1. Irish Civil Registrations of Births, Deaths, and Marriages
The most significant piece of inaccurate information I have come across so far has to do with Irish Civil Registrations of Births, Deaths, and Marriages. There is a misconception afoot that these records (pre-1922) were lost in the fire following the siege of the Four Courts during the Irish Civil War. This false impression may stem from an assumption that the Public Records Office and the General Register Office are one in the same, when in fact they are not.
|The Four Courts from the western perspective|
In order to clear up this misconception I went straight to the horse's mouth, so to speak, and asked Colm O'Dalaigh, Manager of the Public Office and Central Applications Division of the General Register Office. According to Colm O'Dalaigh: (and now I'm quoting Colm)
"Yes, there were a lot of important documents and records lost [in the Four Courts fire], including some Parish registers and other documents containing some genealogical data; however, the Civil Registrations of Births, Deaths, and Marriages were NEVER housed in the Four Courts."
In June of 1922 the repository of the Public Records Office, then located in the Four Courts Complex was destroyed by fire, along with most of the records, some dating back to the thirteenth century. (The functions of the Public Records Office and the State Papers Office are now handled by the National Archives, established on 1 June 1988.) The civil registrations of birth, deaths, and marriages remains the responsibility of the General Register Office.
A Brief History of The General Register Office (They moved A LOT)
The very first repository for the records of the General Register Office (GRO) was the Kings Inns (1848-1872). From there the GRO moved to Charlemont house in Dublin (1872-1929). Relocation to the basement of the Custom House on the river Liffey took place in 1929; the GRO remained there until 1983. For accommodation reasons, as well as health and safety, in 1983 the Office moved once again, this time across the river Liffey to Joyce House. In the same period the Superintendent Registrar's Office for Dublin was also accommodated on the ground floor of this new building.
In 1992 then Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Albert Reynolds made a commitment that would see the General Register Office relocated to Roscommon in the West of Ireland. As this move involved a major modernisation programme for the entire Civil Registration System, the relocation did not take place until April 2005.
The Research Room of the General Register Office, with its leather bound tomes, remains in Dublin. It is in the Irish Life Centre in Lower Abbey Street where members of the public still visit daily in order to carry out research.
|Sculpture in the Main Courtyard of the Irish Life Centre|
2. Irish Census Documents
The second piece of misinformation I have come across has to do with census documents. I have seen some claims that all census documents were destroyed (NO), that some were destroyed by accident (that would warrant a loud 'OOPS'), and that some were intentionally destroyed (sadly, YES). So...what are the details of the truth?
Just the facts ma'am:
Full government censuses were taken of the entire island of Ireland in 1821, 1831, 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 1901, and 1911. No census was taken in 1921, because of the War of Independence. The first census of the population of the Irish Free State was taken in 1926.
Census returns for 1901 and 1911 survive fully intact. The usual rule that census returns should not be available to the public for 100 years was suspended in the Republic of Ireland for these particular records, and the original returns for 1901 and 1911 can be consulted for free, either in person, or on the website of the National Archives of Ireland.
The first four censuses, for 1821, 1831, 1841, and 1851, were largely, but NOT COMPLETELY DESTROYED in 1922, in the fire at the Public Records Office at the Four Courts. Although there is not a lot available, there are surviving fragments which may be consulted in person at the National Archives of Ireland, and these are as follows:
1821: This census, organized by townland, civil parish, barony and county, took place on 28 May 1821, and aimed to cover the entire population. It recorded the following information: name, age, occupation, relationship to the head of the household, acreage of land holding, and number of storeys of the house. Almost all of the original returns were destroyed in 1922, although a few volumes survive for parts of Counties Cavan, Fermanagh, Galway, Meath and Offaly (King's County).
1831: In addition to the information taken in 1821, in 1831 religious persuasion also was recorded. Very little of the returns for 1831 survives; most of the remaining fragments relate to County Derry (Londonderry).
1841: Unlike the two earlier censuses, the returns in 1841 were filled out by the householders themselves, rather than government enumerators. The information supplied now included: name, age, occupation, relationship to the head of the household, date of marriage, literacy, absent family members, and family members who died since 1831.
Only one set of the original 1841 returns survived 1922, that of the parish of Killeshandra in County Cavan; however, there are a number of transcripts of the original returns because the returns from 1841 and 1851 were used in the twentieth century as proof of age when the Old Age Pension was introduced.
There are also a number of researchers' transcripts and abstracts compiled from the original returns before their destruction, and donated to public institutions after 1922 in an attempt to replace some of the lost records. Since the researchers were usually interested in specific families, rather than whole areas, these are generally of limited value. The most significant collections are the Walsh-Kelly Notebooks, (which also abstract parts of the 1821, 1831 and 1851 returns, and relate in particular to south Kilkenny), and the Thrift Abstracts.
1851: The 1851 census recorded the same details as the 1841 census and again included religion.
Most of the surviving returns relate to parishes in County Antrim. The above stated comments on transcripts and abstracts of the 1841 census also apply to 1851.
1861 and 1871: Virtually nothing survives. The only transcripts are contained in the Catholic registers of Enniscorthy, County Wexford, (1861), and Drumcondra and Loughbraclen, County Meath (1871).
The original census returns for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed shortly after the censuses were taken. A document produced by Registrar General William J. Thompson, dated 4 July 1911, attributes destruction of the 1861 and 1871 returns to privacy concerns, saying:
"The destruction of the original Census Returns of 1861 and 1871 was authorized by the Irish Government many years ago, as they could not be treated as public records in consequence of the undertaking given on the householder's form issued for those censuses, to the effect that the information would be published in general abstracts only, and that strict care would be taken that the returns should not be used for the gratification of curiosity, or for any other object than that of rendering the census as perfect as possible."
1881 and 1891: According to the Chief Archivist at The National Archives of Ireland, census returns for 1881 and 1891 were pulped during the First World War, probably due to a paper shortage, although others have claimed it was due to lack of storage facilities.
*Click on photographs to view larger version.
©Copyright J. Geraghty-Gorman 2011