The index list records at the National Archives that are not simply an index. In other words, there is a document worth looking at behind every index entry. Each index entry contains the name of the person leaving a will, or being covered by a grant of probate or administration. It also contains their address, sometimes theiroccupation, and the place where the document was proved (i.e. a diocesan or the Prerogative court). The index also contains the names of the executors for almost half the entries, along with their addresses. In essence this index contains all the information contained in the National Archives finding aids (i.e. card catalogues, typed lists, and original summaries).

Start exploring the Irish Wills Index 1484-1858

The vast majority of Ireland's testamentary records (wills, administrations, probates, etc.) were lost in destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) in 1922 - but not everything. Staff at the PROI (now the National Archives of Ireland) have spent the last 82 years trying to recover from that loss, and today there are thousands of testamentary records again, although they are not always easy to find. It became clear that an index to these records was needed, to make it easier for researchers to locate what is available. The Irish Wills Index aims to answer that need.

The index covers records at the National Archives of Ireland, and is only concerned with records that survive in more than index form, ie where original documents, copies, transcripts, abstracts or extracts exist.

The index covers the years up to 1858, when the whole testamentary system was fundamentally overhauled. Prior to this the established church (Church of Ireland) had authority over all testamentary matters, including proving wills, grants of probate and administrations. This took place at the local diocesan or consistorial courts in each Diocese. There was also a central Prerogative Court, under the authority of the Archbishop of Armagh as Primate of Ireland, which dealt with testamentary matters where the deceased's property was assessed to be worth more than £5 in more than one diocese, ie. where the deceased was likely to be from the wealthiest sector of Irish society.

'The Probates and Letters of Administration Act (Ireland)' of 1857 (20 & 21 Vict. c. 79), which came into force in January 1858, removed control from the Church of Ireland and placed it in the hands of the state. Thereafter all probates and administrations were granted at the Principal Registry in Dublin and District Registries throughout the country.

Background

The need to provide an easily accessible index to Irish wills and other testamentary records at the National Archives has long been recognised among Irish archivists and genealogists. Prior to 1922 the staff at the PROI compiled complete indexes of all the wills, administrations and marriage licences in their keeping. These hand written indexes began to appear in printed form in 1895 with the publication of an index to the transactions at the Consistorial Court of the Archbishop of Dublin, by Dr Digges La Touche, Deputy Keeper of the Records. Now often referred to as the 'Dublin Grant Book', it covered far more than just wills and administrations, including also marriage licences, commissions, decrees, letters of tutelage, and a host of other secular and ecclesiastical proceedings before the Consistorial Court.

This was followed two years later by the publication of an Index to the Prerogative Wills of Ireland 1536-1810 by Sir Arthur Vicars, the Ulster King of Arms. W.P.W. Phillimore & Gertrude Thrift began publishing their indexes to diocesan wills in 1909. The first volume, Indexes to Irish Wills, Volume 1: Ossory, Leighlin, Ferns, Kildare (London, 1909), was followed by four more covering several other dioceses throughout Ireland. Each volume printed the in-house PROI indexes for the years up to 1800 and in some cases to 1858.

With the 1922 destruction of the PROI, and of most of the original records referred to in these indexes, the impetus behind the indexing process was lost. In the aftermath of this disaster, the primary tasks were rightly judged to be the preservation of the surviving archive, and the search for new sources to replace those lost. The present index would never have been possible without those efforts; it is also a testament to their success.

Types of Documents

Several types of documents are indexed. While most of the records are wills or relate to testamentary matters (wills, probate, administrations, etc.), about 10% are not. Most of these additional records are marriage licences and assorted genealogical abstracts and their inclusion in this publication is deliberate. To assist the recovery from the 1922 loss, the National Archives have always included a range of genealogically useful records in their 'Testamentary Card Catalogue', irrespective of whether these records related simply to testamentary matters. We have included this information also.

Wills

Well over half the records indexed here are wills. While the meaning of the term 'will' might seem self-evident, its evolution over the last 500 years is generally less well understood. But it is worth considering some of this history when approaching these documents. Not only will it help explain the sort of information they contain, it will also reveal the type of people who are likely to appear in this index.

A will is a legal document drawn up to determine the inheritance of a person's property after their death. If a person had no property, or the inheritance of their property was pre-determined, they were unlikely to go to the expense of hiring a lawyer to draw up a will in the first place. For example, a small farmer on a year-by-year holding was unlikely to leave a will because he legally owned no property; but an urban potter might because he owned the tools of his trade.

In the nineteenth century the social strata of those leaving wills expanded. For example, in 1855 administration was granted for the estate of Hugh McLenaghan of Killarn, Newtonards, Co. Down, a 'farm servant'. However, this was unusual in the period before 1858.

Before a will could take effect, it had to be proved in court. Wills were generally proved in the local Diocesan Court, but if a testator owned property valued at over £5 in more than one diocese it was proved in the Prerogative Court in Dublin. It should be noted that diocesan boundaries do not correspond with county boundaries (see discussion on place names below). When a will was proved, probate was granted to the executor or executors named in the will. This meant that the executor had power to administer the estate of the deceased in accordance with the provisions of the will. About 7% of the records indexed contain both the Will & Grant of Probate. Another 6% relate only to the Grant of Probate.

Administrations

More than 25% of the records in this index relate to administrations, and are of three main kinds. Most are simple Grants of Letters of Administration to administrators in cases of intestacy (ie grants of power to administer estates of persons who had died without having made a will). A smaller number relate to cases where the deceased had made a will that could not be proved, perhaps because the executors were dead or because it was not properly witnessed, and where the court made a Grant of letters of Administration with the Will Annexed. This meant that the administrators were to administer the estate in accordance with the will, even though it could not be proved. In other cases only the Administration Bond survives. This was the surety given by the recipient of a grant of administration.

Marriage License Bonds/Grants

Roughly 7% of the records in this index are either Marriage Licence Grants or Marriage Licence Bonds. Like administrations, the parties to a marriage licence were required to give a bond of surety. Marriage licences were generally only requested by those who had property, or desired privacy from the publication of Banns. Banns were a public notice of an intended marriage in order to inform those who may have known of an impediment to lodge an objection. Securing a marriage licence was considered quite fashionable in the nineteenth century. In a very small number of cases the full Marriage Settlement survives. This was the financial agreement reached by the couple, or more often their fathers, prior to marriage. Note that the index generally contains the names of both parties to a marriage.

Other Sources

Several other sources are indexed; click here for the most common document types.

Status of Documents

The documents indexed here are rarely original records. Only 10% are genuinely original wills or grants, or contemporary register books, the rest being copies or notes taken from originals, most of which are now lost or destroyed.

The majority of the records indexed are transcripts (55%). These were mainly written for administrative purposes, either by court officials or clerks at the Inland Revenue, for their own files. For this reason they are often summaries, but retain much critical information taken directly from the original records. They also date from soon after the time that the originals were proved or granted.

Only about 7% of the records are full copies. Many of these were taken by clerks at the PROI and are known as certified copies. Others were compiled as part of legal cases heard at the Landed Estates Court, or were collected by surveyors carrying out inquisitions post mortem in the 16th and 17th centuries. However, most copies originate from private collections deposited with the PROI after 1922.

About 28% of all the records published here are either abstracts or extracts. The vast majority of these were compiled by professional genealogists and family history enthusiasts, like the Crossle, Green and Jennings papers. By far the largest collection was that kept by the tireless Gertrude Thrift, one of the early indexers of testamentary records. Despite the invaluable nature of their work, we recommend caution when deciding whether to order a copy of this type of source. Manyabstracts and extracts contain little additional information beyond what appears in this index. However, when there is further information, it is usually the sort most sought after by the people who compiled them. In other words the names and critical data about relatives mentioned in the original document.

Source Documents

A few of the documents indexed are original records that survived 1922, but the majority have been deposited with the National Archives since then.

These sources which survived 1922 are mostly diocesan or prerogative will and/or grant books compiled from the original records for administrative purposes. They contain either verbatim copies of the original documents or extensive summaries. These books survive for the Diocese of Connor (1818-1820), Down & Connor (1850-1858), Ossory (1848-58), and the Prerogative Court. There are also surviving marriage licence books for the Diocese of Killaloe & Kilfenora, and Dublin (1749-1813 for the letter A only).

Other courts and administrative bodies also kept copies or transcripts of original records for their own purposes. These collections have since been deposited with the National Archives and include the records of Charitable Donations, the Dublin Consistorial Court, the Quit Rent Office, the Incumbered Estates Court and the Landed Estates Court. But by far the largest single body of records indexed are the transcripts of wills and administrations, covering the years 1828-1839, compiled by the Inland Revenue for taxation purposes. The Inland revenue's own indexes survive up to 1879 but the present index only includes items where an original register survives.

The Record Commissioners of the early 19th century also compiled many transcripts and copies of original records since destroyed. Most of the wills they transcribed were from early modern inquisitions post mortem enrolled at the Courts of Chancery and Exchequer, the majority of which pre-date 1660.

After 1922 the PROI appealed to the public to deposit their archives with them in an effort to recover from that terrible loss. Many of the documents indexed here were deposited in this way (National Archives reference codes T & M). But a number of archivists and genealogists also gave their extensive collections of abstracts and extracts including those of Crossle, Green, Jennings, Silles-Kelly, and Thrift, amongst others.

Sources used to create the index

The Index of Irish Wills has been compiled by staff of Eneclann Ltd from several National Archives' finding aids and contemporaneous indexes, including:

National Archives' Card Catalogues:

  • Testamentary
  • Charitable Donations and Bequests Will Extracts
  • Crossle Abstracts
  • Jennings Abstracts
  • Thrift Abstracts

Contemporaneous Indexes:

  • Inland Revenue Administration Registers 1828-1839
  • Inland Revenue Will Registers 1828-1839

 

Abbreviations used in the index records

Abbreviation  Meaning
BA Bachelor of Arts
BL Barrister of Law
chirurgeon Surgeon
DD Doctor of Divinity
HM Her/His Majesty's
JP Justice of the Peace
LLD Doctor of Law
MD Medical Doctor
PC Privy Councillor
RC Roman Catholic
TCD Trinity College Dublin
? unclear
[ ] Editorial comment or 'best guess'