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Irish Genealogy: Day 3 in Dublin

National Archives - Dublin
Bishop Street

    The National Archives of Ireland was on the agenda for today.   It was a windy day with light rain as I walked to Bishop Street.  I remember the first time I tried to find the Archives, I walked past the street a number of times.  Street names are written on the sides of buildings (in both Irish and English) and Bishop Street is easy to miss as it intersects with three roads.  Just look for the Dublin Institute of Technology which is at the corner of Aungier, Peter Row, and Bishop Street.

    The National Archives also requires a Readers Ticket which you can get when you arrive.  Mine is good until 2012 so I was scanned in at Reception, dropped my bag off in the locker room and went up to the Reading Room on the 5th floor.  You need to be aware that you are not allowed to take any bags, briefcases, etc. into either the Library or the Archives.  Lockers are provided for free.  You may take your computer or notebook, pencil (no pens), magnifying glass and camera into the Reading Room.

    Unlike the Library, the Archive is a modern building with everything on the one floor.  Microfilms can be scanned out one at a time and original documents can be requested and brought to your work table.  You can photograph them (without flash) as long as they are not too delicate.  There are a bank of microfilm readers connected to printers and you purchase a print card for €2 for 8 copies.

    My early trips to the Archives were primarily to view the census records (remember, the only surviving complete censuses are 1901 and 1911.)  There was no index to either so you had to know the townland and go through them page by page...and they were the originals, not microfilms.  Today both the censuses have been indexed and digitized and are available through the National Archives website.  

    Today’s visit was focused on Testamentary records, i.e., wills and administrations.  Like most Irish records, this is a sad story...most of the original wills and books were burned in the 1922 fire. 

    Probate records in Ireland are classified as pre-1858 and post 1858.  Prior to 1858 wills and administrations were filed in the ecclesiastical or church courts (presided over by the Church of Ireland).  There were twenty-eight Diocesan courts, known as the consistorial courts which handled probate matters for those who lived within their boundaries, or had a value of £5  (according to the National Archives (UK) currency converter that would be equal to £ 160.85 in 2005 or about $250.   If an estate was valued at over £5 or included property in more than one diocese, then it was probated in the Prerogative Court of Armagh (a subordinate court to the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.)  If an individual owned property in England as well, their estate was most likely probated in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.  

    Prior to the 1922 fire, most wills and administration bonds were indexed and many of the indexes have survived.  That’s the good news...the bad news is that there is no single index to check and what you will get in many cases is just a name, location and date.  They are not fully alphabetical, so when you get to the letter of your surname, go through the entire section.  Some are grouped by name, but other are in chronological order.  

    For the Prerogative Wills, which were all destroyed, there are the Betham Abstracts.  Sir William Bethan made handwritten abstracts of the family information in the wills to 1810.  His original notebooks have been microfilmed and are available in the National Archives.  These are his handwritten notes so bring a lot of patience when you’re viewing these.  For anyone searching for 17th and 18th century records, these are a goldmine. Here’s an example: 

Gershon Boate of Marystown
in co Roscommon
2 Sep 1743—22 Jan 1744 [written —probated]
son Benjamin B
eldest son Gershon B
2 son Samuel
eldest dr Rachel B. alias Ross
2d dau Lydia
3 — Susanna
gr son Thomas Robinson


If you plan to search these records, make sure you learn as much as possible Ibefore visiting.  Here are some reference books to check.


Grenham, John, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, Dublin, 2006, 3rd Edition.

Hutchison, Brian W., Researching Irish Testamentary Records..., Toronto, Heritage Publications, 2002.

Ryan, James G. Ph.D., Irish Records: Sources for Family and Local History, Ancestry, (U.S.A.), 1997.


    I’ll be spending some additional time at the National Archives next week and review Testamentary Records after 1858.



© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2013