The long-held belief that the 1926 census of Northern Ireland was destroyed has been confirmed as fact following a thorough investigation by the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.
According to a report on the BBC Northern Ireland News website, the returns of the first census after the partition of Ireland were probably destroyed during World War II and, as such, were never transferred to PRONI for safe-keeping.
The investigation was prompted by enquiries made by the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations (CIGO) two years ago. The Republic of Ireland's new government had just pledged in its 2011 Programme for Government to bring about the early release of the Irish Free State's 1926 Census (something they seem to be performing a U-turn on) and so questions were asked in the hope of bringing about a dual release for the entire island. What a fantastic historical resource that would have been, with its first records of the population following partition.
Sadly, we have been denied that resource*.
The chance of early release of the 1926 census for Northern Ireland is to some extent mitigated by the survival of the 1939 National Register which notes all people living in NI in September of that year, just on the outbreak of war. Unlike census returns, this Register notes each person's date of birth, rather than just their age. Following successful lobbying by CIGO, data is available, free, to genealogists under the UK's Freedom of Information Act. Details of how to make such applications are available on PRONI.
*So why not vent your frustration by adding your voice to the campaign for the early release of the 1926 census of Ireland? This one is down to us now. See Stand up and be counted.