Census and Census-Substitutes in Ireland

Census returns, being an official headcount of every living individual at a particular time, are generally a useful source for the family historian. However, in Ireland, many returns were pulped during the First World War or destroyed in a fire at the Public Records Office for Ireland in 1922 during the Irish Civil War. As a result so-called census substitutes, consisting of taxation or land returns or local censuses carried out by landlords and the clergy, form an important genealogical resource. The following is a list, in chronological order, of the censuses and census substitutes covering Northern Ireland or parts of Northern Ireland followed by links to lists arranged by county. Most of the records can be found in the (PRONI). Some can also be found in the National Archives of Ireland(NAI), the Genealogical Office (GO), The National Library of Ireland (Nat Lib), and the Representative Church Body Library (RCB Lib).


1630-1643 – The undertakers who were granted land in the Plantation of Ulster were required to muster their Protestant tenants from time to time for inspection by the government-appointed Muster Master General. Muster Rolls list the undertakers (large landlords) and the names of men which each could deliver in time of need, together with a list of available arms. No ages are shown but they probably represent lists of able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 50. The PRONI has a collection under references MIC/339, MIC/15A/52-3 and 73; also see the county list below.

1655-1667 – Sir William Petty’s Civil Survey of Ireland lists the large landlords of each townland as well as their predecessors prior to Cromwell’s confiscations of 1641. It is arranged by county, barony, parish and townland but unfortunately only part of it still survives and a transcript is available from the PRONI (T/371).

1659 – The Census of Ireland circa 1659 was also compiled by Sir William Petty. It is not a true census, giving only the names of the tituladoes (those with title to land) and the total number of persons (English/Scots and Irish) resident in each townland. Unfortunately Co. Tyrone was omitted. It was published by the Dublin Stationary Office in 1939.

1660 – The Poll Tax Returns list the people who paid a tax levied on every person over 12 years of age. They give detailed facts about individuals such as age and occupation.

1662-1666 – The Subsidy Rolls list the nobility, clergy and laity who paid a grant in aid to the King, that is, those who possessed sufficient property to be liable to the payment of subsidies which at that time formed the chief manner of direct taxation. They include the name and the parish of the person and sometimes the amount paid and the status of the person.

1664-1669 – Some of the Hearth Money Rolls from these years survive. They are arranged by county and parish, and list the name of the householder and the number of hearths on which he was taxed.

c.1680 – The Books of Survey and Distribution were compiled as a result of the wars of the mid-seventeenth century, when the English government needed reliable information on land ownership throughout Ireland in order to carry out its policy of land distribution. They are laid out by barony and parish and, although the originals were destroyed in a fire in 1711 in the Surveyors and Auditor General Office, a duplicate set can be found in the PRONI (D/1854/1/1-23).

1740 – A list was compiled of Protestant householders in parts of Co. Antrim, Co. Armagh, Co. Down, Co. Londonderry and Co. Tyrone. It is arranged by county, barony and parish but unfortunately in most cases not by townland. It contains names but no other details. A typescript copy is available in the PRONI (T/808/15258). A portion which is typed and indexed is available at the GO (Ref 539) and an unindexed portion is available at the RCB Lib.

1766 – In March and April 1766 the Government instructed the Church of Ireland rectors to prepare a return of householders in their respective parishes, showing their religion – Episcopalian (Church of Ireland), Dissenter (Presbyterian) or Papist (Roman Catholic), along with details of Catholic clergy or friars who were active in the area. The returns are varied in their level of detail. All the original returns were destroyed in the Four Courts fire of 1922, but extensive transcripts survive and are available in the PRONI.

1796 – As part of a government initiative to encourage the linen trade, free spinning wheels or looms were granted to individuals planting a certain area of land with flax. The lists of those entitled to the awards, covering almost 60,000 individuals were published in 1796 and a typescript copy of the list with a surname index of the spinning wheel entitlement is available at the PRONI (T/3419 and MF/7).

1821 – Most of the 1821 Government instigated census was destroyed in the 1922 burning of the Four Courts in Dublin. Some records remain for Co. Armagh and Co. Fermanagh and they are located in the PRONI (T/450 and MIC/5A and MIC/15A). The returns are arranged by county, barony, parish and townland and list the names, ages occupations and relationship to the householder of all the occupants, plus the acreage held by the householder and how many storeys high the dwelling house was. No information on religious persuasion was recorded.

1824-1838 – Tithe applotment books, arranged by parish and townland, list the occupiers of titheable land, but are not a list of householders. Dates vary by parish. They are available from the (Householders’ Index FIN/5A).

1831 – A similar government census to that of 1821 was undertaken in 1831 (omitting the number of storeys in the houses but including the religion of the occupants). It was also lost in the 1922 fire but returns for many of the parishes in Co. Londonderry have survived and are located in the PRONI (MIC/5A/6-9).

1841 – A government census was undertaken on 6th June 1841 following the same general lines as 1831 but the returns were compiled by the householders themselves. Additional information requested included date of marriage, ability or otherwise to read and write, details of absent members of the household and those who had died since 1831, their ages and relationships to the householder and the year and cause of their decease. Nothing relating to Northern Ireland remains.

1848-1864 – Sir Richard Griffith’s Primary Valuation of Ireland was published during these years with the date of publication varying for individual counties. It is arranged by county, barony, poor law union, civil parish and townland and lists every householder and every occupier of land. It gives name, townland address, acreage held, estimated value of the holding and from whom the land was leased. It is available in the PRONI, Belfast Central Library and the Linenhall Library.

1851 – Taken on 30th March, this government census followed the format of 1841 but added a column for religious affiliation. Returns for many of the parishes in Co. Antrim remain and are available in the PRONI (MIC/5A/11-26).

1841 and 1851 – With the introduction of the old age pension in the early twentieth century government officials used the 1841 and 1851 census returns to prove the age of the claimant. Abstracts from these searches have survived and include the name of the claimant, his or her parents’ names, the townland, parish, barony and county, age at the time of claim and age at the time of the relevant census return. The forms giving the results of the searches have survived and are available in the PRONI (T/550 and MIC/15A).

1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 – These census returns were destroyed by government order.

1876 – The Landowners in Ireland:   Return of owners of land of one acre and upwards is a record of more than 32,000 owners of land in Ireland in 1876, identifying them by province and county. A copy is available at the PRONI.

1901 – This census, taken on 31st March, is now the earliest return available for all of Northern Ireland. It is arranged by county, district electoral division and townland and lists name, age, religion, occupation, ability or otherwise to read and write, marital status, relationship to householder, county of birth or country if born outside Ireland and ability or otherwise to speak Irish. Absentees are not listed and some of the ages recorded are suspect. Details of their houses are also given – the number of rooms occupied by each family, type of roof and number of windows in the front. It is available at the PRONI (MIC/354).

1911 – This census, taken on 1st April, followed the format of the 1901 census with one important addition. Married women were required to state the duration of their present marriage, the number of children born and how many of these were still alive. This is the latest census available for public consultation but is only available in the NAI.