Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Lawlor family in the 1911 Census

1911 Census record of the Lawlor family in Dublin
Click on this image to see closer detail

I have recently found transcripts of the 1911 census for Ireland which are located in the online National Archives of Ireland. The first of these (see original image above) records a family named Lawlor living at house number 20 in Rutland Cottages off Summerhill Place (Mountjoy, Dublin). I believe that this family were the parents and older siblings of our grand father James Lawlor because of the names and ages of the parents and their county of origin and because of the names and age order of the children. What seems to be new information in this record from my point of view is the presence of two brothers named Michael and Denis who quite probably died after this census was taken and also the fact that Catherine informed the censor that another child had previously died. I don't think we should be too shocked at this information as the infant mortality rate in Edwardian Britain and Ireland was extremely high, especially amongst the working class where 1 in 4 infants died in the first 12 months after birth.

The Lawlor family is registered thus:

Denis Lawlor, aged 36, head of family, Roman Catholic, Labourer Quay, can read and write, married, born in Queens County

Catherine Lawlor, aged 33, wife, Roman Catholic, born in Queens County, can read and write

Mary Lawlor, aged 7, daughter, born in Cork City, scholar

Elisabeth Lawlor, aged 5, daughter, born in Queens County

Michael Lawlor, aged 3, son, born in Dublin City

Thomas Lawlor, aged 2 son, born in Dublin City

Denis Lawlor, aged 6 months, born in Dublin City

We can note that Denis, Catherine and their second daughter Elisabeth were all born in Queens County, which was the old British name of the modern county of Laois which was renamed following the Irish War of Independence. We already knew that the Lawlors originated from Laois because this is where Denis and Catherine married.

We can also note that the oldest daughter Mary was born in Cork and we also know from other information that the Lawlors had family connections in Cork which included the Glavin family who were related by marriage to Denis Lawlor. It seems conclusive to me therefore that the children Mary and Elisabeth in this census record were the people we knew and loved as aunties Mamie and Lily of Walsh Road, Drumcondra.

We should note that the oldest son in this record, Michael, would probably have taken his name from Denis Lawlor's father, recorded on Denis's marriage certificate as Michael Lawlor. The next eldest son Thomas is the right age to have been Eamon's father Tommy who lived in London. The third son in this record, Denis, would have been named after the father.

Lawlor or Lalor?

Just a quick further note on the use of the surname Lawlor. I have heard people say that the Lawlor family in Ireland were actually known as the Lalors and even the O'Lalors. Indeed, my grandfather's brother Kevin once told me that everyone in Dublin used the name Lalor and it was only my grandfather James who Anglicised the name when he moved to Birmingham.

With the greatest respect though, this is not backed up by the records. It is true that the name Lawlor, like all Irish surnames actually has Celtic roots, the original Celtic version of Lawlor being O'leathlobhair. The four main variations of this surname, Lawlor, O'Lawlor, Lalor and O'Lalor are all commonly used in Ireland and in a sense are all Anglicisations of the original O'leathlobhair. From the early 20th century there was of course a campaign in Ireland to change all English imposed names back to original Irish names, Queens County to County Laois being a good example, or Sackville Street in Dublin renamed O'Connell Street and so it was with both first and surnames.

However, during my research I have found evidence of our Lalwor ancestors using different variations going back to the late 19th century and in some cases the same individual might use Lalor for one occasion and Lawlor for another.

We also have to take account that most people were illiterate in the 19th century so they relied on someone like a priest or registrar to actually spell their names for them, this would explain why someone might be a Lalor on their birth certificate and Lawlor on a marriage certificate because it came down to how the more educated advocate thought that the name was spelt. My advice therefore is that we should not get hung up about what spellings people used as there wasn't, in our family at least, actually any hard and fast rule and I am therefore sticking with Lawlor.

Thomas and James Lawlor

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