"This is the year to come home.”

That was the message being delivered to a gathering of Irish and Irish American business people and community leaders at the official U.S. launch of the website containing the full 1901 Census of Ireland Records at the Irish Consulate in New York City on Monday, June 28.

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin was on hand in New York on Monday to launch the online census which accounts in detail the names, ages, occupations and much more of households across the 32 counties of Ireland in 1901.

Hanafin’s message was clear; visit the online site and research your ancestors then visit Ireland to meet with relatives and learn more about where you came from.

“I’ve no doubt that many will be encouraged to research their Irish heritage and then follow up with a visit to Ireland to rediscover their roots,” said the Minister.

Hanafin said loud and clear that this was the year to visit Ireland.

“It’s never been better value. Accommodation is great value, food and drink is cheaper than it has even been so there is no reason why you shouldn’t want to come to Ireland and find your ancestors,” she added.

The 1901 census is the earliest surviving complete government census returns. The vast bulk of earlier census returns were destroyed over time with several records lost due to a fire in 1922 at the office of Public Records.

Over 4.5 million individual records from the returns made by some 840,000 households on the census night in 1901 are available free of charge and can be accessed across the world via the website.

Hanafin told the Irish Voice that over 40 million people in the U.S. claim Irish ancestry and the census that is nearly a century old “will certainly prove to be an invaluable resource in reaching out to the Irish Diaspora here.”

Said Hanafin; “The 1901 census online records have proved immensely popular since it was launched in Dublin at the start of this month, with already a spectacular response from the public with over 750,000 visits and nearly 11 million hits.

“Tonight’s launch in the U.S. will serve to provide vital information to Irish Americans who have eagerly waited the change to further pursue their family history and now they will be in a position to research all of the detailed information that the online records provide.”

Hanafin said the census is “proof” of a person’s heritage.

“You always knew where they (ancestors) came from but here is the tangible link – the proof of it,” she said.

Caitriona Crowe, Head of Special Project at the National Archives in Dublin also spoke at the launch. Crowe, who has worked on the project for many months, described the website as “easy to read.”

Crowe detailed the various categories people may wish to search under; “first name, surname, relation to the head of the family, religious profession, education, age, sex, rank/profession or occupation, marriage status, where born, whether the individual spoke Irish or English or both and if an individual had a disability,” she said.

“People want more than just a name. They want to know the occupation of their families, what the neighbors did, their living conditions, the issues of the day and so forth.”

Joe Byrne, Executive Vice President, Tourism Ireland U.S. and Canada welcomed the minister to New York and reiterated the sentiments “this is the year to come home.”

Byrne outlined a large-scale marketing campaign that’s being put in place to invite people to come and visit Ireland in the next few years.

“Its our job to help spread the world, “ said Byrne.

“Why is this year a good time to visit home,” he asked, answering, “because there has never been better value for money. It’s fun and there are so many exciting things to do and it’s never been as easy to get to.”

Hanafin agreed, “From the coast to the midlands, to the historic city of Dublin, there is a raft of wonderful things to see and do and I would encourage everyone to come visit us this year.”

For more information visit www.discoverireland.com.

Full details on the 1901 census are available on www.census.nationalarchives.ie

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin met with Ireland’s Culture Ambassador Gabriel Byrne in New York this week