Did your Irish ancestor leave a will when they died before 1858? If they did it would have been proved before one of the ecclesiastical courts of the establishment Church of Ireland. These handwritten indexes and will books can give you your ancestor’s name and their occupation, and even details of what they left in their will and to whom.
Each record contains a transcript and an image of the original index books. The amount of information can vary but you can find out the following about your ancestor:
Year the will was proved in court
Occupation or rank (on image only)
There are a small number of will books included in these records which will give full details of the will, including who benefitted and what the estate entailed.
The indexes are a record of all the wills and associated documents proved before the ecclesiastical courts around Ireland. Before 1858, when the civil courts took over jurisdiction, all probate matters (concerning a deceased person’s estate) and marriage licences were dealt with by the ecclesiastical courts of the established church (the Prerogative Court and the Diocesan or Consistorial Courts). At this time, the Church of Ireland was the establishment church.
Probate records going back hundreds of years were lodged in the Public Records Office. During the Irish Civil War an explosion destroyed most of these records. Surviving records and copies that may have been held elsewhere have been collected ever since and these are some of the surviving original records.
This collection includes digitised copies of Prerogative will and grant books, Diocesan courts will and grant books, and one volume of Cause papers as follows. The original records are held by the National Archive of Ireland.
Prerogative court will books
Will book: 1644 – 1684
Will book: 1706-1728
Will book: 1728-1729
Will book: 1777 (A-L only)
Will book: 1813 (K-Z only)
Will book: 1834 (A-E only)
Diocesan courts will books
Connor: 1818-1820, 1853-1858
Prerogative court grant books (1684-1688, 1748-1751, and 1839) and Diocesan courts grant books (Cashel: 1840-1845, Connor: 1818-1820, 1853-1858, Down: 1850-1858, Derry and Raphoe: 1812-1851, and Ossory: 1848-1858) are accessible at the National Archives of Ireland.
When a person dies their estate must go through probate. Probate would normally be handled by the Diocesan court unless the value of the estate was greater than five pounds in more than one diocese. As part of this process their will must be proven before a court and an executor appointed. It is up to the executor to ensure that the terms of the Will are carried out. If the person died without a will, or intestate, then letters of administration would be granted to someone, usually the next of kin, to allow them to deal with the estate – these are usually listed in the indexes as admon.
The courts could also issue bonds, which were signed and witnessed obligations, for example to administer an estate, prove a will, render an account or inventory of all goods and property in the deceased’s estate or taking guardianship of a minor. For wills proved after 1858, search the Ireland, original will registers 1858-1920, a link is provided in the Useful links and resources section.
The Diocesan and Prerogative wills and administrations indexes are a great source of earlier Irish records. The greatest number of Irish records are from the 19th Century so a source that can bring you back further is a great advantage. For example, in these records you can find one of Ireland’s most famous authors, the man who created Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift.
Born in Dublin in 1667, Jonathan Swift became a particularly outspoken Irish patriot. He had already made a name for himself as a writer in England when, while Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, he produced anonymous pamphlets including Proposal for Universal Use of Irish Manufacture (1720), Drapier’s Letters (1724) and A Modest Proposal (1729). His writing was unpopular with the Government and in 1720 his printer, Edward Waters, was convicted of seditious libel. However, four years later a grand jury refused to find Drapier’s Letters seditious. While it was produced anonymously it was widely known to be Swift’s work. Swift responded to the decision with a blistering attack on the Irish judiciary. A Modest Proposal is one of Swift’s most notorious works. The piece, to give it its full title, A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, offered the solution for poor parents to sell their children to the rich to eat – a satirical image with as much power now as it had in the early 18th Century.
Swift worked out many of his frustrations with his political experiences in his masterpiece Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships - or as it is better known Gulliver’s Travels. First published in November 1726 the book was an immediate hit, reprinted three times in its first year of publication and French, German and Dutch translations appeared the following year. Ireland, at that point the European centre of book pirating, produced pirated copies.
Swift died in 1745 and is listed in the Indexes as Dean of St Patrick’s. One of the terms in his will was a bequest to set up St Patrick’s Hospital for Imbeciles. Swift wanted the hospital to cater for all sections of society. He had himself been declared of unsound mind by a Commission of Lunacy in 1742. He was keen that it should be close to a general hospital because of the links between physical and mental health and the hospital was consequently built next to Dr Steevens’ Hospital. It is still running today - Ireland’s largest independent not-for-profit mental health hospital.