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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 13, 2013 @ 8:42 am

    Will Calendars

    John Grenham

    Irish wills are fiddly to research, all the fiddlier for not being there, since most of them were destroyed in 1922. Before the state took over the administration of probate in 1858, the Church of Ireland as the state church had responsibility for wills and intestacies and did a very mixed job, to say the least. Whatever records and wills they had gathered were eventually passed to the old, doomed Public Record Office of Ireland. So the chances of finding something useful before 1858 are generally slim.

    After 1858, things are very different. Wills are instruments for transmission of that most revered of Victorian sacred cows, private property, and to ensure the process was thoroughly free of hanky-panky the records had to be as public as possible. A system was developed of annual, alphabetical, printed finding aids, known as ‘calendars’, with each entry containing an outline of the will or intestacy. Which means that for every single will or intestacy after 1857 there is at least that detailed summary.

    These Calendars are large folio-sized volumes, cumbersome but easy to search physically, if you happen to be in the National Archives Reading Room. Otherwise, the options have been to yearn from afar or to struggle with the Mormon microfilms. Yearn and struggle no more. The National Archives have digitised the whole lot, free, at genealogy.nationalarchives.ie.

    As is now NAI style, the search interface is plain vanilla, eschewing such fripperies as surname variants and previous/next buttons. A plain introduction gives the background, specifies precisely what’s present, what’s missing and why, and then links search results to pdf copies of the originals (except for 1919 and 1920, for some reason).

    Yet again, the Archives have brought another vital part of our past into sharper focus, and on a shoestring. Ten out of ten.

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