Every census that takes place is a chance to find out more about what’s happening in our country, from the age and background of the population to internet use, commuting times and lifestyle choices. Interestingly, for the first time in Ireland, the upcoming 2021 Census will also feature a ‘Time Capsule’ section to record a confidential message for future generations.
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The date for the 2021 Census of Ireland has been set for Sunday April 18th 2021. In addition to the usual questions, the Census will contain updates to 25 existing questions around disability, ethnic group, religion, and the Irish language.
There will also be eight new questions around internet access and devices, smoke alarms, working from home, smoking, childcare, volunteering, renewable energy, and commuting.
The new Time Capsule addition to the 2021 Census will be a voluntary section where people can leave a confidential message for future generations. This message will be stored securely for 100 years before it is shared with the public. What a fantastic opportunity to share family details, memories, and important information that would be beneficial and poignant for future generations!
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An Opportunity to Remember
Using the Time Capsule option is not only a chance to pass on family stories and history, but also an important tool for bereaved parents to acknowledge and record their babies’ existence in the State records.
Niamh Connolly-Coyne is one such parent who has worked with baby loss charity A Little Lifetime Foundation to campaign for the Time Capsule, and here’s what she has to say:
When I watch TV programmes like “Who Do You Think You Are?”, I am reminded how vital written records are for our future descendants to learn about important things in our lives.
It was only recently, after the passing of my own baby, that I learned both of my grandmothers had also had a baby who died around the time of their births.
On my mother’s side, the Hartys, we know that a baby was born about 80 years ago. We know that there are no hospital records as the baby was born at home. We know that the baby was not named and is not mentioned on any headstone. We are assuming that the baby was most likely stillborn because there is no birth or death certificate either. We do not know if the baby was a boy or a girl. We are almost certain however that he or she is buried with his/her older brother Mossie who died at the age of five.
I contacted A Little Lifetime Foundation because I knew that they had volunteers who could help with the search for Baby Harty. But no records have shown up. So, in short, absolutely no record exists about the baby. Nothing! It is only through word of mouth passed on through generations that our family will know that another baby existed.
On my father’s side, the Connollys, a baby was born quite prematurely. When my Dad was ten years old, he recalls that he and his father visited the local hospital. He remembers his father, my grandfather, being handed a little flimsy wooden box. He said that he knew that his mother had given birth to a baby who was born too soon. He and his father brought the little box to the local graveyard and dug a small grave and buried the baby themselves. That was the tradition at the time.
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Creating a Time Capsule on the 2021 Census
Thankfully things are moving forward and babies who have died are being acknowledged in their own right more and more.
For the very first time, after lobbying by A Little Lifetime and other baby loss organisations, the 2021 Census will include a Time Capsule section. This will allow members of the public to write a voluntary and confidential message of their choice, which will be stored securely for 100 years under the Statistics Act 1993.
This means that bereaved parents will be given the opportunity to write a note about their baby for future generations and researchers to read.
I will write a note about my baby Mia who was born silently in 2015. This note will tell my future descendants that she is listed on the stillbirth register and I will give details about where she is buried. I will tell them that she died from hypoplastic left heart syndrome. I will say that no other relative in my generation or the generation before me had a congenital heart problem, but in 100 years’ time, there will be more research on this condition and more definite answers about why it occurs in families.
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More Change Is Needed
The Census Advisory Group and the Irish Government are to be commended for this significant step forward. But more change needs to happen.
As Mia was not born alive, she is listed on a special, closed stillbirth register separate to her twin sister Emma who is listed on the birth register. Under the current legislative provisions of the Stillbirth Registration Act of 1994, my husband and I, as Mia’s parents, are the only people who can easily obtain her certificate from the register of stillbirths. Siblings, grandparents, relatives, friends and future generations will not have such easy access. This needs to change.
Babies who are not born alive should receive a birth certificate and a death certificate just like everyone else. For those babies already on the stillbirth register, parents should be given the option of whether they would like their baby to receive a birth and death certificate (and be listed on those registers instead).
If a baby dies before 24 weeks of pregnancy, his or her birth cannot be entered into the stillbirth register or any register. Families do not receive any certification from the State that the baby existed. This too needs to change.
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Will you leave a time capsule message for future generations on the 2021 Census? Leave a comment below and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!