Irish Testamentary Records

A will or the administration of an estate is the last record left by an individual and these are testamentary records. Testamentary records can record the date of death, address and occupation of the deceased, as well as identify other family members. The date of death recorded on a will can be used to identify a death certificate for the deceased, which will tell you their age at the time of death, indicating their approximate year of birth.

A will can record surviving family members and can be useful for identifying the names of married daughters and sisters, assisting a search for marriage certificates or the births of children.  A will might also refer to family members who had emigrated, recording their current address.

As with newspapers, testamentary records are more common to the general population in the 20th century. From the 19th century and earlier, this source is really only relevant to the propertied classes.

The majority of testamentary records for Ireland were destroyed in the public records office fire in 1922. What has survived is valuable for the researcher and there are a number of online sources for identifying wills and administrations.

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The Calendars of Wills and Administrations

The Calendars of Wills and Administrations are an annual list of wills that were granted probate and grants of letters of administration in Ireland.   The Calendars of Wills and Administrations from 1858 to 1917 for all 32 counties in Ireland are freely available online on the National Archives of Ireland genealogy website.  The calendars for the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland from 1918 to 1920 are on the same site.  The Calendars for Northern Ireland from 1918 can be found on the PRONI website.

The Calendars of Wills and Administrations for the Republic of Ireland from 1922 to 1982 have been incorporated into the main catalogue of the National Archives of Ireland.  A simple search for ‘will calendars’ will create links to a pdf for each Calendar (there was one calendar each year).  You can download the calendar to search for a relevant entry.  The Calendar entries for 1935-1949 have been extracted and keyed into the main catalogue and these can be searched by name.

The Calendar entries record the name, address, occupation, date of death and often the name of the executor. A search of the Calendar can sometimes be faster than searching the civil death index. A detailed description of this holding and how to access the calendars online can be found here on the National Archives website.  

A will proved after 1901 may not have been lodged in the Public Records Office and may have escaped the 1922 fire.  A copy of a will proved after 1901 can be ordered through the Timeline Genealogy Clerk, provided there is a Calendar entry for the deceased.

Prior to 1901, wills proved in District Registry Offices may have been transcribed into will books, which can now act as substitutes for the destroyed wills.  These will books which date from 1858, are now freely available online at the National Archives of Ireland genealogy website.  These transcript will books are certainly not comprehensive and only fragments survive for some areas and other areas are not covered at all.

Remember, a will may not have been proved in the year of death and may have taken up to 10 or 15 years to pass through the courts.  If searching the Calendars for an individual who did in 1912, you may have to search up to 1930 for evidence of a will.

Surviving testamentary records that predate 1858 can be found in the Index of Irish Wills 1484-1858 which is available online at Findmypast.  This is an index, not just of surviving wills, but also of other sources that act as substitutes for the destroyed originals, such as tax records or the files of genealogists who transcribed wills before they were destroyed. There are also references to marriage licenses and charitable bequests.  The online index will only provide a reference to the document.  A copy of the document can be ordered using Timeline’s Genealogy Clerk Service.  In the absence of Church of Ireland registers and census returns for the 18th and 19th century, a will from this period can contain vital family information.

Pre 1858 Diocesan Calendars of Wills and Administrations have survived and are published online at Findmypast.  These Calendars give us an idea of the wills that were proved, many of which no longer survive.  These Calendars will at least tell you when or whether a will was proved for your ancestor and the Diocese in which it was proved.  The only way to find out if a will found in the Diocesan Calendars survives is to check the Index of Irish Wills 1484-1858.

During the First World War, before soldiers were sent ‘over the top’ they were asked to make a will.  The wills of Irish soldiers are held in the National Archives of Ireland and have been indexed and digitsed and published on their genealogy website.  These are heart breaking documents from men who did not survive the war.  Many of them left all of their worldly goods to their mother, demonstrating how young they were.  The wills can record names and addresses and family relationships.