Who Do You Think You Are?

Irish Wills From 1858

Paul Blake and Maggie Loughran explain the finding aids that can help you research Irish probate


The 1857 Probate Act abolished the testamenta­ry authority of the Church of Ireland. Instead of the Consistori­al

Courts and the Prerogativ­e

Court, the right to grant probate and issue letters of administra­tion was assigned to a Principal

Registry in Dublin and 11 District Registries. Although originally establishe­d to cover a united Ireland, the records of these District Registries, with those created since 1922, are now deposited at the National

Archives of Ireland (NAI; nationalar­chives.ie), or the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI; nidirect.gov.uk/proni) for the districts that are now in Northern Ireland.

From 1858 a single calendar of all wills and administra­tions was compiled annually by the Principal Probate Registry from informatio­n sent to it by the District Registries. These have all survived. Officially known as Calendars of Wills and Administra­tions, the names within each of these annual

‘From 1858 a single calendar of wills and administra­tions was compiled’

This record is held by the National Archives of Ireland. The will has been digitised and is available online at genealogy.nationalar­chives.ie

indexes are arranged in strict alphabetic­al order by name of the testator. The informatio­n includes: the name, address and occupation of the deceased person; the place and date of death; the date and place of grant of probate or administra­tion; the value of the estate; and the name(s) and address(es) of the executors or administra­tors and their relationsh­ip to the deceased if relevant.

These calendars were arranged by the year a grant was issued, and not the year of death. Probate was usually applied for within a couple of months of the death, although there are many instances of probate being many decades later.




Maurice Higgins was a yeoman who lived in the City of Cork (at Rathmore Buildings).

The first of his bequests was for £50 to his brother Thomas in San Francisco, California. Mention of siblings living overseas can be a helpful clue to family emigration.




A second brother, living in Paramatta, New South Wales, Australia, was also left £50.

Other bequests included

The District Registries made transcript­s of the wills they proved and administra­tions they granted prior to the annual transfer of original records over 20 years old to the Public Record Office of Ireland in Dublin

£10 to Catherine Higgins of New York, but if she could not be found then the £10 should be given to Mrs Catherine Dowd of St Luke’s Cross, Cork. Unfortunat­ely, there is no indication of either woman’s relationsh­ip to Michael.


Maurice appointed Rev P O’Leary of Cork as the sole executor of his estate.

The will is dated 4 July 1881, just 10 days before his death at the Incurable Hospital in Cork. It was witnessed by Henry Daniel Corbett and Richard Joseph Clarke. (now NAI). The destructio­n of the Public Record Office in 1922 during the Irish Civil War resulted in the loss of the original wills of the Principal Registry up to 1904 and of the District Registries up to 1899. However, the copies of wills that had been made by the District Registries survived as they had not been transferre­d. Ever since the loss of the original wills, attempts have been made to replace them from a variety of sources including libraries, archives, solicitors and private collection­s.

Sources To 1922

Between 1858 and 1917, the Calendars of Wills and Administra­tions cover the whole of Ireland as a single index. But from 1918, separate Calendars cover the 26 counties in the Republic, in addition to the District Registries of Armagh, Belfast and Londonderr­y in Northern Ireland.

Although nearly all of the records of the Principal Registry itself were destroyed in 1922, the surviving Will Book transcript­s for the districts covering places now in the Republic – Ballina from 1865; Cavan, Cork, Kilkenny, Limerick,

Mullingar, Tuam and Waterford, all from 1858 – are now held at NAI. These can be viewed on NAI’s website at willcalend­ars. nationalar­chives.ie and on Findmypast ( findmypast. co.uk) to 1901 only.

On NAI’s website the Calendars of Wills and Administra­tions 1858–1920 are searchable by name of testator or executor/ beneficiar­y, date of death, county of death and type of document. Until 1917 the Calendars cover the whole of Ireland, but from 1918 only the Principal Registry and the District Registries for the 26 counties now in the Republic are covered. There are also just three entries for 1921–1922. Also, the Calendars can be searched for free on Ancestry ( ancestry.co.uk) at ancestry.co.uk/search/ collection­s/70826.

The Calendars of Grants of Probate of Wills and Letters of Administra­tion 1923–1982 have been digitised and each year is downloadab­le as PDFs from NAI’s online catalogue naiweb.adlibhosti­ng.com/search/ expert (enter ‘Calendar’ and the year in the search box). Unfortunat­ely 1921 is currently not available to search online or download, while 1922 is only a copy index containing limited informatio­n and may not be complete. In addition, 1923–1951 can be searched by the name of the deceased in NAI’s online catalogue.

Paper copies of the Calendars for 1858–1982 are also available in NAI’s searchroom­s in Dublin,

arranged by year and then alphabetic­ally by the name of the deceased. There is also a consolidat­ed index for 1558–1877. The Calendars are computeris­ed for 1983– 1987, and the hard copy is discontinu­ed.

Making The Most Of NAI

There is a useful guide to wills and other testamenta­ry records available at NAI at nationalar­chives.ie/article/ wills-and-administra­tions.

This features several links, including how to obtain copies from the archives.

There is also a detailed guide to the post-1858 Calendars in both Northern Ireland and the Republic on the website of the Council of Irish Genealogic­al Organisati­ons: cigo.ie/ pages/guide-to-wills-andadminis­trations. The website includes links to download the annual Calendars 1923– 1982 for the Republic, arranged by year.

The Inland Revenue in London compiled indexes to the Irish Will and Administra­tion Registers, 1828–1879. These have survived and are at NAI.

NAI also holds original wills from before 1992 for the District Registries now within the Irish Republic from 1900, and those for the

Principal Registry (Dublin) from 1904, and can supply copies which cost €30.

The Probate Register Online ( courts.ie/probatereg­ister-online) has details of Grants of Representa­tion (ie Grants of Probate and Letters of Administra­tion) which have been issued in the Republic since 1992. Copies of the wills can be obtained from the Probate Office in Dublin ( bit.ly/probate-dublin) or the appropriat­e District Probate Registry. For Grants before 1992, contact NAI.

Sources From 1921

Will Books for the District Registries of Armagh, Belfast and Londonderr­y are held by

PRONI, which has helpfully compiled a searchable Will Calendar Database for these registries covering 1858–1968 (excluding 1920–1921) at apps.proni.gov. uk/willscalen­dar_ie/willssearc­h. aspx. The database includes the facility to view the entire calendar entry for each successful search and

digital images of copy wills for Armagh (1858–1918), Belfast (1858–1909) and Londonderr­y (1858–1899), and is also searchable on Ancestry ( ancestry.co.uk/ search/collection­s/70726).

Up to 1921, the database includes parts of Monaghan,

Cavan and Donegal District Registries that later became within the Irish Republic.

The Armagh registry was abolished in 1921. Note that this database does not include any grants issued by the Principal Registry in Dublin before 1922 for testators who resided in Northern Ireland.

In 1922, a new Principal

PRONI holds bound annual indexes to all wills and administra­tions, 1858– 2009, which are updated annually, plus a union index, 1858–1877, as well as original wills and letters of administra­tion for Northern Ireland from 1900 to 2004.

‘PRONI holds bound annual indexes to all wills and administra­tions, 1858– 2009, which are updated annually’

They have not been digitised.

A search of the indexes to wills and administra­tions from 1 January 1986 can be ordered online from the Department of Justice, and costs £26: www.justice-ni.gov. uk/articles/probate.

Finally, several collection­s of Irish probate material have been filmed by FamilySear­ch; see familysear­ch.org/wiki/en/ Ireland_Genealogy.


and are the authors of Pre-1858 Irish Probate (Unlock the Past, 2018) and Discover Your Roots (Infinite Ideas, 2006)

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