Background Paper on 1831 Census

I was introduced to this source in 1967. At that time I was teaching in Rainey Endowed School, Magherafelt. During the winter of 1967/68 I attended a course on Local History in Maghera run by Dr. Brian Trainor and Dr. W.H. (Bill) Crawford from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). I knew very little about Local or Family History and I had no knowledge, whatsoever, of sources such as the 1831 "Census Returns" or the Tithe Applotment Books or the Valuation Books with their Maps, etc. However, the enthusiasm and expertise of these two men [sadly no longer with us] opened a new window into the past for me.

The course was very much hands on. All members of the class actually studied the sources that I mentioned above. I teamed up with another man, Mr Joe Doherty [sadly no longer with us] who lived in the townland of Gorteade which was located just outside the village of Upperlands in South Derry. We concentrated on his townland and both of us were amazed at what we were finding out about the place where Joe lived. Joe and I walked around his townland with copies of the 1831 "Census" for Gorteade and the Griffith's Printed Valuation of 1859 and the accompanying Valuation Map and we repeopled that landscape with the occupiers of land listed in the source. We were also able to locate their houses and land within the townland during the first half of the nineteenth century. I then acquired other sources and the story of that townland and the surrounding townlands began to take shape. This study provided me with some of the evidence that I needed for my academic studies but it also showed me how such work was of interest to anyone who wanted to know about life in their area in earlier times. Furthermore people could identify with such studies - these were real people that they knew, or their parents had known.

During the 1970s and the 1980s I gave talks to Local History Societies in various parts of the province and I was very much involved in Local History both as an academic study and an important part of School History. These different "audiences" meant that I was coming in contact with new townlands and streets. By the 1990s, for a variety of reasons, I became less involved in Local History.

After I retired from University life in 2000, I became involved in the Glens of Antrim "Clachan Project" c. 2003. This Project rekindled my interest in Local History and I became more interested in Family History. This project which ran until 2007 was followed by a CD - Researching Derry and Londonderry Ancestors: A practical guide for the family and local historian .This CD included Excel and PDF databases created from the microfilm copy of the 1831 "Census" in PRONI. That particular CD provided an index of names and places for the entire county, but did not include any of the statistical information on Population and Religion. Later, I included a copy of my CD Database on this website. This meant that I could revise and update the database online. The early corrections concentrated on family names and placenames. The next step was to add all of the statistical data to the database. This final project, which took some three years, was finally completed in October 2018.

The inclusion of statistical data in the Database means that the names and houses in each townland and street are now in numerical order. I already knew that the numbering of households within each townland and street was very important. Working with individual townlands and streets over the years it became clear to me that the numbering usually followed a geographical order which reflected the route that an enumerator took around a townland or street. Because of this, it is usually possible to match the names in the 1831 "Census Returns" with the c.1830 Tithe Books. Unfortunately there are no accompanying maps available for the Tithe Book locations in rural areas. However, it is often possible to match many of the 1831 names and locations with the 1858/59 Griffith's Printed [Tenement] Valuation and its accompanying maps. These maps and the printed pages of all of the Griffith's Valuation for Ireland are now available at askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation 1846-64. This means that, for some households, you might be able to get some idea of where individual houses and families may have been located within a townland or street in the first half of the nineteenth century. However - a word of warning - it is not a "perfect Science". There are times when the numbering in a part of a street or townland seems to be "out of order" because the enumerator may have forgotten a particular house and, when he remembered it, included it at the end of a list.

At this point I would need to say something about the Religion Data in the 1831 " Census".

Notes on Religion Data in 1831 " Census"

Certainly, in the 1970s, when I first used the 1831 "Census Returns", I assumed that both the Population data and the Religion data in each townland were enumerated at the same time. However, I was surprised that Religion data were not included in the Abstract of Answers and Returns from the Population Acts, Ireland - Enumeration 1831. This publication provided statistical data at Parish, Barony and County level. It also provided data on Towns and Villages, but not for Townlands.

In the 1970s most of my use of the 1831 "Census" was at Townland level where I found the Population figures and the Religion figures always came to the same total. So, to be honest, I did not question whether or not the Population and Religion data were enumerated at the same time or at different dates.

This same question arose during the later period when I was working on my database for the entire county. Even as early as the 1970s I was aware of the fact that the religion data from the 1831 Census was used in a Religious Census in the 1830s. Again, I had never really investigated this later Religion Census. I simply assumed that the Creators of the 1834 Religious Census simply used Religion data from the 1831 Census. I now know that was not the case. To be honest it made little difference when I was working with individual townlands and streets.

When I began to add the statistical data to my database I became more aware of the fact that the Religion data did not always match the Population data. I found 86 entries in the database where the numbers did not tally. In many cases this was due to discrepancies between the religion numbers and the population numbers. This, in turn, played havoc with totals for the entire county. Also, there are 55 entries in the database where no religion was given. The 55 entries totalled 642 persons but only 19 families. 50 of the 55 entries were in the City of Derry/Londonderry. The Gaol, the Asylum, the Infirmary, a Military Barracks and 14 Boarding/Lodging Houses made up the greater part of the 642 figure. Given the transient nature of the persons in these institutions and boarding houses, it is understandable that they were excluded from the later Religion count.

A Letter to Irish Geography Vol. XIV, 1981 by Stephen A Royle [published online 4th August 2009] confirmed that the enumerators had not recorded any Religion data in 1831.

It now appears that the religion data in the 1831 "Census Returns" were used in a Religious Census which was part of the First Report of the Commission of Public Instruction (1834/35). You can read a copy of this Report at the Dippam website.When you arrive at the website click on Open Document then go to scanned page 5 [which is page 1 of the actual Report]. Continue with scanned pages 6 to 12 [pages 2-8 in the actual document]. These pages will explain how the details on Religion were "collected" and used. Look out for the following - how they gathered the information on religion [which was the main purpose of the exercise] and how they made use of the 1831 enumerators as well as the local clergy. Also how they caused tables to be framed showing the proportinate increase or diminution of the population of such rural districts and towns respectively, which, according to that assumption, might be estimated to have taken place between the years 1831 and 1834 [page 4 of the First Report].

Note also, that when I began to database the entire statistical data I had to look more closely at the microfilm pages, particularly those pages that indexed the Townlands within each Parish. There are forty-seven Parishes in Co. Londonderry . Eighteen of them had later corrections to their Religion data. Here are three example pages - Bovevagh, Killelagh and Killowen. Most of the corrections involved reallocating numbers across the various denominations. Rarely, was the total changed - and if it was - it did not amount to much.

It is now a fact that the 1831 Census was transcribed into a new document that could be used by the persons associated with the enumeration of religion data for the Religious Census included in the First Report of the Commission of Public Instruction (1834/35).

Copyright 2018 W. Macafee.