Wills are a tremendously useful asset for family historians. They can offer a broad range of information about your ancestors, from the practical to the personal. You can discover where your relative lived, the size of their estate, and get some insight into who their dependents were. Moreover, the division of the deceased’s assets – and indeed, what they left behind – can give you an idea of the kind of person they were. What, and who, did your relatives hold dear?
Prior to 1858, grants of probate and administration for Irish wills were made by Church of Ireland courts. Disaster struck in 1922, when a huge proportion of Ireland’s testamentary records were destroyed in an explosion at the Public Record Office, including wills, administrations, and probate. Probate is the legal right to deal with someone’s property, money and possessions after their death. When someone dies, it’s sometimes possible to apply for a ‘grant of representation’, and records covering these can also be extremely useful when tracing your family tree.
Thankfully, all was not lost with the destruction of the office. The Index of Irish Wills 1484-1853 is still intact, and available to search on findmypast.com. It offers the only complete list of surviving wills and testamentary records. The Index covers every area of Ireland, making it the most comprehensive reference available. Every entry includes the name of the person who left a will - or who was covered by a grant of probate or administration, their address, and the location where the document was proven (such as a diocesan or the Prerogative court). Some entries also contain the person’s occupation, and almost half detail the names of the executors, as well as their addresses.
The Index only includes records for documents which survived, like original wills, administrations or grants of probate, or those which had a certified copies, transcripts, or even abstracts and extracts. This means there is more information to be found on the original records, which are kept at the National Archives of Ireland in Dublin.
Another of the key collections of Irish wills available at Findmypast is the WW1 Irish Soldiers Wills. These include 9000 transcriptions of wills written by men serving, with about a quarter of the Irishmen who died in the war represented. Most of the wills are unofficial, written on pre-printed pages from their service books, without witnesses. Letters sent to family were also considered evidence of a soldier’s wishes for his belongings or estate. Because most soldiers were young and unmarried, they usually left all they had to their mother. A few soldiers made multiple wills, and all these were processed separately by the War Office. Findmypast allows you to search the collection by regiment, place name (for the place of death), and beneficiary.
There are several other very informative Irish wills collections on Findmypast, dating between 1272 and 1920, dealing with prerogative wills, indexes to Grant Books, and much more. This fantastic resource is well worth an exploration if you’re interested in learning more about your Irish ancestry!
For more stories on tracing your Irish heritage from Findmypast click here.