Wills, wills and more wills

An Irish genealogist digesting the new online records

The digesting of last month’s vast info-dump continues.

Among the most spectacular sections of the new material are the two new collections covering wills. To appreciate what they consist of, some background is needed.

The old PRO

The old Public Record Office of Ireland had a huge collection of original wills, divided into pre- and post- 1858. Before then, the Established Church had responsibility for probate. From that year on (as in the rest of what was then the UK) the state assumed responsibility. In the 1870s, the PRO gathered up all the pre-1858 material they could find – original wills, transcript books, administration bonds, finding aids, correspondence – catalogued it all, created indexes, and stored the lot with fanatical defensiveness in the most secure record vault on the island, the PRO Treasury.

From 1858, by law every probated will or intestacy was a public record. So within a few years of probate, all the original wills and grants were passed to the PRO. Where they were carefully catalogued, indexed and stored with fanatical defensiveness …

And then, on June 30, 1922:

Shelling the Four Courts from Winetavern Street, June 30 1922
Shelling the Four Courts (and the PRO)  from Winetavern Street, June 30 1922

Everything in the Treasury was obliterated. All that survived was Reading Room finding aids or material that hadn’t made it back to the Treasury. So the indexes to the old pre-1858 wills survived (and are now newly online here), along with a few other bits and pieces, but the wills themselves didn’t. You can see a will existed, but that’s the only evidence left. “Frustrating” doesn’t come near.

Lots more survived for the post-1858 period. Every will had been calendared, so there’s at least a basic description of its contents. And the District Will Registries outside Dublin kept their own transcript books, into which they transcribed every will before sending the original to the PRO. These comprise the second collection newly online, more than half-a-million full wills probated between 1858 and 1900. Whoopee.

The one thing that’s missing is NAI’s own card index. Over the years since 1922, the Archives has assembled a mixum-gatherum of things that might make up for the enormous loss of testamentary material  – solicitors’ records, genealogists’ abstracts, papers found in Auntie Gertie’s attic – and included them in the Reading Room card index. The only online version of this index is the one created by Eneclann more than ten years ago and now available at FindMyPast.


2 thoughts on “Wills, wills and more wills”

  1. It is worth noting that anyone who died and had property in England had to prove their will there as well. Applying for English probate involves submitting a copy of the will there also. So a number of Irish wills were also proved in England and can be found at the National Archives at Kew. These can be searched and ordered online via see http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/

    1. Those TNA wills are also in Ancestry, whose images, I have to say, are infinitely more legible than the TNA ones, as TNA images seem to be only black and white, no shades of grey.

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