Guide to testamentary records
What is a will?
A will is a document written by an individual in which they express their wishes as to how their estate is to be divided after their death. A will can only become a legal document once a grant of probate is taken out following the death of the individual. A person’s estate may include a number of things the most common of which are property, money or personal possessions. This list is not exhaustive, however.
What is a grant of probate?
A grant of probate is a document granted under seal by the High Court giving legal power to the executor of a valid will to enable the executor to fulfil the wishes of the deceased individual as set out in their will. A grant of probate, a grant of letters of administration or a grant of administration with will annexed can only be issued where a person has died.
What is a grant of letters of administration?
Where a person with assets, such as land or property or possessions, dies intestate or without a will, applications are made to the High Court to obtain a grant of letters of administration in order to allow the appointment of an individual to distribute the estate and to fulfil legal requirements such as those set out in the laws of succession. A grant of probate or a grant of administration can only be issued where a person has died.
What is a grant of letters of administration with will annexed?
When a person dies leaving a will, and a person other than the named executor applies for the grant, a grant of letters of administration with will annexed is issued.
What is an administrator de bonis non?
When an executor or administrator has been appointed, and the estate is not fully settled, and the executor or administrator is dead, has absconded, or for any cause has been removed, a second administrator is appointed to perform the duty remaining to be done. They are called an administrator de bonis non, i.e. an administrator of the goods not administered. He/she becomes by this appointment the only representative of the deceased. The phrase ‘de bonis non’ appears in the calendar in such cases.
What is a schedule of assets?
A schedule of assets (correctly an’ estate duty affidavit’) accompanies a will and demonstrates how the estate has been divided and also contains information on such topics as the amount of estate duty paid.
In the majority of cases, the schedule of assets is contained in the testamentary envelopes with the original wills and administration papers. In the case of the Principal Registry (known as the Probate Office, Dublin since 1963) the schedules are bound separately and from 1924 onwards, they are complete. There are also partial schedules for the years 1875, 1877, 1885 and 1890. Where the schedule of assets is not included in the envelope with the will it must be ordered as a separate item.
What is the Principal Registry?
The Principal Registry is another name for the central Probate Office in Dublin. It was traditionally known as the Principal Registry and can be referred to in the calendars of wills as PR (Principal Registry), PO (Probate Office) or Dublin.
What is a District Registry?
A District Registry is a sub-office of the Probate Office located outside of Dublin. After 1857, there were 10 District Probate Offices in Ireland. Today, 14 District Probate offices are to be found in locations that include Cork, Limerick, Castlebar, Mullingar and Kilkenny. Prior to the partition of Ireland, registries would have existed in places such as Belfast, Derry and Armagh. A grant of probate or administration can be issued in any of the registries, however, the closest registry to the address of the deceased or to their solicitor is normally used.
What is the Probate Office?
The Probate Office is an office of the High Court charged with the administration of testamentary records. Further information on the Probate Office can be found on the website of the Courts Service.
Where is the Probate Office located?
There is a central probate office located in Dublin in Phoenix House, beside the Smithfield Luas stop. There is also a network of 12 District Probate Offices located throughout Ireland. Further information is available on the website of the Courts Service.
How do you search for a grant of probate?
Each year, the Probate Office issues a list of all grants issued in a particular year. This index, known as a calendar, is arranged by the year in which the grant is issued and the surname of the deceased individual. In general, a grant of probate is issued within two years of the date of death. There is no deadline for the processing of a will, however, and it is recommended to undertake at least a ten year search beginning after the date of death.
How do you search for a grant of letters of administration?
Grants of letters of administration are arranged in exactly the same way as a grant of probate. Between 1858 and 1867, there are two calendars for each year, one for wills and one for administrations. From 1868 onwards, both grants of probate and grants of administration are included in the same series of calendars, arranged by the year in which the grant was issued and the surname of the deceased individual. Beside the entry it will state whether it is a grant of a will or a grant of administration.
What is included in a Calendar of Wills?
Information included in the calendar of wills typically includes: full name of the deceased; date on which grant of probate or letters of administration issued; grant type; address of deceased; date and place of death; name of issuing registry; name, address and occupation of executor; and value of estate. The calendars are effectively a finding aid to the original wills and letters of administration.
Are they available online?
It is possible to search the calendars (indices) online. The original documents cannot be accessed online but can be viewed in the reading room of the National Archives, or a copy obtained for a fee by completing the Testamentary Copy Order form.
From 1858 to 1917, the calendars cover the whole of Ireland. After 1918, the calendars cover the 26 counties in the Republic while indices covering the six counties of Northern Ireland are available in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI).
For the years 1923-1982, the easiest way to access the calendar is to search the online catalogue. If using a ‘Simple Search’ type in Calendar of Wills and the year, for example, Calendar of Wills 1962 will return a link to a pdf of the calendar for the year 1962.
If you wish to view all calendars from 1923-1982, the easiest way to search is to use the ‘Advanced Search’ function. Using the ‘Reference Code’ field, place the series reference code CS/HC/PO/4 in the search box. There are 135 calendars dating from 1858-1982.
It is possible to search by the name of the deceased individual in the online catalogue for the years 1923-1951 and for 1983-1991, for the years 1952-1982 the calendars will need to be checked individually. For common names, searches may return multiple entries, however, and it may be more useful to search individual calendars where the date of grant or the date of death is known.
How do I order a copy of a will or grant of probate?
For wills and grants of probate from 1922-1982 it is necessary to look up the details of the individual in the Calendar of Wills. In order to ensure the correct document is ordered, researchers must provide details of the name of the deceased, the date of the grant of probate or administration and the registry in which the grant was issued. To order a copy of this will remotely this information will need to be provided on our order form which will need to be downloaded and sent to us along with your payment by cheque/postal order/back draft only. A plain copy is a simple photocopy, if you need the copy for legal purposes you will need to order a certified copy.
For example, the grant of administration for John Murphy, a railway loader, who died on the 14 March 1947, was issued at the Dublin Probate Office on 1 October 1947. If these details are not included it is not possible for staff of the National Archives to process advance orders or copy orders. Please ensure that you include these details from the Calendar of Wills in any correspondence.
Wills and grants of probate issued from 1983-1991 are searchable by name in the online catalogue and a three-part reference code, which is unique to the document in question, will suffice to obtain a copy or process an order.
For example, a grant of probate was issued at Waterford to the estate of Maurice Ahearne of Dunmoon, Tallow, County Waterford on the 26 January 1987. The reference code for this grant is NAI, 2008/14/1.
Why are they useful for family history?
Testamentary records are useful to family history as they provide valuable information about the date of death and the assets owned by an individual, and may also reveal family or personal connections to individuals. Sometimes this information can help fill in gaps about people where other sources do not exist or are not available, and also can help open up new avenues of research where, for example, the existence of persons named in a will or the ownership of property was heretofore unknown.
My ancestor did not die in Ireland, why would wills or testamentary material be useful for family history?
If your ancestor died abroad but owned property in Ireland, a grant of probate or a grant of administration (where the deceased died intestate) may have been issued to determine who is to inherit the Irish property or any assets held in Ireland. Even if an individual lived abroad, it is necessary for their executor to work through the Irish legal process where Irish assets are involved before the estate can be distributed legally.
How do you search for a will issued before 1858?
Before 1858, the Church of Ireland was responsible for all testamentary affairs. Their testamentary authority was abolished by the Probates and Letters of Administration Act (Ireland), 1857. A series of calendars of wills and grants of administration issued by these ecclesiastical courts, also known as the Prerogative Court and the Diocesan or Consistorial Court, is available on microfilm in the Reading Room of the National Archives. The calendars are arranged by Church of Ireland diocese and, subsequently, by the surname of the deceased individual. In general, only Church of Ireland (Protestant) or wealthy Roman Catholics appear in the ecclesiastical court records. The making of a will did not become commonplace until the 20th century.
It is possible to search the calendars for Diocesan and Prerogative wills pre-dating 1858 on our Genealogy website. In the vast majority of cases, the only evidence of the will is the entry in the calendar; in a minority of cases, there are exact copies in the will books. The actual documents however were destroyed in 1922 during the Civil War.
What testamentary material was destroyed during the Civil War in 1922?
The destruction of the Public Record Office in the Four Courts during the Civil War in 1922 destroyed many original testamentary records, including those issued by the Principal Registry (Dublin) before 1904 (1858-1903), by the District Registries before 1900 (1858-1899) and the archives of the Prerogative and Diocesan Courts (pre-1858). Wills and administration papers lodged in Armagh, Belfast and Derry are in PRONI in Belfast.
Is it possible to obtain copies of destroyed material?
In the vast majority of cases of material issued by the Principal Registry in Dublin before 1904 and the Prerogative and Diocesan Courts before 1858 there is no copy available. The only proof that any grant was issued is contained in the surviving calendars or indices, and in grant registers, grant books or will books (see below).
In a relatively small number of cases, a copy may exist in the T- number series of records held in the National Archives. This collection of testamentary material includes copies of destroyed material donated to the then Public Record Office (now the National Archives) by solicitors and other sources to bridge some of the gaps created by the destruction. This collection contains approximately 20,000 items, which is a fraction of the material destroyed.
Will Registers 1858-1900
Copies of wills proved in District Registries from 1858 on survive in Will Registers, and are an exact replacement for the originals which were lost, except of course for the original signatures of the testator and witnesses. Unfortunately, no such copies survive for the Principal Registry, which means there is very little for people who died in Dublin or had particularly large estates. The Registers for Armagh, Belfast and Londonderry are held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Will Registers 1858-1900 have been digitised and can be looked up on our Genealogy website.
For grants of probate or grants of administration issued in District Registries before 1900, a copy may exist in the will books, which are available on microfilm in the Reading Room of the National Archives. These books also contain some wills proved in the Principal Registry in 1874, 1876, 1891 and 1896, which are indexed in the annual calendars.
For the pre-1858 ecclesiastical courts, there are earlier partial will books for the Prerogative Court (1664-1684, 1706-1708, 1726-1728, 1728-1729, 1777, 1813 and 1834) and some Diocesan Courts – Connor (1818-1820 and 1853-1858) and Down (1850-1858).
For all of these, please consult the finding aid ‘Testamentary Index, 1536-1971’ in the Reading Room, and ask staff to assist with ordering materials. The will books for Armagh, Belfast and Derry are in PRONI in Belfast.
Grant books containing copies of grants are available for any grant issued since 1922. Prior to 1922 grant books exist for grants made in the civil Principal Registry (Dublin) in 1878, 1883 and 1891 and of most grants made in the civil District Registries since 1858. The grant books for Armagh and Belfast up to 1885 are in the National Archives while later grant books for Armagh, Belfast and Derry are in PRONI.
A small number of grant books survive for the pre-1858 ecclesiastical courts. These include grant books for the Prerogative Court (1684-1688, 1748 -1751, 1839) and some Diocesan Courts – Cashel (1840-1845), Connor (1818-1820, 1853-1858), Down (1850-1858), Derry and Raphoe (1812-1851) and Ossory (1848-1858). The vast majority of grant books for the ecclesiastical courts do not survive.
To find out the names of individuals whose wills were sent through probate (except in Northern Ireland) it is best to first consult the annual calendars or indices where they exist (see below). Where they don’t exist, please see the finding aid ‘Testamentary Index, 1536-1971’ in the Reading Room, and ask staff to assist with ordering materials.
Grant Books Indices
Grant books indices in eight volumes for the years 1811-1834 and 1835-1858 are contained in a private accession PRIV/999/611. These volumes were originally compiled for a Dublin legal firm.
Betham’s abstracts are a series of excerpts taken from wills proved in the Prerogative Court before 1800, of administrations granted in the Prerogative Court before 1802 and of wills proved in the Kildare Diocesan Court before 1827. These excerpts were taken before the material was destroyed in 1922 and are available on microfilm in the Reading Room. They contain approximately 20,000 entries and can prove very useful for researchers seeking to find further details about individuals who had grants issued before 1800. The microfilms (MFGS 38) are arranged by subject and then by the surname of the individual and a finding aid is available in the Reading Room. A further index is available in Vicar’s Index, the Indices to Dublin Grants and the “Index to Wills of the Diocese of Kildare” reprinted from the Journal of the Kildare Archaeological Society, iv, No. 6, (1905). Also an index to Tuam wills (1652-1809).
Thrift’s abstracts are a series of excerpts taken from wills proved in the Prerogative Court before 1800, and sometimes up to 1858. These excerpts were taken before the material was destroyed in 1922 and are available on microfilm in the Reading Room. They contain approximately 32,000 entries and can prove very useful for researchers seeking to find further details about individuals who had grants issued by the ecclesiastical courts. The abstracts contain such details as name, address, occupation and the year of grant of probate or grant of letters of administration, where issued. Not every diocese was collected as part of the work by Gertrude Thrift.
The index is searchable using a card catalogue available in the Reading Room; the materials themselves are made available on microfilm (MFGS 40). The following list contains details of available courts and covering dates:
- Ardfert & Aghadoe, 1690-1800, Cos. Kerry, Cork
- Cashel & Emly, 1618-1800, Cos. Tipperary, Kilkenny, Limerick
- Cloyne, 1621-1800, Cos. Cork, Limerick, Waterford
- Cork & Ross, 1548-1800, Cos. Cork, Kerry
- Derry, 1612-1858, Cos. Derry, Antrim, Donegal, Tyrone
- Dromore, 1678-1858, Cos. Down, Antrim, Armagh
- Ferns, 1601-1800, Cos. Wexford, Carlow, Wicklow
- Kildare, 1661-1800, Cos. Kildare, Laois (Queen’s), Offaly (King’s), Wicklow
- Killaloe & Kilfenora, 1653-1800, Cos. Clare, Tipperary, Laois (Queen’s), Limerick
- Leighlin, 1652-1800, Cos. Carlow, Laois (Queen’s), Kilkenny, Wexford, Wicklow
- Limerick, 1615-1800, Cos. Limerick, Clare, Cork, Kerry
- Newry & Mourne (Exempt Jurisdictions), 1727-1858, Cos. Down, Armagh
- Ossory, 1536-1800, Cos. Kilkenny, Laois (Queen’s)
- Raphoe, 1684-1858, Cos. Donegal
- Waterford & Lismore, 1645-1800, Cos. Waterford, Cork, Tipperary
Crosslé and Jennings genealogical abstracts
These are further abstracts from legal materials made for genealogical purposes. Both can be checked in our card indices in the Reading Room. Crosslé’s abstracts can be consulted on microfilm (MFGS 44); Jennings’s abstracts are contained in one large item (T12,622).
Inland Revenue Registers/Irish Will and Administration Registers (IWR)
The Inland Revenue Board’s registers of wills and administrations contain abstracts of wills and administrations for 1828-1879, which are indexed in separate volumes and are available on microfilm (MFGS 43). Their first purpose was to list death duties. For the years 1840-1857, these indices give details that do not appear in the diocesan and prerogative calendars referred to above.
Charitable Donations and Bequests
Charitable Donations and Bequests will extract books (CHAR1/) contain abstracts of wills where a charitable bequest was made. They cover the years 1800-1961 and are available on microfilm in the Reading Room (MFS 49). They are accessed using a card index covering the period 1800-1858, which is available for consultation in the Reading Room.