Wills and testamentary records are of assistance to genealogists as evidence of the date of a person’s death and for other information which they may contain concerning the dead person’s family, place of residence and property.
Before a will can take effect, a grant of probate must be made by a court. If someone dies without having made a will, the court can grant letters of administration for the disposal of the estate. Since 1858, grants of probate and administration have been made in the Principal and District Registries of the Probate Court (before 1877) or the High Court (after 1877). They are indexed in the Calendars of Wills and Administrations and one or two volumes per year in addition to a consolidated index for the period 1858–1877, are available to consult in the Reading Room.
Up to 1917, the Calendars cover the whole of Ireland, but since 1918 they cover only the 26 counties in the Republic – those indexes covering the six counties of Northern Ireland since 1918 are in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). The Calendars of Wills and Administrations for Armagh, Belfast and Londonderry are searchable online at www.proni.gov.uk/index/search_the_archives/will_calendars/wills_search.
Before 1858, grants of probate and administration were made by the courts of the Church of Ireland (the Prerogative Court and the Diocesan or Consistorial Courts). There are separate indexes of wills and administrations for each court in the Reading Room. Some of the indexes have been published of which the most important are Vicar’s Index to Prerogative Wills, 1536-1810 and the Indexes to Dublin Grant Books and Wills, 1270-1800 (now on cd-rom – Index of Wills & Marriage Licenses for Dublin Diocese up to 1800, Flyleaf Press, nd) and 1800-58.
The records of wills and administrations in the National Archives include the following:
(a) Original wills and administration papers lodged in the Principal Registry since 1904 and in most District Registries since 1900 (indexed in the annual Calendars; wills and administration papers lodged in Armagh, Belfast and Londonderry are in PRONI). Original wills and administration papers are transferred to the National Archives once the grant is 20 years old. Copies of testamentary documents can be ordered by completing and posting the Testamentary copy order form.
(b) Schedules of assets are in most cases, contained in the testamentary envelopes with the original wills and administration papers. In the case of the Principal Registry (known as the Probate Office 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.
(c) Will Books containing copies of most wills proved in District Registries since 1858 and of some wills proved in the Principal Registry in 1874, 1876, 1891 and 1896 (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). The will books for Armagh, Belfast and Londonderry are in PRONI.
(d) Grant Books containing copies of grants made in the civil Principal Registry since 1922 and in 1878, 1883 and 1891 and of most grants made in the civil District Registries since 1858 (indexed in the annual Calendars. The grant books for Armagh and Belfast up to 1885 are in the National Archives while later grant books for Armagh, Belfast and Londonderry are in PRONI.
For the pre-1858 ecclesiastical courts there are earlier, partial, 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).
(e) Betham’s Abstracts of 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 (indexed in Vicar’s Index, the Indexes 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).
(f) Inland Revenue registers of wills and administrations containing abstracts of wills and administrations for 1828-1839 (indexed in separate volumes which cover the period 1828-1879; for the years 1840-1857, these indexes give details which do not appear in the diocesan and Prerogative indexes referred to above).
(g) Charitable Donations and Bequests will extract books holding abstracts of wills which contained charitable bequests (1800-1961) (there is a separate card index for the period 1800-1858 available for consultation in the Reading Room).
(h) Other copies and abstracts of wills and administrations for the period both before and after 1858 (indexed in the main testamentary card index in the Reading Room).
(i) Grant books indexes in eight volumes for the years 1811-1834 and 1835-1858 (accession 999/611) and which were originally compiled for a Dublin legal firm.
Researchers should consult the Index of Irish Wills, 1484-1858, Testamentary Records at the National Archives of Ireland cd-rom (Eneclann, 1999) for an indication of holdings of abstracts, indexes and transcripts (including the Crosslé, Jennings and Thrift genealogical abstracts) though not all original records survive.