In the last few years a significant contribution to Irish genealogical research has been made by the availability online of both the 1901 and the 1911 census. These census records are a hugely important resource particularly in view of the fact that nearly all earlier census records from 1821, i.e. the date when comprehensive countrywide census records began in Ireland, until 1851, were largely destroyed by fire at the Public Record Office (PRO) in Dublin in 1922.
Further compounding this loss of historical documentation, all census records from 1861-1891 were destroyed, probably through clerical error. Therefore, the surviving returns from 1901 and 1911 are of immense value not only to social, economic and cultural historians, but also because they are the only two complete census records that survive as a window to pre-independence Ireland.
The census records can be searched in several ways, however the most common search criteria is by name or by location. If searching by name, it is particularly important to be aware of all possible spelling variants and when no result is forthcoming to use a variety of alternatives (names were entered into the database as they were spelt on the original forms, even if spelt incorrectly).
If searching the census by location, it is important also to be aware of the administrative division used in its compilation. Locations were based on townland/street name, District Electoral Division (DED) and county. Therefore, unless you know, or have a good idea of the townland or the street name where your ancestors lived, you need to be able to narrow down the search by being able to identify in what location they lived within their county of origin. For example, if you know that your Maguire ancestors came from Co. Sligo, but you are not sure exactly where, there is very little chance of being able to locate them as 1,799 people called 'Maguire' are recorded in the 1901 census for Co. Sligo. However, if your ancestors were for example, Bodkin’s also from Co. Sligo, there is a good chance of locating them as only 5 people of this name were recorded in the 1901 census for Sligo.
Notwithstanding the seemingly complex and overwhelming administrative divisions in Ireland, the National Archives census ‘search engines’ are relatively user friendly. All our reports endeavour to trace your ancestors in the 1901/1911 census, why not have go here www.census.nationalarchives.ie