An untapped genealogical source regarding Norwegian seafarers: the Irish census return of 1901


Greg Fewer


(a) Census returns in Ireland
Historians and genealogists may be interested to know of an Irish documentary source providing details of Norwegian mariners living at the turn of the century. This is the 1901 census return for Ireland, and to indicate the type of information supplied in this documentary source, the details of the crews of three Norwegian ships that were then berthed in the port of Waterford in south-eastern Ireland are presented below.

Although full censuses were taken of the population of Ireland in 1821, 1831, 1841, 1851, 1861, and 1871, little survives of them. The bulk of the returns from the first four censuses perished when the Public Record Office in Dublin was consumed by fire in 1922, while those for 1861 and 1871 were destroyed previously by order of the government. Returns of some of these censuses survive in whole or in part for a few areas in Ireland, but the 1901 census is the earliest surviving return for the whole country, and is therefore made available to the public (along with that of the 1911 census) to facilitate genealogical and historical research even though such records would not ordinarily be accessible for one hundred years (ffolliott, 1981: 61; Grenham, 1992: 13). The original returns for the whole island of Ireland are stored in the National Archives of Ireland in Dublin, although copies exist for the relevant counties in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast. However, the Northern Ireland copies are not currently available to the public in Belfast as the one hundred year rule is still enforced there (Grenham, 1992: 13). Microfilm copies of those returns relating to Waterford City and County are also on public access in Waterford Municipal Library and were the ones used for this article.

(b) Norwegian trade with Waterford
There is little literature known to me on Norwegian trading contacts with Waterford in the early 1900s. In the 18th century, however, timber was imported directly (and indirectly) from Scandinavia, though no Waterford ship sailed to the region (Mannion, 1992: 395). Most Scandinavian trade with Waterford in 1792-3 involved the Norwegian ports of Arendal, Kristiansand, Drammen, Longsound (?) and Mandal - all in Oslo Fjord; the only non-Norwegian port being Göteborg, in Sweden (Burtchaell, 1993, Fig. 1). Although some Scandinavian vessels transported butter on their return voyage, the majority arrived in Waterford to discharge their cargo of timber or deal and then went home in ballast (Burtchaell, 1993: 6). The Norwegian timber trade to Waterford in 1820 is specifically referred to in a later nineteenth century book of personal memoirs ('Decie', 1981: 29). Unfortunately, no information is supplied regarding the freight carried by the Norwegian ships mentioned in the 1901 census returns for Waterford. Instead, these vessels were vaguely described as being engaged in 'foreign trade'.

Nevertheless, it is remarkable that of all the vessels berthed at Waterford port on or around March 31, 1901, the only foreign examples (i.e., excluding English-, Scottish- or Welsh-registered ships 1) were Norwegian. This is despite the fact that advertisements for sailings of the American Line's mail steamers occurred on the front page of one of the city's newspapers, The Waterford News and General Advertiser, in late March and early April 1901 (this journal is available on microfilm in Waterford Municipal Library). However, French schooners also bore cargoes to Waterford, at least in 1917, when they were loaded with onions (Farrell, 1987: 15).

The presence of Norwegian vessels in Waterford in 1901 shows a pleasing continuity from the early middle ages when the city was founded by Vikings in the 9th or 10th centuries AD (Hurley, 1992; Bradley and Halpin, 1992). Numerous artifacts and other data relating to this Viking colony have been recovered in recent archaeological excavations in the city centre and are on public display in Waterford Heritage Centre. The Scandinavian community at Waterford remained ethnically distinct until at least the early part of the 14th century when they were last referred to in documents as 'Ostmen' (Parker, 1994).

The sample area

All of the census districts (Numbers 78-94) making up Waterford city and Gaultier, the easternmost rural area of County Waterford, were searched for shipping returns. Kilculliheen, Grattan Quay, Merchants' Quay, Scotch Quay, and the North Wharf/Railway Jetty all produced shipping returns for the city, while Faithlegg and Dunmore townlands produced two for Gaultier. However, only the returns for Merchants' Quay and Scotch Quay included Norwegian vessels.

The printed forms for the shipping returns state that they were to be filled out 'on the Night of Sunday, the 31st of March, 1901' and were to include 'Vessels which went to Sea on the 30th or 31st of March, and which in the ordinary course would not arrive at their Destination before the Morning of Monday, the 1st of April; and [those] Vessels, the occupants of which were not enumerated elsewhere, which arrived in this Port on the 1st of April, or during the following week'. The census date of 31 March 1901 should therefore be regarded as nominal.

The ships

The details of each ship are supplied as follows:- ship's name (in italics), displacement (in tons) and type of ship, port of registration in Norway, and its berth in Waterford (with the number assigned by the census enumerator to each vessel in the shipping return). Then, an alphabetical list of the entire crew of each ship is supplied with details of each man's age in years, marital state and particular job. Uniform characteristics, including gender, religion, ability to read and write, and place of birth are then indicated at the end of each list. Any deviations from these characteristics are included with the alphabetical listing of each crew member.

Annie M. Smull	973 ton barque	Fredericksvam	Scotch Quay (ship #1)
Alson, Nils	 		32	not married	seaman
Aügüstson, Johan		25	not married	seaman
Christiansen, Anders		25	not married	seaman
Christiansen, Christian		21	not married	seaman
Enkalin[?], Ingnal[?]		18	not married	seaman
Handinkson, Einar		15	not married	seaman
Jansen, Jörgen	 		27	not married	seaman
Johanneson, Karl		26	not married	seaman
Johanneson, Lüdvick		19	not married	seaman
Kristianson, Karl		17	not married	seaman
Lükkiberg, C. A.		39	married		Captain
Martinson, Anton		22	not married	seaman
Sorenson, Hans			31	not married	seaman
Syverson, Ali[?]		21	not married	seaman
Tjarlorfson[?], Tommas		20	not married	seaman

All crew members on the Annie M. Smull were male, 'Protestants' (or 'Lütter'), literate in 'Norsky' and born in Norway.

Alix	285 ton brig	Brevy	Merchant's Quay (ship #3)
Arntyen, Albert			28	married		sailor
Bekkevold, Thorvold		43	married		master mariner
Hansen, Nicolay			19	not married	sailor
Jacobsen, Carl			37	not married	sailor
Kruse, Johan			47	married		mate
Lansen, Martin			25	not married	sailor
Olsen, Alfred			16	not married	cook
Svendsen, Hans			18	not married	sailor

All crew members recorded as male, Protestant, able to read and write, and born in Norway.

Hebe	440 ton barque	Stavanger	Merchant's Quay (ship #8)
Andersen, Anders		37	not married	mate
Andersen, Syrent		40	married		sailor
Benjamen, Carl			17	not married	sailor
Gundersen, Marcilius		52	married		sailor
Hansen, Hans			42	married		sailor
Olsen, Ole			26	widower		steward
Petersen, Nils			15	not married	cook
Samuelsen, Lars			56	married		master mariner
Sorensen, Torin			56	married		mate
Svendsen, Auton			54	married		sailor	born Sweden

All crew members male, Lutheran, able to read and write, and born in Norway (except for Auton Svendsen).


Although information is presented here only on Norwegian ships berthed at Waterford in 1901, it should be noted that Ireland has many coastal and inland ports, any of which may have been visited by Norwegian vessels whether to unload their cargoes or to acquire provisions for a longer voyage to another destination. Hopefully, scholars and amateurs alike will take the opportunity to examine Ireland's 1901 and 1911 census returns for themselves to obtain information that may not be as readily available in Norway. Crucial details may be found of crew members who died at sea following their visit to an Irish port at the time of Ireland's 1901 or 1911 censuses. Seamen's names appearing in Irish documents might not have been recorded in Norwegian census returns because they were away at sea. Some may never have returned to Norway, intending to sail to America or some other country instead. Finally, the Irish 1901 and 1911 census returns might offer some basic information to anyone researching the movements of particular seafarers (some of them were born as early as the 1840s) or the ships they travelled in.


1. The island of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until 1921, when twenty-six of its thirty-two counties became an autonomous state. The other six counties remained a part of the United Kingdom as they still do today. In 1931, the autonomous part of Ireland (called the Irish Free State) gained full independence from Great Britain, though the British monarch remained as the country's head of state. It was not until 1949 that Ireland would become a republic and leave the British Commonwealth of Nations.


Bradley, J. and Halpin, A. (1992) 'The topographical development of Scandinavian and Anglo-Norman Waterford', in W. Nolan, T. P. Power and D. Cowman (eds), Waterford: history and society. Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish county (Dublin: Geography Publications), pp. 105-30.

Burtchaell, J. (1993) 'Waterford two centuries ago: the Waterford Herald for 1792-3', in Decies, 47, pp. 3-15.

'Decie' (1981) 'From the Memoirs of Richard Rorke', in Decies, 17, pp. 29-36.

Farrell, R. J. (1987) 'Working life on the Zayda in 1917', in Decies, 36, pp. 13-15.

ffolliott, R. (1981) 'Irish census returns and census substitutes', in D. F. Begley (ed.) Irish genealogy: a record finder (Dublin: Heraldic Artists, Ltd), pp. 51-74.

Grenham, J. (1992) Tracing your Irish ancestors (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan).

Hurley, M. F. (1992) 'Late Viking Age settlement in Waterford City', in W. Nolan, T. P. Power and D. Cowman (eds), Waterford: history and society. Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish county (Dublin: Geography Publications), pp. 49-72.

Mannion, J. (1992) 'Vessels, masters and seafaring: patterns of voyages in Waterford commerce, 1766-1771', in W. Nolan, T. P. Power and D. Cowman (eds), Waterford: history and society. Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish county (Dublin: Geography Publications), pp. 373-402.

Parker, C. (1994) 'The Ostmen in post-Norman Waterford', in Decies, 49, pp. 29-37.

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