Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. I cannot find members of my family who lived in Belfast in 1901 or 1911 on your website. Why not?

    A.The most likely reason is that the relevant census form has not been inputted by us. As of July 2009 we have entered the details of some 60,000 individuals for Belfast in 1901 or 1911. We do not intend to input further data, and would recommend that you try the website of the National Archives, Ireland. Remember also that some surnames were spelled differently in the past, so you may need to experiment a little bit.
  • Q. My search has thrown up an occupation different from the one handed down in family tradition. Why might this be so?

    A. Some people changed occupations over the course of the life cycle. Remember the census returns are snapshots at a moment in time, the night of the census. The same point applies more generally to religion, literacy and possibly some other personal characteristics.
  • Q. Could the age given in the census be wrong?

    A. Yes, indeed. While there is every reason to believe the census information is generally accurate, it is possible for errors in ages to creep in. This could be due to not knowing the precise age. Age was less important in those days. Or it could be due to deliberate choice: exaggerating one's age so as to qualify earlier for the Old Age Pension or reducing one's age for reasons of vanity.
  • Q. Is it possible to work out age at marriage from the census form? This can be useful later for tracing marriage certificates.

    A. Yes, it is possible. Simply subtract the "duration of marriage" from the reported age of the married person, bearing in mind that the age on the census form may not be absolutely accurate.
  • Q. Can the place of birth on the form be revealing?

    A. Absolutely. It distinguishes those born in the city from migrants to the city, and the place of birth of children within the same family may offer clues as to the mobility of families over time. So if, for example, the first child is born in Belfast, the second in Scotland, the third in England, and the fourth back in Belfast, then clearly the family had moved from Belfast to Scotland and England, and then back to Belfast again. We can trace a pathway over time.
  • Q. My grandmother worked in the family business, yet she is shown as having no occupation in 1911. Why?

    A. Unfortunately, this is one of the limitations of the census, reflecting the social biases of the men who constructed the census categories: the censuses of the early 20th century, 1901 and 1911, were not good at recording the occupations of married women.