The 1841 census of Ireland

The 1841 census of Ireland

Described as a 'mile-stone' in census taking the 1841 census of Ireland broke new ground in the range of information collected and in the presentation of the results. The General Report of the First Census of the Free State in 1926 commented 'the remarkable census of 1841 merits particular attention because of its intrinsic excellence'.

Three commissioners were appointed to oversee the census
1. William Tighe Hamilton, a young lawyer from the Chief Secretary's Office.
2. Henry Brownrigg, a former army officer and Inspector of the RIC.
3. Thomas Larcom recruited from the Ordnance Survey Office.

It was Larcom who was the chief architect of the 1841 census having gained a wealth of experience in social enquiry while working for the OS survey of Ireland. The enumerators were members of the RIC and DMP supplemented by other government officials.

FORM A was distributed to each household to complete prior to census day for the 'head of household to complete'. I will use an example of the McCarter family residing at Drumnawall, Killeshandra, County Cavan as an example:

Form A gave the address as Drummawal, parish of Killeshandra in the barony of Tullyhunco in Co Cavan return number 14 household headed by Arthur McArter who was a miller. The lack of consistency in the spelling of the surname in this census return is noticeable (McCarter being used more frequently).

Form A consisted of three tables:

1. Members, servants and visitors of this family 'who slept in this house on the night of Sunday 6th of June'. Details of names. ages, sex, relationship to head of household, conjugal status, year of marriage, occupations, level of literacy and place of origin were requested.

Elizabeth McCarter aged 63 female wife married 1801 no occupation given can r&w born Co Derry
Eliza McCarter aged 24 female dau aged 24 not married no occupation given can r&r born Do
Maria McCarter aged 22 female dau married 1840 can read born Do
Arthur McCarter aged 18 male son not married Miller can r&w born Do
Joseph McCarter aged 16 male son not married apprentice miller can r&w born Co Down.

Note - what is interesting about this family is that they originally came from Co Derry and appear to have resided in Co Down for a period as a son Joseph was born there circa 1825. The head of household Elizabeth McCarter was listed as married but her husband Arthur was absent on census night. A very useful feature of this census is that the occupants were to give their date of marriage. Elizabeth McCarter stated she was married in 1801. A daughter Maria present in the household was married in 1840. This gives potential for searching church records for marriages and subsequent baptisms. Civil registration of protestant marriages was introduced in Ireland in 1845 and in 1864 for all marriages.

2. Household members who were absent and where they were residing.

The following information was given for the McCarter family

William McCarter aged 36 male son miller residing Cavan
Nancy McCarter aged 38 female dau residing Liverpool
Margaret McCarter aged 29 years female dau residing Dublin
Arthur McArter aged 66 male head of family miller residing Co Derry

Note: the return of 'absent members' of the household is a most useful genealogical detail as emigrant family members are listed and place of destination given. What is interesting here is that the head of household Arthur McArter was resident in Co Derry on census night. He may have been working there or visiting relatives.

Given the family information recorded on the search forms it was possible to locate the baptism of Arthur McCarter junior born in 1823 and the family's place of origin appears to have been the village of Moneymore (unfortunately the baptism did not record the mother's maiden name, which would have given additional useful detail.

Destertlyn Church of Ireland, Co Derry:
Arthur McCarter born 19 April 1823 baptised 20 April 1823 of Arthur & Elizabeth McCarter of Moneymore.

3. Record of family members who had died while residing in this household since the previous census on 6 June 1831. name, age, sex, relation to household head, occupation, cause of death and year of demise was requested.

The return for the McCarter family was left blank, which indicated that no one in the family had died in the household since the previous census.

The enumerators completed Form B - this recorded information about the property and the numbers of families living in each abode. Enumerators had to evaluated the quality of every house in the area and place it into one of four categories issued by the census office.

The 1841 census provides wonderful genealogical detail. Particularly useful is the data on the year of marriage and the returns for absent and deceased members of the household. The surviving returns are available on the National Archives of Ireland's website (link below).


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