Now – following yesterday’s internet release of the 1901 census by the national archives – that question can be answered, along with what was the quality of their dwelling, religion and literacy skills.
The records are the earliest surviving complete Census of Ireland and consist of over 4.5 million returns from 850,000 households across the 32 counties.
The name, age, sex, place of birth, religion, occupation, education, marriage details, disabilities and language spoken of millions of ordinary folk and some of history’s better known names sit side-by-side.
There is detail on houses, including the number of windows, type of roof and number of rooms occupied by each family.
The 1911 census was updated to ask for details of the number of children born alive to a couple and the number still living.
Launching the census website, Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin described it as “an important and exciting day for people all over the world who want to trace their roots”.
“In a world which is very troubled, people want to know where they are rooted and are anxious to know about their background and their heritage,” she said.
Among the famous lives recorded in the state survey are a 19-year-old James Joyce. The future author of Ulysses, then listed as a student, is recorded as residing in Fairview, Dublin, along with his father John, a government pensioner, his mother Mary and nine siblings.
Famous author, storyteller and scourge of many a secondary school student, Peig Sayers was living with her husband and in-laws on the Great Blasket Island.
Ms Hanafin said the project brings history “a bit closer to us all”.
The 1901 Census shows the minister’s own great- great-grandparents, Patrick and Jane Hanafin, were clothes dealers living with their children and grandchild in Longford, a discovery that prompted Ms Hanafin to conclude: “That’s where my interest in clothes came from.”
Digitisation of the records has cost almost €4 million. The work was carried out by the National Archives in a research partnership with Library and Archives Canada over the past five years.
Unlike Britain, it will not be possible for complete records from earlier to go online as most of the census records from the 19th century have been destroyed.
Those from the early part of the century were lost in a fire at the Public Records Office when Free State forces attacked a republican garrison stationed in the building during the Civil War in 1922. Some later records were pulped because of a paper shortage during the first World War.
The census taken on the night of Sunday, March 31, 1901, can be accessed at census.nationalarchives.ie