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Online and free : Irish pension records in the early 20th century

Were your Irish ancestors among the first to receive the old age pension when Ireland introduced the regular payment in 1909? Did you know you can search the early pension records which are online and free? Read on for more information.

Old photo of elderly couple c.1910 in blog about Irish pension records by Your Family Genealogist

An Old Age Pension scheme was introduced in Ireland in 1909. It was means-tested and to be eligible people needed:

  • To be aged 70 and over – i.e. they had to be born in or before 1839;

  • To be of good character;

  • To earn less than £21.00 annually.

Single people receiving the full pension were paid 5 shillings per week while a married couple were paid 7 shillings per week.

Thanks to the National Archives of Ireland, these records are freely available to search online here. The records cover the whole of Ireland not just the Republic. The database provides a transcript as well as an image of each record with the images usually containing more hand-written information.

Within the first three months of the scheme, 261,668 applications were received of which 180,874 were approved. The National Archives estimates the number of applications represented 98% of eligible people in Ireland at the time.

Because civil registration did not begin in Ireland until 1864, proving their age was the most difficult aspect for pension applicants. There were no online records in those days. The government turned to the 1841 and 1851 census records (then still available in the Public Record Office) to corroborate people’s claims to meet the age criteria.

To make the census records a suitable reference point, applicants had to provide their age, their parents’ names and residence in either 1841 or 1851. The pension application forms were then sent to the Public Records Office in Dublin where the census records were searched to confirm the information provided and thus prove age eligibility for the pension.

Extract from the Irish Times of 1 Jan 1909 re Old Age Pension in blog about this topic by Your Family Genealogist

Above: Extract from the Irish Times dated 1 January 1909

The mind boggles at the amount of manual work involved in processing hundreds of thousands of applications which arrived within the first three months of the old age pension being introduced.

What's in the records?

The best part of these records is that even where the Public Record Office could find no trace of the relevant 1841/1851 census records, we can still see who individuals reported as their family members and where they were living in those years. Of course many searches were successful, and the results were recorded on the application form which lists the names and ages of each person living in the applicant’s household in the mid-1800s.

Above: Three steps: 1. Search Results; 2. Details from one record in the search results; 3. The image linked to the record. Courtesy of National Archives of Ireland.

The records can be searched by one or more of the following at:

  • Census year

  • Given and surname of applicant

  • Applicant’s address at the time of claiming the pension

  • Given and surname of applicant’s mother and father

  • Mother's Christian and maiden name

  • Where resident in 1841 or 1851 including:

  • Townland/street

  • Parish

  • City

  • Barony

  • County.

Thanks to the Irish Government

Once again, as genealogists, we should thank the Irish Government for their generosity in making so many family history-related records freely available online.

How did you go?

Did you find any ancestors in the old age pension records? I didn’t myself. All my ancestors were either too young in 1909, were already deceased, or had emigrated to Australia. Perhaps the others did not meet the good character requirement!

Nevertheless, I would love to hear about your success and whether you found this blog post useful. Let me know in the Comments section below.

Therese Lynch

Your Family Genealogist

Pictures : courtesy of Pixabay and the National Archives of Ireland

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