A vivid portrait of life in early 20th Century Ireland emerged yesterday as public access was granted for the first time to digitised records of the 1911 Census.
Using the National Archives website, those living here and the Irish Diaspora, estimated at 70 million people spread across the globe, can search for their ancestors by name.
The first phase of a project to digitise both the 1901 and 1911 census provides access to the records for Dublin 1911, fully indexed by name, allowing users to view the digitised images of the original manuscript household forms.
The National Archives of Ireland says the census will provide a valuable source for genealogists, historians and all those interested in Irish social and economic history.
Photographs and essays on life in the capital at the time are also included on the site.
The information now being made available online includes “the most important records we now have” and the only Census which from that period which still survive, according to Caitriona Crowe, Senior Archivist, Special Projects.
Many valuable records were destroyed by a bomb set in the basement of the Four Courts during The Civil War while others were pulped during the paper scarcities of World War I.
Despite these enormous losses, Ireland is unusual among English-speaking census-taking countries in that our original household manuscript returns survive.
Each one of these original manuscript forms tells a story of the family behind it, their relationship to each other, their ages and religion.
Browsing through the website provides an incredible insight into Irish life which often captures the inequalities and contradictions we might previously have only experienced through history books.
A simple search of different neighbourhoods reveals that Abel Burton Phillipson, an engineering contractor, lived at 2 Killiney Road, Dalkey, with his young children Jean (5) and Elizabeth (3). The family had two servants, both women in their early 20s.
Next door lived Abel’s sister, also Elizabeth, who married at 18. However, her daughter, now 27, remains single and lives at home, with Roland (13).
The family are Church of Ireland, though Abel, next door, is Wesleyan Methodist.
Across the city, in povertystricken Henrietta Street, a family of eight O’Connors live in just one room.
The father Christopher, a general labourer, (26) is married to Mary (31) and they share their abode with four of their own children (two having died), a niece and an 87 year old Catherine McGuirk who is described as a visitor.
Visitors to the website should prepare to lose hours as they search through the intriguing records, discovering previously unknown information on those they are related to or who lived in the house or street where they live now.
Until now, researchers had to trawl through the original manuscripts or microfilm and, if they did not know where an ancestor was from, it could be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, according to Ms Crowe. For instance, there were 453 John Murphys in Dublin in 1911.
Ms Crowe said the website will also provide a wonderful resource for schoolchildren who, for the first time, will be able to use original primary sources to reconstruct their home town as records of each shop, house and public buildings are also included.
A further release of digitised records, including Census information from Belfast, next May or June, with material from other counties to follow.
Access to the website is free. The address is www.census.nationalarchiv es.ie.