Institutional records

This guide was last updated in 2014

Individuals residing in institutions such as workhouse and prisons were only recorded in the census by their initials.

It would not be unheard of to find the head of the family in prison, and his wife and small children in the workhouse. It can be difficult to identify the correct family or individual just by their initials, so you will need to establish their age, religion, marital status and county of birth and use these fields to narrow your search.

If you suspect that your ancestor was imprisoned or in the workhouse try searching for confirmation. There is an extensive collection of surviving Irish prison registers available online at www.findmypast.ie. Political prisoners rarely appear in the general prison population, so if you suspect that your ancestor was arrested for political reasons, don’t be surprised if they are missing from the prison registers.

Although the workhouse was a refuge for the destitute, it also became a haven for the sick and infirm. Many workhouses admitted victims of tuberculosis, which was rampant in Ireland at the time. Pregnant women, single or married, and people suffering from mental illness were also admitted for treatment or confinement.

County archives and libraries hold surviving workhouse admission registers, although few, if any, of these have been digitised. An excellent guide to workhouses in Ireland and the surviving records is available at www.workhouses.org.uk/Ireland. An admission record can often state the address, occupation and next of kin of the inmate.

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