If you can identify any of your Kerry ancestors who emigrated or indeed still lived in Kerry and born from around 1835 onwards, you should be able to get a lot more information on the your ancestor or his/her family from either the 1901 or 1911 Census.  When I say 1835 onwards, I am assuming the person is then aged 66 in 1901 and 76 in 1911.  As in all ‘ages’ in the 19th Century in Ireland, age quoted is not exact – you need a baptism or civil birth record (after 1864) for that.  Kerry people, like all Irish people in the 19th century were not cognisant of their exact dates/years of birth so you should allow for a margin of up to five years plus or minus.

So we start by accessing the Search Options. If you are unsure of the townland/street or DED (District Electoral Division), just fill in the minimum.  This should bring up a number of options for James Moloney.  In this case James Moloney appears 17 times, different age groups, different locations.  If I am sure of the location and the approximate age, I am home and dry.  In this case, I am unsure of the spelling of the townland but I have already found Civil Registration of James son of John Moloney and Ellen Burke, of Dromada  born 4 June 1876.  So I am looking for James Moloney age approx 25.  The options that come up are James, of Garrynagore age 33 or James of Dromadabeg age 22.  Click on this James, Dromaddabeg  and I can see I have the correct family, his mother Ellen, a widow  is Head of the Household age 56.

The immediate information that we get is the list of people occupying the house on the night of the Census.  In this case it is just the family – Ellen who is described as Head of the Family, a Widow, Farmer . There are six children named from 14 to 30. all Catholics, all can read and write English and Irish, all born in Co. Kerry.  

We can assess the economic circumstances of this Moloney family (and their neighbours) from Form B1. It includes all families living in the townland of Dromaddabeg. In this case Ellen Moloney’s family home is made of brick or stone, has a thatched roof, it is a 2nd class house of three rooms occupied by seven people.  We can see the neighbours – also named Moloney – Michael with a 3rd class house and Daniel with a 2nd class.

The next indicator of economic circumstancis is Form. B.2 -Outoffices.  Each famly has a stable, a cow house and a piggery.  Indeed Daniel has 3 cow houses!  Having a stable would indicate that a horse was kept and would be a definite plus in economic terms. It is interesting to note here that none seemed to have a hen or fowl house.

If we then seek out the same family in the 1911 Census, we get some extra information.  The first thing we notice is that the ages have changed – and not by ten years as one would expect.  Ellen is now 69, thirteen years older than she was ten years ago.  This is probably due to the Old Age Pension which was introduced in Jan 1909.  To qualify one needed to be 70 so it was important to be as near that age as possible.  (The Pension was 5s. per week but in a poverty striken country with a 98% take up of the pension entitlement, people were very anxious to avail of it. The take up in England and Wales was 45%). Jeremiah the eldest (bachelor) son was 30 in 1901 and still 30 in 1911.   Michael was 24 in 1901 and 36 in 1911. The other very important information supplied in 1911 which was to be filled in by married women, but as in this case was filled in by a widow was years married  (23), children were born (8) and how many still alive (7).

In 1911, from the Form B.1. House & Building Return, we can see that economic circumstances have changed slightly for the better. All three families in Dromadabeg live in 2nd class houses now. (Michael  has upgraded from 3rd class). From the Form B.2. there are definite signs of change.  Ellen has as well as a stable, a cow house, 2 calf houses, a dairy, a fowl house and a shed, but the piggery is no more.  All three families seem to be doing better.   These forms are invaluable in giving you an insight into the living conditions and economic circumstances of our ancestors.

Other Census facts to remember:

  • Numbering of houses in countryside is only used for census purposes. Does not signify address of the house.
  • Numbering in towns/cities was the original number at the time. It may be changed now.
  • Ages and spellings are a guide only. The Head of Household usually filled in the form him or herself. If this person was illiterate, as many were, the enumerator filled in the form.
  • You must be wary in trying all variants of the name particularly it could be listed with an ‘O’ as in O’Sullivan, or Sullivan, Mac or Mc.  All variants should be tried 

Still no luck in finding your Kerry ancestor?   There is a very comprehensive video produced by the IRGS and presented by Claire Bradley that is well worth viewing.

What was Kerry like in the early 20th century?

From The National Archives:

Kerry in 1911 was a county of majesty and of misery. On the one hand, there was the majesty of its scenery, its wild and varied landscape which pushed out into the Atlantic Ocean in a series of peninsulas. Those peninsulas, and the islands off them which marked the most westerly point in Europe,  contained a unique heritage of ecclesiastical ruins, archaeological remains and popular folklore which, as well as its scenery, made the county a prime destination for tourists. On the other hand, there was the misery of endemic poverty, of a subsistence existence in the countryside and along the coasts which occasionally strayed close to famine, and which forced generations of Kerry people to leave in search of a basic living.