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Ireland: 1841/1851 Census Abstracts (Northern Ireland). 530 pp. $50. Ireland: 1841/1851 Census Abstracts (Republic of Ireland). 138 pp. $25. Both by Josephine Masterson. Published by Genealogical Publishing Company, 1001 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202. Illustrated. Hardcover. First book $3.50 p& h, $1.25 for each additional book.

The bulk of the 1841 and 1851 census returns for Ireland were destroyed in the 1922 explosions and fire at the Public Record Office (now National Archives) in Dublin. What has survived, and forms the bulk of the materials transcribed in these books, are the abstracts made of the census returns in 1908, before the fire, for people who could not prove their age and were applying for the newly introduced Old Age Pensions. The claimant gave particulars of where their families were supposed to be on the nights of 6 June 1841 and 30 March 1851. Searches were performed and abstracts made by Search Officers and completed forms returned to the Pension Office.

Records for Northern Ireland were found in the National Archives in Dublin and records for the Republic were found in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast but they have all been collected here into the appropriate volume.

The details in both volumes for the Pension abstracts include surname, christian name, relationship to head of household, age, year of marriage, LDS film number, notes and location. The notes might include ages for the 1851 census when the same family is located in both census returns, who is the claimant, married or maiden names, year of death and age, location if absent from the family in another parish, with some entries stating in America or in Scotland. Each volume contains other lists from census fragments, or the information given does not meet the standard format with records containing several surnames, incomplete information, parents recently married, or indefinite locations. The Northern Ireland book includes a surname list for the 1851 County Antrim census fragments, while the Republic of Ireland volume includes lists of surnames from the 1841 census for Killeshandra Parish, County Cavan and for 1851 fragments for the Union of Kilworth in County Cork. The surname lists are a guide to three other abstracted collections, only one of which has been published commercially, the two other lists being available in specific libraries including Salt Lake City and Ft. Wayne. These lists of surnames provide valuable clues, but if your surname is included, and there are many common names, then you have to go hunting for further resources.

The introduction to both books has to be read to understand the various film and manuscript sources used to create these lists of names and their limitations. For example the introduction states that “Not all the information in these books (referring to the Old Age Pension books) was extracted but was limited to records with enough information to be of possible help in identifying an ancestral family.” This begs the question, what were the guidelines? These are not stated. The author estimates that there are 75,000 useful records of individuals in family groups for the whole of Ireland. Of this number, there are 23,000 people in the Northern Ireland book and another 5800 people included in book for the Republic of Ireland. Another 19,000 in the lists cited as being elsewhere. This still leaves a big gap. This means that if your ancestors are in this book then you know immediately where to go to find the family on the original records, and that does need to be done as more information may be contained on the original. However, if your ancestor is not in these books, you will still need to search the originals as they may be there.

These are not books you pick up and quickly look to see if your ancestor’s name is in the index. If you do you will miss the name, for there are eight indexes of greatly varying length and content in both books.

There is no doubt that these books are a valuable compilation of records for Irish research and should be in any library with an Irish collection. The limitations do need to be recognized though when using them as a research tool.

Reviewed by Paul Milner
BIGWILL v.6 no.3, 1999