Primary Sources – Contemporaneous

  • Purpose, background
    • Authenticity – content, material, style, corroboration, when written
    • Provenance – origin, survival, where did it come from ? Why is it available ?
    • Motivation – self interest, posterity, legacy, angle/pitch, cultural, why ?, …
    • Audience – reader, reader’s interest and interpretation, single or multiple
    • Author – Who, what role, position and power/influence, relationship to subject
    • Location – where was it written : alone, in company, at home, at work, at place relevant to subject, influences
  • Subject, content
    • What is written, stated – what is ommitted
    • What is implied
    • Style and language, wording

Can the source be Trusted ?

Is the source Relevant to the question being asked ?


Who, what, what, when, where, how, why ?

What is a census ? What is the subject ?

Why was the census taken ? Who sponsored it ? What was the motivation, purpose and intended outcome – what actions would be taken on the findings ? Was there a single purpose or many ?

What corroborates what appears to be ?

Who undertook the census ? Were there volunteers, or people/company paid to do this ? Were they professionals ? Was any training undertaken ? How did they go about it ? What materials did they record with ? What questions did they ask ? Could they properly communicate what they were asking of the subject ? How long did it take to complete the census ? When did it start ? Were there any breaks ?

What measurements and dimensions are covered by the census ? What was the range and scope ?

What area is covered ? Why are the boundaries chosen used ? What is excluded from the census ?

What information can be taken from the census findings ? What geodemographics and individual information can be assessed ?

  • Location, distribution, density, boundaries, mapping, homes vs workplace
  • Placenames
  • Age – ranges, distribution
  • Gender
  • Occupation
  • Size of household, accomodation, amenities, composition
  • Families, roots
  • Cultures, origins, beliefs, ethnicity, religions
  • Ownership and control
  • Transition, boundaries
  • Intersections of these
  • Changes in these since before and subsequent to

Example :

Title: The census of Elphin 1749
Author: Marie-Louise Legg, Brian Gurrin, Irish Manuscripts Commission.
Publisher: Dublin : Irish Manuscripts Commission, 2004.
ISBN: 1874280738
NAI tag M 2466

“…for nearly 20,000 people residing in the Diocese of Elphin in 1749. The data has been abstracted from The Census of Elphin 1749, edited by Marie-Lousie Legg, with a statistical analysis by Brian Gurrin, published in 2004 by the Irish Manuscripts Commission

The completeness, detail of occupations, status and households that the Census of Elphin includes is unique. Conducted by Bishop Edward Synge, the census gives an insight into rural Ireland in the mid-18th century. It tells us about the occupation and religion of the heads of household, the size of their family, size of their household, who had servants and how many.

The Elphin diocese covers most of County Roscommon, plus parts of County Galway and County Sligo…”

Census Substitutes

Arranged by townland and parish, it indicates the householders, their religion (PRotestant or PApist), the numbers, sex of their children with ages listed as under or over 14, and the names of any servants. The Elphin Diocese consists of 51 of the 59 parishes in Roscommon; 17 parishes in Sligo, and 9 parishes in Galway.


The data collected for the Elphin Census was under the direction of Edward Synge, the bishop of Elphin for the Church of Ireland.  It was recorded that Bishop Synge was anxious to know the proportion of Protestants to “Papists” (a name he used to refer to Catholics).  For what it is worth, the census revealed the ratio to be 3 Protestants to 39 “Papists”.  There are no surviving details as to how the census was conducted, or who the enumerators were.

Waldrons in Elphin

The census was carried out at the behest of the Church of Ireland (Anglican) Bishop of Elphin, Dr. Edward Synge. He was appointed to this position in 1740, and remained there until his death in 1762. The reason behind the commissioning of this census seems to lie in the bishop’s desire to discover the true strength of his protestant flock in the diocese, and to determine their proportion in relation to the Catholic population. Nothing is known of the methods used in collecting and collating the information, though it seems likely that the work was carried out by local Church of Ireland clergymen or church wardens.

The census is laid out under seven headings: parish; place of abode (usually a townland or street name); head-of-household’s name [occasionally with the suffix “& wife”, where applicable, and sometimes giving the wife’s name]; religion [“protestant” or “papist”]; profession; number of children [given in four subdivisions, firstly by religion, then by age group – whether under or over fourteen years of age]; number of servants [given in four subdivisions: protestant, papist, male, female].


The Elphin Census (M 2464) for the Church of Ireland diocese of Elphin has now been edited by Marie-Louise Legg as The Elphin Census, 1749 (IMC, 2004). The data for this census was collected under the direction of Edward Synge, the bishop of Elphin who was anxious to know the proportion of Protestants to “Papists” – the census revealed the ratio to be 3 Protestants to 39 “Papists”. There are no surviving details as to the identity of the enumerators or as to how the census was conducted.


Introduction to the armagh diocesan registry archive, Nov 2007, p35

Finally, there is a very miscellaneous volume covering the period 1715-1737 and itemising renewal fines, duty payments, fiats for faculties, briefs, proceeds from impropriate tithes, etc, for the metropolitan province of Armagh and also for the archdiocese or dioceses of (in order of appearance in the volume during the period 1715-1720) Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Ferns, Ossory, Waterford, Clogher, Tuam, Clonfert, Cashel, Cork, Cloyne, Killaloe and Elphin.

Introduction to the armagh diocesan registry archive, Nov 2007, p52

Ardagh, Elphin and Kilmore
This section comprises papers about the dioceses of Ardagh, Elphin and Kilmore, province of Armagh, 1632-1962. Much of the material is of a formal kind, either relating to the election and enthronement of bishops, 1631-1961, or relating to the clergy of the dioceses, 1801 and 1861-1962. The formal documents relating to the clergy comprise petitions for faculties, nominations, letters testimonial, recommendatory and dimissory, certificates of oaths and declarations having been taken, si quis, bene decessits, presentations, institutions, etc.

Wikipedia ref to DNBOO :,_Edward_%28DNB00%29

Papist vs Protestant ? What can this be corroborated with ?

Where does the original lie ? What condition is it in ? Does the printed version an accurate facsimile ?

When this survey was taken, when did it start, how long did it take ? What events preceded this census in the region, and nationally ? Williamite legacy, what acts of Parliament ? What surveys of data succeeded this – Griffiths in 1848-64, spinning wheel survey 1796, Tithe applotment books 1830 ?

Who is Bishop Edward Synge – what role did he have in Protestant and Papist society ? Who did he work for ? Where did he get the money to carry out this census ? When did he decide to do it ? Was anyone else involved ? His letters to his daughter Alicia may give some insight.

Is it authentic : Can the data be taken at face value – how was the information gathered – by force in any case ? Were the collectors fluent in the local language ? Did they know the names of  the townlands ? The family names ? If the data is correct, what information does it establish ?

  • Placenames list
  • Family names lists. Variations – thesaurus, soundex, namex
  • Individuals
  • Marriage comparison – mixed,Protestant,papist
  • Why children above and below 14 ?
  • Placenames of some parishes have changed
  • Where were people living, in what numbers ? Protestant vs Papist ?
  • What occupations lived where ? Protestant vs Papist ?
  • What was the distribition of occupations among Protestant and Papist ?
  • Who had servants ? How many ? Where ?
  • What number of families had Protestant or Papist head-of-household ?
  • Where were the Bishop’s Flock ? How many of them were there ? How many had to be supported ? What was the value of their holdings, and their value to the Bishop ?

Is the audience for this just the Bishop ? If not who – was it used by land valuers or for the collection of taxes ? What did the Bishop use it for ?

Compare : 1703-1838: The Convert Rolls, 1740: Protestant householders, 1766: Religious Survey

  • GeoDemographic & Genealogical Themes  :
    • household distribution PR vs PA in Elphin.
    • Family size, occupation and wealth in Elphin. Were Catholic families larger than Protestant ?
    • Gender split by age vs occupation – what were older women doing in the Diocese in 1749 ?
    • Did Protestant or Papist families concentrate in particular professions ?
    • Did many Protestants live in rural areas, compared to Papist ?
    • What families and religions had servants ?
    • what families were present at the time, and where ?
    • were the families all the same religion – eg had the O’Connor families in the North of the Diocese converted or intermarried, compared to those elsewhere ?
    • how did location, occupation, household, age and gender vary for a particular family ?
  • Boundaries –
    • how have they changed around 1749 ?
    • names, places, people
  • Attitudes, context –
    • why was a private census important enough to be carried out and what end did it serve ?.  Who were the audience(s). What does it say about the Bishop and his attitude to the Catholic Majority, “Popery”, and the significance of his own religion in terms of belief and society – enlightenment, ability to rule, superiority.
    • Did this census contribute anything to contemporary events ? Does the census, or the sponsorhip of support ideas of Anglo-Irish Patriotism ? Does it fit in with or precurse the growing adoption of Improvement, in the 18th century ?
    • What were the links, if amy, between Synge and the other leading members of the time. Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Caldwell, Delany’s of Delville, Dean of Down, Thomas Prior, Samuel Madden etc ? Did Synge walk among them ?
    • What does the census say about the people that were surveyed and those that were doing the surveying ?
    • Did Bishops of the time typically undertake this kind of large scale survey often, independently, under instruction ?
  • Tools for Study
    • Is this a “good” census ? Did if have a methodology ?
    • Can a list or thesuarus of placenames and family names, and their variations be compiled ?
    • How does it compare to preceeding and succeeding surveys (1813,21)? Can they be compared ?
    • Is there anything unusual about this census, other then the apparent need to count Protestants and Papists.


Who, what, what, when, where, how, why ?

Personal correspondance

Who, what, what, when, where, how, why ?

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