By Debbie Dale, Student
The Irish: Testamentary Source Records course is short; only four modules are included. In fact, it is the shortest course I have ever taken through the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, yet each module is packed with information.
But first, a couple of sad but helpful facts about testamentary records:
- The majority of testamentary records (wills, administrations, probates) were destroyed in the Public Record Office fire of 1922, but not all of them and indices and abstracts created before 1922, such as Betham’s abstracts can be found. The “Index of Irish Wills 1484-1858,” for example, can now be accessed through the subscription website Findmypast and the National Archives of Ireland offers a digitized collection called “Calendars of Wills and Administrations 1858 – 1920.” One should also check the PRONI (the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland).
- Although the majority of wills were left by men who owned property, the wills of spinsters and widows make up a significant minority. These may be surprisingly rich in genealogy, listing numerous family members, including nephews and nieces. After the Married Women’s Property Act 1882, married women could legally create wills.
Now for a quick rundown of course material and assignments:
Module 1 of the Irish: Testamentary Source Records course defines wills and last testaments, their types, purpose and importance. It offers common terms used with wills and administrations as well as common elements that exist in every will.
Module 2 talks about the advantages and disadvantages of using civil court records. It also breaks the history of Irish testamentary sources into three periods: 1) rare medieval wills prior to the Reformation, 2) 1536 to 1858 when Ecclesiastical Courts of the Established Church of Ireland held jurisdiction over all probate matters, and 3) from 1858 forward when jurisdiction was transferred to civil courts.
Module 3 discusses testamentary records before 1858, the courts of the Established Church of Ireland and the availability of records. It also gives a county by county listing of court jurisdictions.
Module 4 talks about records after the Probate Act of 1857 and their availability. The module ends by offering a nice summation of the course material, which includes the different types of documents (wills, will abstracts and indices, administrations as well as their abstracts and indices) and repositories.
As for assignments, there are a total of 27 individual questions that ask about the course material and your own research and experience with testamentary sources.
Not a bad bargain for a four-week course.
As I write this I have one assignment left: a research plan involving testamentary records. After that, the exam and a decision about the next intermediate level course I will take through the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. I look forward to my selection.
See you next time!