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BellaOnline's Irish Culture Editor

Finding Your Irish Ancestors

Finding your Irish ancestors has never been easier. The online resources alone have become so sophisticated that research that would have taken many miles, dollars, and countless hours can be performed in minutes at your own computer. Online communities as well, contribute by offering insights and personal experiences that will help you to find exactly who your people were and fascinating facts about their lives and times. You don't have to be a professional genealogist or historian to find your forebears, just a little curious.

Ireland is rich with history and our Irish ancestors lived it. Seeing your own name on the 1901 or 1911 Irish Census is a breath-taking experience, but then, if you find that the babies of that census were people you knew growing up, the old folks, it takes on an entire life of its own.

The Irish census records for 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 were completely destroyed prior to 1922, by order of the government. (That in itself, is a curious bit of data.) Because of this, the 1901 and 1911 censuses have been released to the public before the usual 100 years. Many of the pages are now on the web with more to come, and the entire collection can be viewed on microfilm in the National Archives of Ireland.

The 1911 Census Day was April 2, 1911. Over 4,000 census takers were employed to collect the forms from every house. Every head of household was listed, as were the members of house. The name and surname, relationship to the head of the house, age, education, marital status, occupation, place of birth...these are normal census questions, but then comes the rub. Ireland was British property at the time, and the Irish form was quite different from the one distributed elsewhere in Britain. First, there was the question of religion for every person. There was no mention of this on the British form. On the Irish form there was a question asking if the person spoke Gaelic. Then, in Ireland it was asked whether people could "Read and Write," "Read Only," or "Cannot Read." Finally, it was asked if the person was "deaf and dumb", "dumb only," "blind," "imbecile or idiot," or "lunatic." Questions not asked in Britain.

The Census is just one tool in researching Irish ancestors. What is most exciting about this particular tool is its compass. These archives are newly available online, and make particularly interesting reading...especially when you look at the county where Granny was born and see her very own name on the register...and her just 6 months old!

Looking for ancestors requires patience and optimism, but once you start to look, you will expand your knowledge of your family's background, life in Ireland in the old days, and acquire the skills of a historical researcher.

Good luck!

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