1831 Census Returns
Unlike Great Britain, where detailed Census Enumerators' Returns are available from 1841, virtually none exist for Ireland before 1901. However, in county Londonderry we have a unique source which, as far as I know, is not available for any other county in Ireland - the 1831 Census Returns. Despite being referred to as census returns, they do not contain the detailed information on individuals that we find in the 1901 and 1911 Census Returns. In fact the returns were produced as a Religious Census for use in the First Report of the Commission of Public Instruction (1834/35), thus the predominance of information on individual religions. The categories of Established Church, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and other Protestant Dissenters are similar to the categories used in the 1766 Religious Census. Nevertheless, despite not being a full-blown census return, the 1831 Census Returns are a valuable source. If nothing else, they clearly demonstrate the limitations of the Tithe Applotment Books as a source for family names in the early part of the nineteenth century.
The returns are organised by barony, civil parish and townland. Click here to see copies of pages covering parts of some townlands in the baronies of Loughinsholin and Keenaght. These copies have been scanned from the microfilm version of this source. The original books are held in the National Archives in Dublin. In these pages you will see the kind of information that is given for each house.
The listing of households in the returns normally follow a geographical order which reflects the route that the 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 in rural areas and the c.1830 Townland Valuation in towns. Having done that you should then be able to match many of the 1831 names and locations with the 1858/59 Griffith's Printed [Tenement] Valuation and its accompanying maps. You can try this process for yourself in each of the locality studies listed in the table at the end of this paper. Here I have databased all of the information from the returns for a number of townlands and streets within the county. Note that the order of names within these databases follow the order in the original document.
I have also databased the 1831 Census Returns for the entire county. Mainly, I used the microfilm copies of the census held in both PRONI [MIC/5A/6-9B] and the Local Studies Department in Ballymena Library. I also used a copy of the index of names and places in the 1831 Census Returns prepared some years ago. Over the years I have made further corrections
I cannot guarantee that the names listed in the database are all correct. Certainly some are missing simply because of the fact that they were unreadable.  Others have undoubtedly been entered incorrectly by me. A look at the examples of two pages [referred to above] should indicate why this is likely to be the case and I should point out that the pages I have chosen as examples are probably some of the best in the returns. I can assure you that there are worse pages. This is why you must treat the 1831 database as simply a means to point you towards the townland or townlands where the name you are looking for is located. You can then go the microfilms in either PRONI or in the Ballymena and Coleraine libraries to look up the details on households. In some cases you might have to go to the National Archives in Dublin to look at the originals.
There are 41,344 names in this database and for the purposes of sorting and searching I have used a system of "standardised" spelling to group together variant spellings of a name, thereby making it easier to see patterns in the distribution of surnames. For example the name McIntyre is spelt a number of different ways within the returns - McIntyre, McEntyre, McEntire, etc. McIntyre is used as the standardised spelling in one column of the database and the actual, variant spellings are listed in a separate column. If yo have not already done so, you should read the paper on Databases where you will find more about the spelling of surnames and townland names in the databases.
You can access the 1831 database in both the Census Records link in the left hand menu and the 19th Century Databases link in the right hand menu. Note that the entries within both the Excel and the PDF databases are sorted by standardised surname, barony, parish and townland. Clearly the Excel database will allow you to re-sort the data in a variety of ways. Note that if you sort the Excel database by record number the data will be presented alphabetically by Barony, Parish and Townland and the standardised surnames within each each townland will be in alphabetical order. There are some parish changes after 1831 and to make it easier to compare parishes in the 1831 database with those in the c.1860 database, I have indicated those townlands where a change took place.
I cannot guarantee that the names listed in this database are all correct. Some names are extremely difficult to read/interpret; particularly when you are working with over 40,000 of them. It is a bit easier if you are only looking for one or two names. So, I am sure that some names have been entered incorrectly by me. You must treat the 1831 database as simply a means to point you towards the townland or townlands where the name you are looking for might be located. You should then go the microfilms in either PRONI or Ballymena Library or Coleraine Library and check the names and look up the details on the households. In some cases you might have to go to the National Archives in Dublin to look at the originals.
Below are links to the Excel and PDF versions of the database. Note that the PDF file is very large [16 MB] and may take some time to download.
Note that I have databased the total information for the townlands used in the Case Studies of Localities & Families in Co. Londonderry on my 2010 CD. . You can also access these townlands, and some others, in the table below. Click on the name of each townland for a map showing its location within the wider locality. Also, you might find this map of the county helpful - Baronies and Civil Parishes of Co. Londonderry.
Copyright 2012 W. Macafee.