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Wills and Administrations after 1858

Beginning in 1858, the responsibility for matters of probate was transferred from the ecclesiastical or church courts to the civil courts.  The Principal Registry was set up in Dublin with eleven other district registries set up around the country. (Brian Mitchell’s A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland lists the probate registries by county on the Poor Law page.) The registry would make a copy of the will or administration in a Will and Admon book, and after 20 years the books were sent to the Public Records Office.  A Calendar or index of the probate grants or administrations was kept with names listed in alphabetical order.  

   As is the story with so many Irish records, the original wills and books, sent to the Public Records Office were lost in the fire.  That includes almost all of the records for the Principal Registry (Dublin and Kildare).  Some of the district registry books have survived, but for the most part, we are left with the Calendars or indexes.  These Calendars contain information about the testator (name, address, total effects), the date of death, the date and place of probate or grant of administration, names of beneficiaries/executor and possibly their relationship.  Usually the marital status of women is mentioned.  One comment about the date of probate, it could happen years after the death, so don’t stop searching within a year of death.  Also, note that the material was not transferred to the Public Records Office until 20 years after their creation, so wills probated after 1901 may have survived.  

   The indexes for these post-1858 wills are in multiple places. The National Archives of Ireland has the Calendar of Wills and Administrations 1858-1920 online.  This database covers all of Ireland until 1917.  Beginning in 1918, it only covers the 26 counties of the Republic.   Below is a sample page from the Will Calendars.


The first entry on the page shows that James Moughty, a Merchant and Farmer of Westmeath, died 17 February 1905 and that his will was probated at the Principal Registry (Dublin) on 16 Mar 1905 to Patrick Moughty.  The value of his estate was £1,784.  Is there more information?  Since it is after 1901, I requested a copy of the will from the National Archives (when I was in Dublin).  The wills are not kept at the National Archives and have to be ordered up from the Four Courts so it takes an extra day.  I returned to the Archives and was able to see the will.

   Beginning in 1918 you need to go to the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) for wills and administrations for the registries of Belfast, Armagh and Londonderry (which cover the six counties of Northern Ireland).  The database at PRONI covers 1858-1965, so you will find an overlap for the counties of Northern Ireland occurring both at the National Archives and PRONI prior to 1917.  For example, the admon (administration) for William Moag who died 20 September 1879 was issued on 28 January 1891.  Note the amount of time between his death and administration.  Here is the index image from the PRONI database but it is also in the database at the National Archives.

In this case there is no image of the document, but I did find an online image for the will of John Moag in 1908 in the PRONI database.  

 One other anomaly to be aware of.  Above I mentioned that the Calendar at the National Archives covers all of Ireland until 1917.  Ireland wasn’t partitioned until 1922, so in the time period between 1917 and 1922, you may find probate documents for some of the border counties (Louth, Monaghan, Cavan) probated in Northern Ireland.  Don’t forget to check both locations. 

   You can also find some of the will calendars at Ancestry.

   You may be thinking that your ancestors left before 1858, or that they didn’t have a will.  Look for will for family members that remained in Ireland.  These can frequently help identify family members and may even mention your ancestor, already in America. 

   Happy Hunting!


Congratulations to Diann LaRosa of The Villages in Florida who won the set of Irish Quick Reference Guides from my Blogiversary post. Thanks to everyone who registered. If you'd like to purchase the set for yourself, visit my website. You can get the printed, laminated sheets for $10 each, or the downloadable Digital Bundle for $16.

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2017