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Probate records are court records relating to the distribution of a deceased person's estate. General they record the deceased's date of death; names, relationships, residences of heirs and guardians; and names of witnesses. Although incomplete, records relating to probate can be traced in Ireland back to the seventeenth century for most areas of the country.
Given that the need to leave a will stemmed from the holding assets, it stands to reason that not every person who died left probate records. Most wills were left by males with property. However, wills often list the names of the deceased's family and friends, so that many more people are listed in probate records than actually left them.
Some types of Irish probate documents are:
- Grants, a grant is a document stating that the court has 'granted' permission for the deceased's estate to be dealt with by a named person or persons. If a will exists then the grant is a 'grant of probate' issued to the executors named in the will. If no will exists then the grant is a 'grant of administration' issued to an applicant (usually a relative of the deceased) to administer and distribute the deceased's assets according to the prescribed formula as set down by law.
- Wills, a dated, signed and witnessed document setting out the deceased's bequests.
- Codicils, a dated and signed addenda to a will.
- Letters of administration (or admons), which indicate that a person died without leaving a will so the court appointed an administrator to oversee estate distribution.
- Admons with will attached, which are produced when the executor named in the will is unable or unwilling to act or if the will was flawed.
- Inventories, which list the belongings of the deceased person.
- Grant or act books, which provide a day by day account of all grants issued in a probate court.
For a discussion of probate documents and their availability, see Rosemary Ffolliott and Eileen O'Byrne, "Wills and Administrations" in Irish Genealogy: A Record Finder, edited by Donal F. Begley. (FHL book 941.5 D27i.)
Pre-1858 Probate Courts in Ireland
Irish probates were handled by ecclesiastical courts upto 1858. Twenty-eight diocesan courts, known as consistory courts, existed. The highest court, with authority over all the ecclesiastical courts, was the Prerogative Court of Armagh (which operated from Dublin). If a person had an estate that included property in more than one diocese and was worth more than £5, that person's will would have been proved in the Prerogative Court. And in addition, the wills of wealthy people were usually proved in the Prerogative Court.
For a list of the diocesan courts and the counties over which each had jurisdiction, see:
Camp, Anthony J. Wills and Their Whereabouts. 4th ed. London: Anthony J. Camp, 1974. (FHL book Ref 942 S2wa1.)
Irish Probates Register. Typescript. Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library, 1979. (FHL book Reg. 941.5 P2gs.)
Most pre-1858 probate records were destroyed when the Public Record Office in Dublin burned in 1922. Fortunately, prior to the fire, the surviving original wills and admons had been indexed. Most of the indexes survived the disaster. Microfilm copies of the indexes are available at the Family History Library. They are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under:
IRELAND - PROBATE RECORDS - INDEXES
Some of the indexes have also been printed in:
Phillimore, W. P. W., and Gertrude Thrift, eds. Indexes to Irish Wills. 1909-20. Reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1970. (FHL book 941.5 P22i 1970; fiche 6036097 nos. 1-10.)
Prerogative wills of Ireland (wills tried in the Prerogative Court) have been indexed in:
Vicars, Sir Arthur, ed. Index to the Prerogative Wills of Ireland, 1536-1810. 1897. Reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1967. (FHL book 941.5 P22v 1967; fiche 6026394.)
Most probate index entries give the name and residence of the deceased and the year of the probate. If you find a desired index entry, the following published sources may help in establishing if a copy of the probate record exists:
Hayes, Richard J. Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilization. (FHL book 941.5 A5h.) Hayes' volumes contain references to many copy wills found in various archives and libraries.
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Card Index to Wills in the Several Collections Held at the Public Record Office, Belfast 1536-1920. (FHL film 1565572-75 and 1565578.) This index was filmed by the Family History Library in 1990. The index lists many copy wills and other probate records found at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. The index is listed in the Place Search of the catalog under IRELAND - PROBATE RECORDS - INDEXES. Copies of the wills listed in the index can be obtained from the Public Record Office or can be viewed on microfilm at the Family History Library. The library's copies of the wills are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under:
IRELAND - PROBATE RECORDS.
Ireland, Public Record Office. Testamentary Documents Card Index, Seventeenth to Twentieth Centuries. This card index lists surviving original wills and copy wills that were collected after the destruction of the Public Record Office in 1922. These wills and copies of wills are now on file at the National Archives. The 1928 version of the index is published in Public Record Office, Dublin, The Fifty-Sixth Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records and Keeper of the State Papers in Ireland (Dublin, ireland: Stationery Office, 1931; FHL book 941.5 A5r; film 0990493 item 8 and 0100239 item 4; fiche 6023597-602). In 1990, the Family History Library filmed the index. The index is listed in the Place Search of the catalog under IRELAND - PROBATE RECORDS - INDEXES. Some copies of wills referenced in the index are also on film at the library. These are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under IRELAND - PROBATE RECORDS.
Eustace, P. Beryl, ed. vol. 1, 1708-45 and vol. 2, 1746-85; and Eilish Ellis, ed. vol. 3, 1785-1832. Registry of Deeds, Dublin: Abstracts of Wills. Dublin, Ireland: Stationery Office, 1954-. (FHL book 941.5 P22e; vols. 1 and 2 only are on film 896,887.) These volumes contain abstracts of copies of wills registered after probate in the Registry of Deeds.
Index to many abstracts and copies of wills in the Genealogical Office of Ireland. A copy of this index can be found in P. Beryl Eustace, comp., Index of Will Abstracts in the Genealogical Office, Dublin (Dublin, Ireland: Stationery Office, 1948; FHL book 941.5 S2eu; film 990,430 item 4.)
Indexes and registers held by the Inland Revenue office, London of Irish wills and administrations proved between 1828 and 1879. Commissioners of Inland Revenue, Irish Will Indexes, 1838-79 (FHL film 597,268-72; indexes for 1862-63 are missing) and in any case the indexes from 1858 onwards add nothing to what can already be found in the printed caklendars wghich were published from that year on, see further. These indexes record the name of the testator, the name and residence of the executor, the court in which the will was proved, and the folio number of the original will. Commissioners of Inland Revenue, Irish Administration Indexes, 1828-79 (FHL film 597,278-81; indexes for 1830-31 and 1851 are missing) gives the name and sometimes residence of the deceased, the name and residence of the administrator, the name of the court where the administration was granted, and the folio number of the original administration. The will and admon registers - on which the indexes are based - survive for the years 1828 to 1839 and are summaries of the originals wills and admons. The registers from 1840 to 1879 are missing, now presumed lost. The existing registers contain names and relationships of heirs and often the death date of the deceased. The registers and indexes are on film at the Family History Library. They are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under IRELAND - PROBATE RECORDS.
Irish estate duty wills. Irish wills proved in English courts between 1812 and 1857 were subject to an estate duty tax. Abstracts of these wills were kept at the Estate Duty Office in London but have since been transferred to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Abstracts for the years 1812-1820 and part of the list for 1821 no longer exist. Surviving copies begin in 1821 and are alphabetized beginning with the letter k. Filmed copies of the surviving abstracts are available at the Family History Library. They are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under:
IRELAND - PROBATE RECORDS.
Commissioners for Charitable Donations.From 1800 this body compiled abstracts of all wills in which bequests of a charitable nature were made. These records can often provide detailed information about a deceased where the original will no longer survives. The records are held at the National Archives, Dublin.
There are several other collections of will and administration abstracts compiled by various genealogists and organisations. These collections include:
Betham, Sir William.Genealogical Abstracts [of Prerogative Wills of Ireland]. Dublin, Ireland: Public Record Office. (FHL film 595,939-45; 596,139-40.) This source is arranged alphabetically. An invaluable source for abstracts of all preogative wills up to approximately 1810.
Betham, Sir William. Volume of Abstracts of Grants of Administration, Prerogative, 1595-1802. This set of notebooks is at the National Archives. It is not arranged alphabetically. The Genealogical Office has a version that is arranged alphabetically. The Family History Library has a microfilm copy of this alphabetical version, Prerogative Court Records, Dublin, Ireland (FHL film 100114 item 2). See above for comment on usefulness.
Burke, Sir John Bernard. Sir Bernard Burke's Collection of Wills for Forming Irish Pedigrees. 42 vols. Belfast, Ireland: Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. (FHL film 227,866-900.) This collection is indexed (FHL film 227,866-69).
Clare, Wallace. Abstracts from Some Irish Wills. (FHL film 477,000 item 2.) This book provides abstracts of some wills held in the Public Record Office, Kew. It is indexed.
Other collections of will abstracts are described in Wills and Their Whereabouts.
Many Irish wills were probated in English courts, especially the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and the Prerogative Court of York. See the England Research Outlinefor more information on English courts and their records.
Post-1857 Probate Courts
In 1858, civil, government, courts took on the work of proving wills and administrations. Eleven district will registries and a Principal Probate Registry in Dublin replaced the church probate courts.
Each registry made copies of wills and administrations that it proved in 'will and admon books' and after 20 years sent the originals to the Public Record Office in Dublin. The originals and copies, of almost all records of the Principal Probate Registry (which also had jurisdiction as a district court over the counties of Dublin and Kildare) were destroyed in the fire that consumed the Public Record Office in 1922.
Copies of wills and administrations kept by other district registries have been gathered into the National Archives and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, where they remain grouped by district. To determine the district registry that served your county of interest, see the Irish Probates Register or Anthony Camp, Wills and Their Whereabouts.
From 1858 there is a calendar (annual index) of the grants of probate and letters of administration iddued in the Principal Probate Registry and in the several district registries. Produced by the Principal Probate Registry, Dublin, this calendar is arranged alphabetically by the name of the testator. For each entry the calendar tells the testator's name; the executor's name; the court where the will was registered; and the deceased person's name, occupation, date & place of death. The calendars held at the National Archives, Dublin, only include the district registries of Armagh, Belfast & Londonderry to 1918.
For the years 1858-1877 there is a consolidated index to the calendars. Arranged by surname, the index gives the name of the deceased, the district registry where the probate was proved, and whether the probate involved a will or an admon. To find the film numbers for the Irish calendar and master index, select the calendar by Ireland, Principal Probate Registry (Dublin) in the Place Search of the catalog under IRELAND - PROBATE RECORDS - INDEXES. There existed a further consolidated index to the calendars for the period 1878 to 1900, but this was destroyed in 1922.
If you are searching for a will proved between 1858 and 1877, look first at the consolidated index. If you are looking for a will proved after 1877, go directly to the calendar(s). These sources will tell you the district registry where the will was proved. Once you identify the district registry, you can easily establish if a relavant will or admon books survives. District records, including indexes, that are available at the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under IRELAND - PROBATE RECORDS.
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