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The Importance of Wills In Irish Genealogy

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 6 Oct 2010 | comments*Discuss
Genealogy Irish Wills Family History

Wills are a vital source of information in genealogy. They take on a greater resonance in Ireland, where there's really no 19th century census material available to study. Irish wills give you a picture of a family - not only what someone owned, but also of relationships within the immediate and extended family. The information you gain from a will can significantly further your family history knowledge.

What An Irish Will Tells You For Family History

Most wills, be they Irish or otherwise, are going to give you the same basic information about the testator - name, address and occupation, along with when the will was made and when it passed through probate, as well as the names of the executors. However, that's just the beginning. You'll also learn about the beneficiaries, sometimes even their addresses and occupations, as well as details of loves and hates within the family. Even where the facts aren't directly useful, they help paint a broader picture of your ancestor to fill out a family history.

Irish Wills, Probate And Genealogy

The Church of Ireland Consistorial Courts in each diocese had responsibility for granting probate in Irish wills (which means authenticating the will and granting executors the power to administer the deceased's estate) until 1857.

After the Probate Act of 1857, things shifted from ecclesiastical to secular hands, to the Principal Registry in Dublin, which controlled eleven District Registries. Sadly the majority of their records were destroyed in a 1922 fire. However, a number of Will Book transcripts survived (for Cork, Ballina, Limerick, Cavan, Kilkenny, Mullingar, Waterford and Tuam) and you can find these in the National Archives, with the ones for Northern Ireland in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. The indexes for the Will and Grant books also survived and these too are in the National Archives, which are a great genealogy resource. They're in alphabetical order, with the testator's address, the year of probate and if you're lucky, his occupation. You can also find administration bonds indexes, for those who died intestate. These are arranged annually, under the initial letter of the surname of the deceased. You'll be able to learn the year of the bond, the full name of the deceased and in most cases his address, so a genealogy search can help you find good basic information on your ancestor at least..

National Archives And Genealogy

The National Archives should be your first genealogy stop for anything to do with Irish wills as their holdings are extensive. Not only do they have original wills and administration papers lodged in the Principal Registry since 1904, they have some very old records, such as Betham's abstracts of wills from the Prerogative Court before 1800 and records of administrations granted in the Prerogative Court before 1802. Along with some old, related Inland Revenue records, perhaps the most important holdings are the abstracts of wills and administrations for the periods both before and after 1858 and the grant books indexes, which are in eight volumes and cover the years 1811-1858 - prime fodder for any family history.

Wills And Genealogy In Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, you can find virtually everything to do with wills and genealogy at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. They have all the probated wills for Northern Ireland from 1900-1994, neatly filed in a separate envelope for each testator, making a family history search simple. For those who died intestate, you might be able to find letters of administration. Apart from information on the person administering the estate, they should also show the name, residence and occupation of the deceased, making them a treasure tove on any genealogy search. There are annual will indexes for the years 1858-1984, while the indexes to pre-1858 wills, administrations and administration bonds are all bound and printed. Although the 1922 fire means that there's no longer a copy of the will itself, you should still check the index, as it sometimes contain information about the deceased.

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