Family succession: possession and dispossession: a guide to Irish wills . Wills.
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Wills are documents in which a person leaves instructions as to what is to happen their property and possessions after death. For a will to take effect, a grant of probate has to be made by the court, legalising the will and empowering the executors to administer the estate after the death. Wills are of importance to genealogist's in that they may provide information on living relatives, brothers, sisters, children, cousins and others. They may provide information on land owned by the deceased, servants of the deceased and friends. Many give the addresses of not only the deceased but those of the beneficiaries, executors and witnesses.
if a person dies without making a will, the Court will decide on the distribution of their assets, taking account of their family and creditor situation. This is called an Administration. In certain instances, where a will has been made but is inoperable (e.g. the executor is also deceased) an Administration may also be made. In Administrations, the court appoints an Administrator, (grants letters of administration) usually a relative, principle creditor or legal person, to oversee the distribution of the estate of the deceased as determined by the Court. The Administrator enters a bond for a sum of money as a surety that the instructions of the court will be carried out. These Bonds are called Administration Bonds.
From 1636 to 1858 the administration of testamentary affairs in Ireland was under the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts - the Episcopal diocesan courts of the Established (Protestant) or Anglican Church. There was a Consistorial Court in each Diocese and this was responsible for granting probate and conferring on executors the power to administer the estate of the deceased. This court also dealt with those situations in which the deceased had died intestate, and issued letters of administration.
Each court was responsible for wills and administrations in its own diocese. However, when the deceased had property valued at more than £5 in another Diocese, then the responsibility for that will passed on to the Prerogative Court (The Supreme Court in Ecclesiastical and Testamentary affairs in Ireland) under the authority of the Bishop of Armagh. The Consistorial Court was also responsible for the granting of Marriage Licence Bonds in the Diocese.
The PRO set about replacing as much of its lost material as possible by asking and begin given as many copies of original documents as possible from legal firms and individuals, plus notes and research carried out by historians and genealogists at the PRO prior to 1922.
In 1810 Sir William Betham, Ulster King of Arms, on behalf of the Record Commissioners, superintended the construction of an alphabetical index of testators. He also wrote out, in his own hand, brief genealogical abstracts of almost all those wills that pre-dated 1800, and later constructed sketch pedigrees from his notes. When the Prerogative Wills were destroyed by fire at the Public Record Office in 1922, this work became a very important tool for genealogical research.Bethams Abstracts for pre-1800 are in the National Archives of Ireland (NAI)Bethams Abstracts of grants pre-1802 are held by the NAI and Genealogical Office
The well-known English family history publisher W.P.W. Phillimore along with the tireless Irish genealogist Gertrud Thrift published a 5 volume series of indexes of Irish wills between 1909 and 1920. These were compiled from the finding aids then in use at the Public Record Office in Dublin (PROI). The volumes record surviving wills, then in existence at the PROI, which had been proved at local diocesan courts. Each entry records:
The Crossle Genealogical Abstracts were compiled by Philip Crossle. Many of the will abstracts relate to the Prerogative Court for the time period 1620 1804. These are handwritten abstracts and are somewhat difficult to read. In addition, they are mixed in with numerous abstracts of other material such as chancery bills and linear pedigrees. There are several Crossle collections deposited in various repositories and they are not all copies of the same material.
The wills in the Crossle Collection deposited in the Genealogical Office, Dublin (G.O. Mss. 416 418) are indexed in AnalectaHibernica Vol. 17 published by the Stationery Office, Dublin. This collection is on two reels of microfilm at the Family History Library film 100176 item 1 (G.O. Mss. 417 418) for the "Drought" family and Family History Library microfilm 100175 item 2 (G.O. Mss. 416) for families of various other surnames.
The Crossle Collection deposited in the Public Record Office, Dublin is often referred to as the "Smith Books" since many of the extracts relate to the Smith family. These wills and extracts from the Prerogative Grant Books are not indexed in the volume 17 of AnalectaHibernica previously mentioned. This collection was microfilmed by the Family History Library in 1969 Family History Library film 597127 – 597131.
A third collection is deposited in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (Ref. T748 and T283). This collection is mostly will extracts for the time period 1671 1857. This material is indexed in the Report of the Deputy Keeper of Northern Ireland, 1925 Appendix F; 1933 Appendix B; and 1938 45 page 15. (See Wills and Their Whereabouts by Anthony J. Camp, London 1974). This collection was also microfilmed by the Family History Library in 1960, Family History Library film 258581 and Family History Library film 247318).