A new tool for searching institutions in the 1911 census

One of the delights of the National Archives of Ireland census site is the wonderful flexibility of its search interface. Within the modestly-labelled “more search options” section, you can search on any of the pieces of information collected by the census or any combination of them. So if all you know about your Mary Ryan born 1871-1881 is that by 1911 she had had five children and four were still alive, you can immediately reduce your possible candidates from more than 600 right down to 10. Of course it also provides superb scope for endless idle snooping.

A price was paid for this flexibility, though. Returns for non-standard households, in particular institutions, had to be treated as slightly second-class, unavailable to search in the same detail. As a result they all (Barracks, College and Boarding-Schools, Hospitals, Prisons, Lunatic Asylums, Workhouses and the rare and exotic “Return of the sick at their own homes”) became harder to find, even when using the Browse section. A few years ago, in order to find the returns for a hospital in North Dublin, I had to track down the name of the Director in Thom’s Directory for 1911, find him and his family in the census and then browse the returns around the area where they lived.

So there’s always been a little itch there to improve access to the institutional returns and I’ve just scratched it. I attended an event a few weeks back put on by the Sensible Code Company, a Belfast outfit whose flagship product “Cantabular” specialises in handling the online publication of data that requires detailed care about confidentiality. Recent censuses are the obvious example.

Cantabular showing Irish-only speakers by DED in 1911

They picked the Irish 1911 census to demonstrate publicly just how minutely their software can slice and dice a census and present it in all sorts of revealing maps and tables. Statistician’s heaven. You’ll find a detailed blog post on the process here and a recording of the full event at https://cantabular.com/blog/event-1911-irish-census-and-technology/

A by-product of their hands-on demo was a technique for extracting details on all the non-standard returns, Forms C, D, E, F, G, H I and K. So I mapped them all and the map is now free here on this site,  and via the maps navigation in the Browse section.

Barracks returns in 1911

A few things have become clear. A large majority of the institutions covered are barracks. The map makes it clear just how heavily policed Ireland was in 1911. The same return was used for police and army barracks, making it hard to see from the returns just where the British Army was concentrated. The map now gives a clear idea of the numbers in each barrack, showing where big army centres were located. Although the instructions specified that only initials should be given, quite a few military barracks give full names, Tipperary town and Victoria Barracks in Cork city to give just two examples. The fact that it’s possible to root through the returns more easily will throw up more insights, I’m sure.

And there were a mere four Returns of the sick at their own homes.