3. Researching an Irish Family Tree: The Irish Census(es?)

This is where my family tree changed from what had been what I was vaguely aware at age eleven to the point at which I needed a notebook. Seriously – stationery has uses as well as being an addiction problem.

Ancestry now has the Irish Census records on it but if you’re embarking on research I would definitely suggest checking the Census website itself. Ancestry has a habit of dragging up every single possibly similar name that you are searching for, leading to time spent trawling through records that might have no relevance. As sad as the page below can feel, at least it saves you time!

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The Census is great for finding traceable information: it provides the age of citizens at the time of the census, and the 1911 Census states the amount of years a person had been married if applicable. Both then provide (with a calculator) some significant years to aid research.

Tip: Age

A quick word on age that was puzzling me for the first year of Census use: I have since read somewhere that the ages on the census records aren’t entirely trustworthy. Birthdays weren’t widely celebrated aside from the middle classes so this can explain why a person who should be exactly ten years older than they were in 1901 has suddenly either lost or gained four years each way.

Tip: Forenames

So… you might be christened William, but doesn’t Michael sound nicer? When I finally got round to looking for the right Elizabeth – Stedmond (my great-grandmother on the Kinsella side) who was married by 1911 and appeared then under her married name, in the 1901 records she was either 8 or 29 and from Dublin or Wexford. I had it on authority that she was from Dublin, which to some extent ruled out the 8 year old, as no matter how many birthdays hadn’t been counted, I seriously doubted that 22 years would have passed. I searched ‘Stedmond’ on its own with the age she would have been in 1901 and found a Lillie Stedmond living with her sisters and their mother Emily. It sounds like a long shot, but what with Elizabeth’s daughter in 1911 being named Emily, I had found the right Elizabeth. I checked – and Lillie is a derivative. Maybe in a hundred years my fourth time grandchildren will be having trouble finding my mother – one of those tricky Peggy instead of Margaret derivatives. They’re two different names! So yes, it might sound hotchpotch and without proof. But once you start getting into this, you’ll find yourself looking for name patterns too.

Census records – what precious little that’s left of them are snapshots of life providing amongst the above facts, occupational details which is one of the more exciting parts. An idea of what people did! And of course the address of residence, which will probably be a whole other post on all the fun you can have with Google map screenshots.

There is a huge amount of information about the census itself on the website, though not to be bogged down with instructions or advice, I jumped straight in to search for my grandfather Michael Kinsella. He was born around 1907 and appears on the 1911 census.

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The limitations of the Census records that I would have learnt about were I to have read the website before jumping in are that the bulk of the remaining records exist only from 1901 and 1911. There are remnants for specific counties available on the website from around 1821 to 1851.

With the bulk of the reliable resource lying between 1901 and 1911 it is obviously going to be a great help if your relative was alive between those periods, as with my grandfather above. My grandmother was not born until 1914, which meant that when I searched for her parents, there was little to go on other than hoping that ancestral timing played along with the needs for later generations to find them!

Fortunately, while John Delaney in Tipperary brought up about a billion results, Bridget Delaney had married and had her first child just in time for the 1911 Census. I found them in Buolick, living with – the next most helpful fact ever, John’s mother Johanna Delaney and their daughter, Mary-Jo. As far as the Tipperary side went at that point, there was little else I could find.

Finally on the census, as soon as I found someone in 1911, I immediately looked for any named family members who would have been around in 1901. Without corroborating evidence at that time, it feels difficult to decide exactly which Michael Kinsella might have been my great-great-grandfather, and that was around about the time that I found… the Irish Church Records.

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Meant-to-be-a-writer-but-doesn't-even-blog 31 year old who keeps meaning to do "something"
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