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Thursday 18 September 2014

Census treasure trove from 'lost era' goes online

Louise Hogan and Ed Carty

Published 29/04/2014 | 02:30

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Catriona Crowe, head of special projects at the National Archives of Ireland, and Brian Donovan, director of findyourpast.ie, at the launch of the Pre-1901 Online Census records. Photo: Arthur Carron
Launch of the Pre 1901 Online Census Records at the National Archives of Ireland. Arthur Carron
Declan Donnelly. Photo: PA

MILLIONS of people worldwide are expected to access a new online treasure trove of records from a 'lost era' of Irish history.

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Most of the Census records from the early 1800s were blown-up when two huge explosions hit the Public Record Office in the Four Courts at the onset of the Civil War – forever wiping out many of the names of the eight million people living in Ireland before the Famine took hold.

But more than 600,000 names from the pre-1901 Irish Census records survived – and have now been uploaded to the internet, providing a free treasure trove of information for those eager to hunt for their ancestry.

It has already yielded a trip down memory lane for one half of the popular double act Ant and Dec.

Declan Donnelly, whose parents left Derry for England in the 1960s, can find records of his great-great-grandfather James Donnelly, who was living in the parish of Strawmore in the 1831 Census.

The head of the household was living with three women, most likely relatives, and went on to marry one of his neighbours Ellen Hagan in 1839. And it even records how the TV presenter's mother Annie Henry married his father Alphonsus Donnelly in 1960.

Catriona Crowe, head of special projects at the National Archives of Ireland, explained the names of many people "vanished from memory" with the bombings of 1922 yet the 600,000 records left still provide a snapshot of the times.

"Their importance is they are survivals from a period when people think everything was destroyed in the Four Courts in 1922 – which they weren't," said Ms Crowe.

The records show the top six jobs from 1821-51, with labourer and spinner-making up more than a third, farmer 14pc, servant 10pc, weaver 6pc and pupil at 5pc.

The records for 1841 and 1851 show 1,000 people were making a living in America – and provide information on deaths in the previous 10 years which covered the Great Famine.

Brian Donovan, of family history website Findmy past.ie, described it as an essential resource.

"For the places where they survived, they are essential – they are the gold bar of geological records," he said.

He said the records paint a picture of high infant mortality and deaths among women during childbirth.

The recently uploaded 1901 Census forms have already gathered more than one billions hits.

The records are available for free on Findmypast.ie and the National Archives website, genealogy.national archives.ie.

Irish Independent

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