Protestants to ‘Papists’ in the Church of Ireland diocese of Elphin, which covers most of County Roscommon, as well as portions of County Galway and County Sligo. The original Elphin Census is held in the National Archives under reference M2464 and has been published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission as The Elphin Census, 1749 (edited by Marie-Louise Legg, IMC, 2004).

Some Inhabitants of the Baronies of Newcastle and Uppercross, Co. Dublin, c.1650

Held in the National Archives under reference M2467, this lists householders and servants organised according to parishes and townlands; the fullest entries include name, age, stature, face, hair, occupation and disability. About 4,000 names are returned. This has been published in The Irish Genealogist, vols 7–8, 1989–1993 (edited by Richard Flatman).

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