Virtual Record Treasury of Ireland

Votes for Women: Breaking the Moulds

This is the 1911 census form of the Moulds family of Donaghadee, County Down. It’s a fascinating form, for many reasons. Let’s examine it.

Written by
Dr Brian Gurrin
Census and Population Records Research Fellow

The key element that will jump out at you is the political message which was written at the top of the form. ‘Votes for Women’ it boldly proclaims, though the message was subsequently struck out. It is rare to come across an Irish census form that has been defaced in this fashion, and in truth it is somewhat pointless writing a political message on a census form as, by their nature, they are going to be out of circulation for quite a long time. The 1911 census forms did not become available to the public until 1961, when a warrant from the Department of Justice opened the records to researchers.

The Moulds household lived at number 33 Warren Road, Donaghadee. Warren Road is the coastal road linking the town with Bangor. The house was large, containing thirteen rooms with seven windows to the front, and was categorised as a ‘1st class’ house. Six people were present in the house on census night, 2 April 1911. Joseph Moulds, a 70-year-old linen merchant, born in Belfast about 1841, was the ‘head of family, and Amy Moulds, his 54-year-old wife, also from Belfast. Joseph was Church of Ireland; Amy was a Presbyterian. The couple had married twenty-two years previously, on Christmas Eve 1888, in St Enoch’s Presbyterian Church – although the census records the duration of their marriage as ‘20 years’. Amy would have been about 32 years old when she married Joseph,  they had no children ‘born alive’.

Figure 1 – 1911 census form, household of Joseph Moulds, Donaghadee.

Reading this census return alongside other records we begin to unwrap a fascinating family history. The celebrant at Amy and Joseph’s marriage was ‘Roaring HughHanna, the firebrand anti-Popery minister at St Enoch’s Church. Roaring Hugh was Amy’s father, though Amy’s surname at the time of her marriage to Moulds was not Hanna, but Adams, as this was her second marriage (Figure 3). Her first marriage had taken place at The Manse, Dungannon [sic. Drumgooland] on 1 August 1879, when she, recorded as Sara Amelia Hanna, married a Belfast merchant, John Hanna Adams, son of John Adams esq. (figures 2 and 4).

Figure 2 – Marriage of Amy Hanna to John Hanna Adams, 1 August 1879. Source: Belfast Telegraph, 2 August 1879, p. 3, col. a (newspaper extracts from British Newspaper Archive).


Figure 3 – Marriage of Joseph Moulds and Amy Adams (second marriage), 24 December 1888, St Enoch’s Church, Befast.


Figure 4 – Marriage of John Hanna Adams and Sara Amelia Hanna (first marriage), 1 August 1879, The Manse, Dungannon.

The third name listed on Moulds’ census form was Anna M. Adams, a Presbyterian, born in Belfast, aged 28, and single, suggesting a birth year of about 1882 or early 1883. Anna was the eldest of the three children Amy had with John Hanna Adams. Anna’s birth can be identified in the civil registration record, named Annie McCormick Adams, born on 1 June 1880, two years earlier than the census form suggests. Her siblings were John Hanna Adams junior, born 1 April 1882, and Alfred Sidney Adams, born July 1884, less than a year before John Hanna Adams senior died, in April 1885. The family were living at 9 Eglinton Place, Belfast, when the first two children were born, but at 92 Denmark Street, Belfast, when Alfred Sidney arrived. John Hanna Adams senior’s death was preceded by the death of his eldest son, John, on 4 January 1884 (aged 1 year, 8 months), closely followed by the death of Alfred Sidney, (aged just 11 months), on 6 July 1885. Anna was the only surviving offspring of this ill-fated marriage (Figures 5 and 6). It is notable that the cause of John Hanna Senior’s death was ‘pulmonary phthisis’ (Tuberculosis, TB), which he had suffered from for several years. When their eldest son had died, both John senior and Amy were in Melbourne, Australia,  the informant for the death was Amy’s sister, the child’s aunt Helena Hanna.

Figure 5 – Death of John Hanna Adams junior, 4 January 1884.


Figure 6 – Death of Alfred Sidney Adams, 6 July 1885.

According to the 1911 census form Amy’s mother, Fanny Hanna (Joseph’s mother-in-law), was also in the house on census night. Fanny, or Frances, was a widow, with a recorded age of 80. She was born Frances Spence Rankin, daughter of James Rankin, in Belfast about 1831. Fanny had married ‘Roaring Hugh’ on 25 August 1852, and was widowed in 1892 after 40 years. Joseph incorrectly entered ‘56 years’ as the duration of her marriage, but this was later struck out. This was the last census form that Fanny’s name appeared on; she died in April 1913, aged 82. Fanny and Hugh had three sons and four daughters; Amy was their third daughter, Helena F. Hanna, the fifth person on the census form, was their eldest child. Helena was single and was (correctly) aged 57 on census night. She had been the informant for the death of John Hanna Adams junior, while his parents were in Melbourne. 

The final member of the household was Mary Ann Bell, a single, 18 year old, ‘general domestic servant’ who would be difficult to trace in the civil registration records, but for another error on the census form, where her birthplace was unnecessarily recorded as Ballycastle, County Antrim. Though later struck out, themention of Ballycastle allows us to identify Mary Ann as a daughter of John Bell, a car-driver, and Anne Boreland, born on 29 September 1893.

Who filled out the census form?

Now, let’s return to our examination of the census form. The general instructions written on the reverse of all 1911 census forms  stated that it was to be completed by the ‘heads of families’ (Figure 7), in this case Joseph Moulds. But a cursory examination shows that the Moulds’ form was filled out, in contravention of the rules, by at least four different people.

Figure 7 – ‘Heads of families’ to complete the census form.

It was signed (bottom right-hand corner) by Joseph Moulds, the head of the household, his signature matches the handwriting for his entry, so we can confidently say that he completed line 1 of the form; his own entry (Figure 8).

Figure 8 – Joseph Moulds’ signature and census entry.

But the handwriting for Amy Moulds’ entry does not match Joseph’s handwriting, or the handwriting for any of the other four entries, so it is reasonable to propose that she wrote her own details. The handwriting for Anna Adams’ entry is very distinctive, pointing to her writing her own entry. However, close examination shows that she described herself as ‘daughter’ in column 3, but this was later modified by the addition of the word ‘step’ to indicate the correct relationship between herself and Joseph (Figure 9).

Figure 9 – Addition of the word ‘step’ to Anna Adams’ relationship to Joseph Moulds.

The handwriting for entries 4, 5 and 6 appear to have been completed by a single individual, but the occupation for Helena Hannah was entered as ‘Private means’ by a different hand. It is notable that addition of Helena’s occupation was made by the same hand that corrected the relationship between Anna and Joseph, and close examination of the handwriting shows the adjustments to have been performed by Joseph (Figure 10).

Figure 10 – Matching the adjustments to Joseph Moulds.

By good fortune, however, we can identify the individual who wrote the details for the final three entries on the form as Helena, because, inadvertently, she provided us with a copy of her signature, which matches the handwriting for those three entries. Census forms had to be signed by the enumerator, but Helena incorrectly signed in that space, requiring the enumerator to erase her signature and replace it with his own. The traces of Helena’s signature remain, however, allowing us to match it to the handwriting for entries 4 through 6 (Figure 11).

Figure 11 – Helena Hanna’s erased signature in the enumerator’s area.

Who wrote the political slogan?

Having identified the four different handwritings used to complete the Moulds’ census form we can confidently propose who was responsible for writing ‘Votes for Women’ on the top of the form. We are greatly helped by the distinctive nature of Anna’s handwriting, so we can say with certainty that the flourishing strokes in her census entry closely match the flourishing characters evident in the slogan, particularly in the letters ‘m’ and ‘n’ in the word ‘women’, and that the letter ‘f’ used in the word ‘for’ in the slogan matches the ‘f in the word ‘Belfast’ in column 13. It was Anna McCormick Adams who wrote the slogan’; of that there is no doubt (Figure 12).

Figure 12 – Anna Adams wrote the slogan.

Who struck out the slogan?

Regrettably, the census form that can be accessed online for the Moulds’ household is only available as a black and white image, so determining who struck out the slogan is difficult. However, even from the black and white image, it can be clearly seen that the ink that was used for the striking out was faint. We cannot be certain, but it is not unlikely that the same ink that was used to make the adjustments to Anna’s and Helena’s entries was also used to strike out the slogan, which would point to Joseph Moulds being the individual who tried to erase it.

Two generations of change

The Moulds’ census form of 1911 is a fascinating document, layered as it is with the domestic and political commentaries of Anna Adams, a 30-year-old suffragette, her 57-year-old aunt, and her septuagenarian stepfather. Before the next census was held, in 1926, the Representation of the People Act (1918) had been passed and women over 30 had been granted the franchise in parliamentary elections, but Joseph had not lived to see that momentous change, he died in July 1913 (Figure 13). His wife, Anna’s mother, outlived him by two dozen years, dying in 1937 (Figure 14), her death attracting the attention of the newspapers on account of her famous father (Figure 14). 

One cannot help but wonder what Revd Hugh Hanna might have thought of the idea of ‘Votes for Women’, but in the space of two generations the family had moved from saying NO to Popery to YES to universal suffrage: a change for the better to the modern mind. Anna Adams was one for ‘Breaking Moulds’.

Figure 13 – Death of Joseph Moulds, 1913.

Figure 14 – Death of Amy Moulds, 1937.