Friday, 4 June 2010

1901 Irish Census - Form B1

I've been playing with the Irish 1901 and 1911 census website now at for the last couple of days, specifically dealing with the 1901 census, and thought I might discuss one of the benefits of the Irish version of the census compared to its British equivalents within the same UK census at that time.

Unlike the versions in Britain, the Irish 1901 census schedules have been placed online, and not just the enumerators' returns. As such there are often several pages available per household beyond the basic householder's return, and I thought it might be worth flagging up one of them - Form B1, the House and Building Return. This form provides detailed information on the properties within which the householders lived, and in several cases for me have been very revealing.

My wife is from Kilkenny, with ancestors also from Tipperary, whilst my lot are from all over Ulster. In three cases, Form B1 has provided some interesting information.

My wife's mother's family, the Prendergasts, were from Killonerry in the south of Kilkenny. Family lore had it that the family all lived in the same farmhouse, and that at some point one of the brothers moved out and built a separate farmhouse on part of the land. When I consulted the household schedules, the two brothers, Thomas and Patrick, were both listed with their families at Killonerry, with each as head of household. However, when I looked at Form B1, I was surprised to learn that both lived with their sizeable families in the same farmhouse at that point, a detail not immediately apparent from the two householders' returns (Form A). One brother had occupancy of six rooms within the house, the other had the remaining five. As well as showing they lived in the same house, the form also confirmed that Patrick was the building's owner - that information is not available on the British enumerators' returns.

In 1911, however, a check on the same form B1 showed that by now the two boys were resident in separate premises, and that each owned their respective property. This confirmed the story that the brothers had parted ways but also showed tat for many years they lived and worked together with their entire families in the same family farm building - a lot of mouths to feed!

In another branch of my wife's family, the Gormans of Garrynarea in Kilkenny, a similar situation was partially confirmed. Family lore had it that one brother had had his house paid for by another, who had made his fortune in France and then returned. The 1901 Form B1 for the two houses showed that the elder brother in fact owned the two houses, but by 1911 the two elder brothers had apparently passed on, as both properties were now owned by what would appear to be two different sons of the younger brother, the elder having had no children. Much of this is subject to confirmation still, but it has thrown up some interesting new leads.

Finally, a third example concerns my 3 x great grandfather John Holmes, a shoemaker in Raphoe, County Donegal. The 1901 householder's return only listed himself as head of household. But Form B1 showed that another elderly lady aged 81 was also resident in another room of the same property, and in her form she was also listed as living alone and as head of household. Neither of the two owned the property - the owner's name was listed separately - and in this case, head of household referred to the head of the single room in which they both lived in the house, a fact also confirmed from Form B1 which asks how many rooms were occupied by each.

So when you check the 1901 and 1911 Irish censuses, remember to check all the details in all the forms - if not, you could be missing out on some vital additional information that may transform your impression of the family story apparently depicted in the householder's return! Form B1 is essentially not just a 1901 census form with details of windows in the house etc, it also acts as what can be considered a 1901 Griffiths Valuation equivalent, by naming the landholders for each property. Although the valuation details themselves are not listed, the houses are still classed by type, providing a valuable insight into the abode within which your ancestors lived.

Incidentally, thanks to Catriona Crowe at NAI for the Irish Government's press release for the census release, which is online at This has various examples of returns for famous Irish folk such as James Joyce and Eamonn de Valera.

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