I mentioned in previous posts about a fire in the Public Records Office in 1922. Well, unfortunately as well as the majority pre-1900 census records, nearly all the original wills were also destroyed in the fire. So for genealogy purposes we have to rely on surviving indexes, copies and extracts.
Prior to 1858, the Church of Ireland was the established Church and was responsible for all testamentary matters including the granting of probate, which was done in each diocese. Depending on your circumstances, you would have needed to apply for a Grant of Probate or a Grant (or Letters) of Administration. A Grant of Probate is issued when the deceased has made a Will, whilst a Grant of Administration is used when the deceased did not have a Will. If you had property in a second diocese in excess of £5, the Will would have been administered in the Prerogative Court of Armagh.
The Court of Probate Act 1857 transferred responsibility for the granting of probate and letters of administration, from the ecclesiastical courts to a new civil Court of Probate. Since then, 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.
It’s important to note that Wills were generally only made by wealthy families, landowners etc. The majority of Irish families at this time in history were poor families and tenant farmers so therefore unlikely a Will would have been made but it’s worth checking out anyhow.
So, if you are looking for a Will of a deceased relative, I find the best place to start is the National Archives in Bishop Street, Dublin. You can visit there a get a readers card – details of how to apply for a readers card can be found using the link http://www.nationalarchives.ie/faqs/. They also have a great Genealogy Service which members of the public can consult a professional genealogist about sources relating to their family history. This service is provided free of charge.
Please note that the records at the National Archives that do exist are for the 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland. If you have relatives from the 6 counties that now form Northern Ireland, you will need to check the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/proni
So, if you are checking if a relative had a Will;
Prior to 1858, check the Diocesan and Prerogative Wills
Post 1858, check the Calendar of Wills and Administration 1858-1920 at
For example, on the ‘Calendar of Wills and Administration’ webpage, I can find a record of my Maternal Great Great Grandfather Patrick Whelan of Island Road, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford who died in 1902. There is a record for him as he made a Will as he was a Publican and the record showed that his beneficiary was his son Michael J Whelan and his affects amounted to £524 (British Pounds as Ireland was under British Rule at the time).
Also, in the ‘Calendar of Wills and Administration’, I can find a record of my Paternal Great Great Grandmother Margaret Bridgeman who died in 1896 in Summerhill, Dublin.
I was also very lucky to find details of her Will by looking at the Will Registers on the National Archives website. You should note that at the beginning of this blog I mentioned that we have to rely on indexes, copies and extracts. The Will extract below is a copy of the original Will. In an attempt to replace some of the Wills that had been lost in the fire at the Public Record Office, copies of original Wills from the legal profession which were still in their offices were recorded, as with my Great Great Grandmother’s Will. One of these days I might be able to decipher the whole record but the bits that I can read has given me the names of my Great Grandmother Mary Angela Bridgeman (who I knew about already) but didn’t know that she had a brother Joseph and a sister Margaret. It appears that they were fairly well off as in her Will he left cash and property worth £2,386 17s 6d (pounds, shillings and pence).
I have further digging to do for other ancestors but for you, I think you should try searching the National Archives website and see what you come up with. Let me know how you get on.