Wills are documents in which a person leaves instructions as to what is to happen their property and possessions after death. For a will to take effect, a grant of probate has to be made by the court, legalising the will and empowering the executors to administer the estate after the death. Wills are of importance to genealogist’s in that they may provide information on living relatives, brothers, sisters, children, cousins and others. They may provide information on land owned by the deceased, servants of the deceased and friends. Many give the addresses of not only the deceased but those of the beneficiaries, executors and witnesses.
However, if a person dies without making a will, the Court will decide on the distribution of their assets, taking account of their family and creditor situation. This is called an Administration. In certain instances, where a will has been made but is inoperable (e.g. the executor is also deceased) an Administration may also be made. In Administrations, the court appoints an Administrator, (grants letters of administration) usually a relative, principle creditor or legal person, to oversee the distribution of the estate of the deceased as determined by the Court. The Administrator enters a bond for a sum of money as a surety that the instructions of the court will be carried out. These Bonds are called Administration Bonds.
From 1636 to 1858 the administration of testamentary affairs in Ireland was under the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts – the Episcopal diocesan courts of the Established (Protestant) or Anglican Church. There was a Consistorial Court in each Diocese and this was responsible for granting probate and conferring on executors the power to administer the estate of the deceased. This court also dealt with those situations in which the deceased had died intestate, and issued letters of administration. Each court was responsible for wills and administrations in its own diocese. However, when the deceased had property valued at more than £5 in another Diocese, then the responsibility for that will passed on to the Prerogative Court (The Supreme Court in Ecclesiastical and Testamentary affairs in Ireland) under the authority of the Bishop of Armagh. The Consistorial Court was also responsible for the granting of Marriage Licence Bonds in the Diocese.
Consistorial Wills and Administrations therefore deal with property and marriages only in one Diocese, perhaps in more than one county.
Prerogative Wills and Administrations deal with property and marriages in more than one Diocese, usually more than one county and were more likely to be those of wealthier individuals.
Two testamentary systems operated in Ireland. The first was ecclesiastical and before 1858. The second was civil from 1858 onwards From 1858 these were under the jurisdiction of the Probate Court, consisting of a Principal Registry and eleven District Registries covering the entire country.
The Consistorial or Diocesan Court was responsible for testamentary affairs, proving and probating wills, granting letters of administration to executors if the person died intestate (without making a will) and the granting of Marriage licences.
If the deceased person had property valuing over five pounds in a second diocese then the will had to be proved in the Perogative court. This court was the supreme court in ecclesiastical and testamentary affairs in Ireland and was under the Jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Armagh. From 1644 the Archbishop was empowered to appoint a judge to act on his behalf. The court did not have a permanent location, and records were not necessarily kept in one place, this led to the mislaying and loss of documents. In 1816 the Court was allocated a permanent building at the Kings Inns, Dublin.
If the deceased held land in two dioceses, and these were combined under one bishop, probate of the will or administration of the estate would be granted through the relevant Consistorial (Diocesan) Court and not through the Perogative Court.
The Prerogative court of the Archbishop of Canterbury in England was superior to the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Armagh. If the deceased had property in England the will would be proved, or letters of administration granted, in the prerogative Court of Canterbury and a copy of the will would be resealed in the Prerogative court of Armagh.
When the Public Records Office (PRO) (Now, the National Archives – NAI) was established in 1867, the testamentary records of the Consistorial and Prerogative Courts were deemed to be public property and were gathered and deposited in the PRO. As these records were gathered it was noted that they were far from complete, with regard to the Consistorial Court documents were very sparse prior to the 1780’s.
When these records were lodged with the PRO, their transcription into books was undertaken. Prerogative Will Books, Consistorial (or Diocesan) Will Books and Grant of Administration Bond Books. Separate alphabetical indices to these individual Consistorial Books were then compiled.
Index to Cashel & Emly wills: 1616-1858
Index to Cork & Ross wills: 1548-1858
Index to Waterford & Lismore Wills: 1648-1858
Index to Ardagh Administration Bonds:
Index to Raphoe Marriage License Bonds:
The Prerogative will books were indexed in two parts: the first up to 1810; and the second from 1811-1857. Wills and grants of administration proved at the Prerogative Court were usually the wills of the wealthier section of the population, or of those whose residences or business concerns straddled more than one diocese.
Many of these original indices were published, such as
Indexes to the Dublin Grant Book (which also includes marriage licence bonds) 1270-1800 &
Appendix to Deputy Keeper of Public Records of Ireland Reports, No. 26 & 30;
and Index to Prerogative Wills of Ireland 1536-1810 (Ed. Vicars, Dublin, 1897)
The Index to the Prerogative Wills of Ireland, 1536-1810; 1811-1858 is available in the National Archives of Ireland. The first part was published as indicated above, Vicars Dublin 1897 and a copy is available on the open shelves.
The original Public Records Office of Ireland was located in the Four Courts complex and this was destroyed by fire during the 1922 Civil War. The vast majority of records deposited in the PRO at that time were also destroyed. These include:
All original wills of the Consistorial and Prerogative Courts, with the exception of one Consistorial Will and eleven prerogative Wills.
Almost all the Will and Grant Bond Books of the Consistorial and Prerogative Courts
All the original wills and grants of the Principle and District Registries from 1858 up to 1903/1900
and most of the Will and Grant books of the principle registry from 1858.
The PRO set about replacing as much of its lost material as possible by asking and begin given as many copies of original documents as possible from legal firms and individuals, plus notes and research carried out by historians and genealogists at the PRO prior to 1922.
Such works include;
Edmund Walsh Kelly
In 1810 Sir William Betham, Ulster King of Arms, on behalf of the Record Commissioners, superintended the construction of an alphabetical index of testators. He also wrote out, in his own hand, brief genealogical abstracts of almost all those wills that pre-dated 1800, and later constructed sketch pedigrees from his notes. When the Prerogative Wills were destroyed by fire at the Public Record Office in 1922, this work became a very important tool for genealogical research.
Bethams Abstracts for pre-1800 are in the National Archives of Ireland (NAI)
Bethams Abstracts of grants pre-1802 are held by the NAI and Genealogical Office
Sir Arthur Vicars index to the Prerogative Wills of Ireland (1536-1810) (editor) was reprinted by the Genealogical Publishing CO., Baltimore (1989) The manuscript of this index is held in the NAI
The Inland Revenue in London kept a series of annual Indices to Irish Will Registers and Indices to Irish Administration Registers from 1828-1879, and these are now held by the National Archives of Ireland.
As well as the indices, the Archives also hold a set of the actual Inland Revenue Irish Will Registers and Irish Administration Registers for the years 1828-1839, (the Wills Register covering January to June 1834 is however missing). These Registers and Indices are very important substitutes for the originals
Registry of Deeds
The Irish Registry of Deeds was established in 1708, with the passing of an Act of Parliament ‘An Act for teh Public Registering of all Deeds Conveyances, Tenements, or Hereditaments’ enacted ‘that one public office shall be established and kept in the city of Dublin’. The Act provided for the registration of all Wills and devises in writing where the ‘devisor or testatrix shall die after the said 25th March 1708’. Registration was a matter of choice, however Deeds not registered were ‘deemed and adjudged fraudulent and void’. These documents have been indexed and abstracted by P. Beryl Eustace and published in three volumes in the 1950’s. To index these documents it was necessary to read through the two entire Index of Grantor Series, 1708-1729 and 1730-1745, covering references to over eighty three thousand recorded Deeds of all kinds!
Transcripts of the memorials of Wills and other Deeds may be inspected at the registry of Deeds in Dublin. Transcipts written in the 18th century are on vellum and thereafter on vellum or good parchment. They are bound into large heavy Books.
The abstracts were published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission.
Registry of Deeds, Dublin. Abstracts of Wills, Vol. 1, 1708-1745.
Registry of Deeds, Dublin. Abstracts of Wills, Vol. II, 1746-1785
Registry of Deeds, Dublin. Abstracts of Wills, Vol. III, 1786-1803
Copies of these books are held by the LDS libraries: see the following web site Cavan Wills – Colin Ferguson has put together a most comprehensive web site dealing with wills and deeds and what is or is not held by the Latter Day Saints Libraries.
Examples of Abstracts
Registry of Deeds
Drogheda, merchant. 10 Feb 1708. Full, 2 ½ pp., 16 March 1708
Wife Margaret Plunkett als. Cheevers. Eldest son Alexander and second son Christopher Plunkett. Daughter Mary Plunkett. Daughter Anne Austin als. Plunkett. Son in law Nicholas Austin.
My beloved friend Mr. Michael Moore. Mrs. Northup, Mrs. Accling, “Yorkshire the porter” tenants. Henry Nicholas, Drogheda deceased tenant.
Cannonstowne, Balledonnell, parish of Termonfeckin, Co. Louth. St. Peter street als. Pillery Stret and Batcheller’s Lane, Drogheda. Justices Parks in Liberties of Drogheda.
Witneses: Henry McArdle, Robert Conly, George Warren, all of Drogheda, gents.
Memorial Witnessed by : John Connell, P.G.P. Skynner
Alexandr. Plunkett (seal)
Pountney, Elizabeth, city of Dublin, parish of St. Paul’s, spinster. 15 July 1783. Precis ½ p. 6 Nov. 1789.
To her two sisters Mary Pountney and Ann Pountney, parish of St. Paul’s, city of Dublin, her real estates in West Street, Drogheda for their lives and afterwards to their heirs.
Witnesses: Wm. Lancake, Queen Street, timber merchant, Saml. Vousden, Hendrick Street, publisher, and Patk. Smith, attorney, all of city of Dublin.
Memorial witnessed by: Said Wm. Lancake and Patk. Smith.
Anne Pountney (seal)
Widenham, Walter, (Limerick City), Esq. 1 March 1797. Narrate 1/3 p. 6 June 1810
Reciting that he stood seized of the farm and lands of Glin castle, Co. Limerick under a lease for three lives renewable for ever under Sir. Wm. Barker, Bart., the farm and lands of Bunlicky, parish of Mungret, South Liberties of Limerick, under a lease for three lives from the late Dr. Bindon and fields near the city of Limerick containing 14 acres held under lease from wither the late Mr. Bowman or the late Lord. Glenworth, Bishop of Limerick, and a plot of ground ‘back of the square’, Limerick, adjoining the street leading from the play house to Mongrath Gate, which he purchased from Jno. Taylor, and a house, coach house and backyard at the upper end of Palmerstown, Limerick and the farms and lands of Upper and Lower Ballyfolins (?Ballyfoleen), Co. Limerick, for a term of years under a lease from the Bishop of Limerick, and the farm and lands of Camkeen, parish of Mungret and South Liberties of the city of Limerick, all of which he bequeathed in trust to Capt. Widenham, castle Widenham, Co. Cork, Esq., andEdwd. Burton, Clifton, Co. Clare, Esq., charged with all his debts, for his daughter Frs. Blood for life and then to her issue, and in default to his three nephews Wm., Hy., and Frs. Compton in such shares as his daughter should specify.
Witnesses: Rev. Maurice Crosbie, clerk, Dean of Limerick, Robt. Maunsell, city of Limerick, clerk, and Thomas Lloyd, city of Limerick, barrister.
Memorial witnessed by: Andw. Hamilton, Domk. Street, city of Dublin, attorney, and Jno. Scott of same city, writing clerk.
Michl. Blood (seal)
Gardiner Place, Co. Dublin, Esq., executing party thereto and one of the exors. who acted alone.
Effects Under £1,500
30 January 1862
The Will of Jane Baldwin formerly of Gouldings Buildings Ballintemple County of Cork late of Jane-mount Sundays Well in the Borough of Cork Spinster deceased who died 24 December 1861 at Jane-mount aforesaid was proved at Cork by the oath of Clement Vance of Jane-mount aforesaid Gentleman one of the Executors.
Baldwin, Thomas Alleyn
Effects Under £1,000
25 April 1862
The Will of Thomas Alleyn Baldwin late of Mount Beamish in the County of Cork Esquire deceased who died 22 August 1861 at Kanturk in said County was proved at Cork by the Oath of Catherine Baldwin of Mossgrove in the County of Cork (Widow of Samuel Baldwin deceased) the sole Executrix.
Kiely Michael 6th May 1861.
Effects under £100
Letters of administration of the personal estate of Michael Kiely late of Coolmore in the County of Cork Schoolmaster deceased who died 17 March 1861 at same place were granted to Elizabeth Kiely of Coolmore aforesaid the Widow of said deceased.
A civil probate system was established after 1857 following the abolution of the Ecclesiastical Courts for proving wills and administrations. It is made up of a Principle Registry and eleven District Registries. The District registries replace the Diocesan Registries.
Index and Abstracts:
The basic details of all wills and administrations probated since 1858 are abstracted alphabetically in year books which can be searched in the NAI. These give name, address and marital status of deceased; the dates of death and probate; the names and addresses of the executors; value of the assets.
Armagh Probate District
takes in Co. Louth; Co. Armagh; Co. Fermanagh; Co. Monaghan and part of Co. Tyrone
Belfast Probate District:
takes in Co. Down; Co. Antrim
Londonderry Probate District:
takes in Co. Londonderry (Derry); Co. Donegal and part of Co. Tyrone.
Ballina Probate District:
Takes in part of Co. Leitrim; Co. Sligo; Co. Mayo
Cavan Probate District:
takes in Co. Cavan; Co. Longford and part of Co. Leitrim
Dublin Probate District:
takes in Co. Dublin; Co. Wicklow; Co. Kildare and Co. Meath
Mullingar Probate District:
takes in Co. Westmeath and Co. Offaly (King’s County)
Tuam Probate district:
takes in Co. Galway and Co. Roscommon
Kilkenny Probate District:
takes in Co.Kilkenny; Co. Carlow; Co. Laois
Waterford Probate District:
takes in Co. Wexford, Co. Waterford; and part of Co. Tipperary
Limerick Probate District:
takes in Co. Limerick and part of Co. Tipperary
Cork Probate district:
takes in Co. Cork and Co. Kerry
The availability of these wills or will indices through LDS libraries can be found in the Guide to British Isles Research here: It contains the film numbers for various series.
For instance the post 1858 to 1920 index reference number is 100 965 to 100 967. The calendars run 100 968 to 101 006. Card index of Republic wills from 1918 to 1920 are on films 101 997 to 101 010.
There is also an index to unproved wills.
The LDS also has Bethems Abstracts, and Administrations. There is an alphabetical version of Betham’s abstracts of grants of administration on film too. Vicars has published the Index to Prerogative Wills. It is also available through the LDS
LDS has also the PRONI Card Index to wills held in PRONI (Public Records Office of Northern Ireland).
The Santa Monica Library in Los Angeles also has some of these.