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Census records are invaluable to family historians. Not only do they provide a historical snapshot of the entire population of a country at one moment in time, but they also reveal a wealth of detailed information about each family.

However, they’re only useful if your family lived in America or the UK where census records are available all the way back to the late 1700s. If they lived in Ireland, you face more of a challenge, as almost no census records survive for Ireland.

So the family historian with Irish heritage has to be a little more creative – which of course makes the rewards all the more enjoyable.

The first census was taken in Ireland in 1821. A census was then taken every ten years thereafter until 1911. The 1921 census didn’t happen due to the War of Independence. The next, and first of the Irish Free State, (the Republic of Ireland today) took place in 1926. This 1926 census has not yet been made publicly available because the ‘100-year rule’ prevents its release until a century has passed.

At the outset of the Irish Civil War in 1922, The Four Courts in Dublin (where the census records were stored) was bombed. Apart from a few surviving fragments, the Irish census returns for 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851 were completely destroyed. To make things even more challenging, the original records for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed by the government shortly after the censuses were taken.

It sounds crazy now, but there was little interest in preserving these records back then. Due to a paper shortage during World War I, the 1881 and 1891 Irish censuses records were pulped.

Therefore, the earliest full census records to survive for Ireland which are available for public research are from 1901 and 1911. These are held by the National Archives of Ireland and are available online.

In these records you can search for your ancestors by year, surname, forename, county, townland/street, age and sex. You can also find out plenty of interesting facts about your Irish ancestors including where they lived, their occupation, their level of education and where they were born.

You never know what you might find about your Irish ancestors in these records – one 1901 return records a child’s occupation as ‘Mammy’s pet’ and another from 1911 boasts Tatters Cullen, a 3 year old dog from County Longford as a member of the family!

As most Irish immigrants came to America before 1901, you’ll probably need to use substitute records at some point to fill the gaps on your Irish family tree for this period. A great range of census substitutes can be found amongst the near-80 million Irish family records available on

Why not start to uncover your Irish roots today?

Findmypast is working in partnership with Irish Central to create expert content around Irish family history. With the largest collection of Irish family history records online and a team of expert genealogists, findmypast is the best place to discover your Irish heritage.