About Name Search

The Name Search database is a searchable index listing pre-1858 diocesan wills and administration bonds; and surviving fragments of the 1740 and 1766 religious census returns and 1775 dissenters petitions.

What you can find on Name Search

Name Search pulls together into a single database the information provided in a variety of indexes to records and extracts from records.  Information can be accessed by a simple search by personal name and/or location. The application does not link to digitised images of original records. 

Sometimes, for example surviving pre-1858 wills, further information can be accessed by consulting the original record held at PRONI. 

Other times, for example pre-1858 will and admon indexes, and religious census extracts, there is either no original record to available or no further information to be found. The search results 'detailed view' shows if further information is available and includes a PRONI reference number where applicable.

Indexes and extracts included in Name Search

  • indexes to pre-1858 diocesan wills and administration bonds - this index has survived but in most cases the record listed in the index (in effect the actual will or admon) has not
  • index to surviving pre-1858 wills in PRONI - most pre-1858 wills were deposited in the Public Record Office in Dublin and were destroyed during a fire in 1922, however, some originals and copies are to be found in various collections in PRONI 
  • Surviving fragments of the 1740 and the 1766 religious census returns
  • 1775 dissenters petitions

Pre-1858 diocesan wills and administration bonds

History of probate in Ireland pre-1858

From the late 17th century until 1857 the Church of Ireland (then the State Church) was responsible for testamentary administration. Precisely how an estate was administered was dependant on a number of factors:

  • if the deceased had made a will
  • value of the property they owned
  • whether their property was located in more than one diocese

There were two types of ecclesiastical (or church) courts.

Diocesan (or consistorial) courts

Each Church of Ireland Diocese had a Diocesan court which administered the estates of those who had been resident within that diocese and whose property was also within that diocese. The following dioceses existed:

Diocese Area covered
Diocese of Armagh Most of County Armagh and parts of counties Londonderry, Tyrone, Louth and Meath
Diocese of Clogher Parts of counties Tyrone, Fermanagh, Donegal, Louth and all of County Monaghan
Diocese of Connor Most of County Antrim and parts of counties Down and Londonderry
Diocese of Derry Most of County Londonderry and parts of counties Donegal, Antrim and Tyrone
Diocese of Down  Eastern part of County Down and part of County Antrim
Diocese of Dromore Western part of County Down and parts of counties Antrim and Armagh
Diocese of Kilmore Parts of counties Cavan, Fermanagh, Leitrim and Meath

The Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Armagh

Estates of those who had property worth more than £5 located in more than one diocese were administered in the Prerogative court.

Types of testamentary papers

  • grant of probate - this is the official document confirming that the will was proved 
  • grant of letters of administration (often abbreviated to admon) - when a person died without making a will (described as intestate) then a grant of letters of administration (admon) was made to appoint administrators to administer the estate of the deceased
  • administration bond - before letters of administration were issued the courts required the administrator to take out an administration bond, with sureties to make an inventory of the goods of the deceased and to administer faithfully
  • nuncupative will - one made by word of mouth before an acceptable number of witnesses

Changes in 1858

When the Probate Act of 1858 was passed, the ecclesiastical courts lost their power and testamentary jurisdiction became a civil matter - the responsibility of the Court of Probate.  As a result, most of the records of the Church of Ireland courts were transferred first to the Principal and District Registries of the new Court of Probate, and later moved to the Public Record Office of Ireland (Dublin) when it was established in 1867.

Pre-1858 testamentary papers for Northern Ireland 

Unfortunately, almost all pre-1858 original wills and grants of letters of administration (as well as the administration bonds) were lost when the Public Record Office of Ireland was destroyed in 1922.  

Although most originals have been destroyed, copies of testamentary records or extracts from them survive in a wide variety of sources.  Wills and admons can be found in family papers, landed estate archives, solicitors’ archives and in the archives of the Irish Land Commission and the Land Purchase Commission.  

There are also many abstracts in the notebooks of genealogists such as Tenison Goves, HB Swanzy and Philip Crossle who were working in the Public Record Office of Ireland before 1922 and who made copies either by hand or typewritten.  

While some wills can be identified in the electronic catalogue, abstracts or extracts contained in genealogists’ notebooks may not be found this way.  Many references to individuals will only be found in the pre-1858 wills index (now available on Name Search) which was specifically compiled to identify these records. 

Some indexes to diocesan wills, diocesan administration bonds and Prerogative Court wills have also survived.  Although the corresponding documents generally no longer exist, these indexes can provide useful genealogical information and prove that a person died at a certain time.

The following indexes are available at PRONI:

  • manuscript indexes for pre-1858 diocesan wills for Northern Ireland (included in Name Search)
  • manuscript indexes for pre-1858 diocesan administration bonds for Northern Ireland (included in Name Search)
  • manuscript index to the Prerogative Court wills (1811-1858) for Northern Ireland testators (included in Name Search)
  • early indexes to the Prerogative Court wills (1536-1810) published by Sir Arthur Vicars (not included in Name Search)   

Pre-1858 diocesan wills and admons available in Name Search

Pre-1858 wills index

Although most originals were destroyed in the fire in the Public Record Office of Ireland (Dublin) in 1922, copies of testamentary records or extracts from them survive in a wide variety of PRONI sources. The pre-1858 wills index tries to bring together pre-1858 wills and admons found within the archives in PRONI. There are over 15,500 entries in this index. The type of records referenced in the pre-1858 wills index include:

  • copy of a will
  • extract from a will or an abstract of a will (usually abbreviated in the index as ‘ext’)
  • note of a grant (abbreviated to ‘Gt’) of probate or letters of administration (the latter is usually abbreviated in the index as ‘admon’ or ‘I’ meaning ‘intestate’)
  • copy of grant of probate, usually attached to a copy of the will
  • note of issue of an administration bond (usually abbreviated in the index as ‘admon bond’)
  • extract from an administration bond (usually abbreviated in the index as ‘admon bond’)
  • renunciation of executors or of a will

Indexes to diocesan administration bonds (admons)

  • Armagh diocesan administration bonds - 1600 to 1858
  • Clogher diocesan administration bonds - 1660 to1858
  • Connor diocesan administration bonds - 1661 to 1857
  • Derry diocesan administration bonds - 1698/9 to1857
  • Down diocesan administration bonds - 1641 to 1857
  • Dromore diocesan administration bonds - 1742 to 1857
  • Kilmore diocesan administration bonds - 1728 to 1858

Note: the original bonds referred to in the indexes no longer exist.  There is no further information available other than that recorded in the indexes and therefore copies of the actual administration bonds cannot be provided.

Indexes to diocesan wills

  • Armagh diocesan wills - 1633 to 1857
  • Clogher diocesan wills - 1661 to1858
  • Connor diocesan wills - 1622 to 1859
  • Down diocesan wills - 1608 to 1859
  • Kilmore diocesan wills, 1682 to 1857

Note, the original wills referred to in the indexes no longer exist.  There is no further information available other than that recorded in the indexes and therefore copies of the actual wills cannot be provided.

Indexes to rrerogative wills

  • prerogative wills - 1811 to 1858

The original wills referred to in the indexes no longer exist.  There is no further information available other than that recorded in the indexes and therefore copies of the actual wills cannot be provided.

Transcription and accuracy

In many cases the information in this index has been copied from the original records, therefore there is no guarantee of the accuracy of the information nor the spelling of personal and place names.  

It is often difficult to identify place names. Where it is reasonably certain, the modern townland spelling is provided. Where there is some uncertainty, the modern townland spelling is placed in brackets or is followed by a question mark. Where there are covering dates, it means either that the date of death and date of the grant are given or that there are a number of documents within a date range.  

1740 Protestant householders returns

The Irish House of Commons would appear to have ordered a census of Protestant householders in 1740 as the returns were originally part of the Irish Parliament records which were then transferred to the Public Record Office of Ireland.   

The original returns were lost in the destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland but some transcripts made by the antiquarian and genealogist, Tenison Groves, have survived.   

It is not known why the census was taken but it would appear from some of the transcripts to have been carried out by the Hearth Tax collectors or supervisors of the Hearth Money.  

The Hearth Tax, introduced in 1662, was a tax of two shillings on every hearth or ‘other place used for firing’ and was collected over areas known as ‘Walks’. Some of the transcripts of the 1740 Protestant householders refer to ‘Walks’ which is further evidence that the Hearth Tax collectors were involved in carrying out the census.  

The returns, which are lists of names of heads of households, are arranged largely by county, barony and parish and in at least half of the returns there is a breakdown by townland.  There is no further information given about the individuals. The typescript copies can be found under the PRONI reference T808/1528 and T716/9 but copies are available on the Search Room shelves in PRONI.

1740 protestant householders returns on Name Search

The surviving transcripts only relate to parts of counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, Donegal, Londonderry and Tyrone. The following parishes are covered (also indicating those parishes where the information is recorded by townland).

County Antrim

  • Ahoghill
  • Armoy
  • Ballintoy
  • Ballymoney
  • Ballyrashane
  • Ballywillin
  • Billy
  • Clough (Dunaghy)
  • Culfeightrin
  • Derrykeighan
  • Drummaul
  • Duneane
  • Dunluce
  • Finvoy
  • Kilraghts
  • Ballymena (Kirkinriola)
  • Loughguile
  • ‘Manybrooks’ (no parish of this name now)
  • Ramoan, Rasharkin and Rathlin

County Armagh

  • Derrynoose
  • Mullaghbrack
  • Shankill
  • Tynan

County Donegal

  • Clonca (by townland)
  • Clonmany (by townland)
  • Culdaff (by townland)
  • Desertegny (by townland)
  • Donagh (by townland)
  • Fahan (by townland)
  • Moville (by townland)
  • Templemore (by townland)

County Down

  • Kilbroney
  • Seapatrick

County Londonderry

All parishes except for Agivey, Arboe and Derryloran (may be covered in the County Tyrone part of County Londonderry)

The following parishes have information recorded by townland: 

  • Aghanloo
  • Balteagh
  • Banagher
  • Bovevagh
  • Clondermot
  • Cumber
  • Drumachose
  • Dungiven
  • Faughanvale
  • Tamlaghfinlagan
  • Tamlaghtard
  • Templemore

County Tyrone

  • Derryloran
  • Kildress

Place name spellings on Name Search

The table of spellings used in the 1740 Protestant householders index on Name Search  provides a list of the modern and original place name spellings used in Name Search as an aid to using the ‘location’ search option.  

Where the modern spelling of a townland recorded in the householders records could be identified, this has been used in Name Search and should be used in the ‘location’ search. Where a modern spelling could not be identified (that is - where a question mark appears in the table attached), the original spelling from the householders returns has been recorded in the database and should be used for location searching. 

About 1766 religious census returns

The Penal Laws introduced from 1691 onwards were designed to make sure that the Established Church of Ireland retained its monopoly of power in Ireland. Although they were gradually relaxed throughout the mid to late 18th century, the Irish Parliament retained a keen interest in religion. In March 1766, Church of Ireland clergy were ordered by the Irish House of Lords to make complete returns of all heads of households in their respective parishes:

"Resolved, that the several archbishops and bishops of this Kingdom shall be and are heavily desired to direct the parish ministers in their respective dioceses, to return a list of the several families in their parishes to this House on the first Monday after the Recess, distinguishing which are Protestants and which are Papists, as also a list of the several reputed Popish priests and friars residing in the parishes."

The returns were made in March and April 1766 and sent in alphabetical order by diocese to the House of Lords.  They were eventually deposited in the Public Record Office of Ireland in Dublin.  

Although the original returns were lost in the destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland in 1922, fortunately extensive transcripts survive, thanks to the transcription work of Tenison Groves, an antiquarian and genealogist working in the Public Record Office of Ireland before 1922.

Groves’ handwriting is not the easiest to decipher and, as we are reliant on his interpretation of the original returns, there is no guarantee of the accuracy of the information in the database. The surviving fragments of the 1766 religious census returns held by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland make up an 18th century census for just over 30 parishes in Ulster as well as for some parishes in what is now the Republic of Ireland.  

The returns show religion as Roman Catholic (referred to in the census returns as ‘Papists’) or Protestant.  Protestants were sometimes distinguished between Church of Ireland and Dissenters who would have been largely Presbyterians.  

In the case of Bovevagh Parish in County Londonderry, the heads of Protestant householders are distinguished between Protestant Church Of England and Protestant Church of Scotland – this is taken to mean Established Church/ Church of Ireland and Dissenter respectively.  

The returns also give an account of any Roman Catholic priests operating in the parish and their names.   Where the entries record ‘Protestant’ it has not been possible to distinguish between ‘Established Church or ‘Church of Ireland’ and Dissenters.   

Some of the more diligent rectors listed every townland and every head of house, but many drew up only heads of houses by parish and others only numerical totals of the heads of houses of each religion either by parish or by townland. There is often more than one person of the same name listed in a townland/parish but we have no way of knowing whether this was in fact the case or if names were duplicated in transcription.

The 1766 religious census returns are not only of value to the family and local historian but to those interested in Irish surnames and how they have been anglicised.

The returns are available under the PRONI Reference T808/15264, 15266 and 15267, T283/C, T664, T3709 and T3901.  Copies of the T808 items are available on the shelves in the Search Room in PRONI.  

1766 religious census returns on Name Search

The following parishes are covered.

Northern Ireland parishes 

County Antrim

  • Ahoghill
  • Ballintoy
  • Ballymoney
  • Ballynure

County Armagh

  • Creggan

In the returns for the part of Creggan Parish which is in County Louth, ‘The ‘Five Towns’ may refer to five townlands in County Louth.

County Down

  • Inch
  • Kilbroney
  • Seapatrick

County Fermanagh

  • Derryvullan
  • Devenish
  • Kinawley (partly in County Cavan)
  • Rossorry  

County Londonderry

  • Artrea
  • Ballynascreen
  • Banagher
  • Bovevagh
  • Cumber
  • Desertlyn
  • Desertmartin
  • Drumachose
  • Dungiven
  • Moneymore
  • Magherafelt

County Tyrone

  • Aghaloo
  • Artrea
  • Carnteel
  • Clonfeacle
  • Derryloran
  • Donaghenry
  • Drumglass
  • Errigal Keerogue
  • Kildress
  • Tullyniskan
  • Magherafelt
  • Dungannon Town and Corporation

Drumglass and Tullyniskan with Dungannon Town were commonly called the Parish of Dungannon in 1766.

Republic of Ireland parishes

County Cavan

  • Kinawley - partly in County Fermanagh
  • Lavey
  • Lurgan
  • Munterconnaught

County Cork

  • Youghall

County Donegal

  • Inch (Island of)
  • Leck

County Dublin

  • Castleknock
  • Clonsilla
  • Tawney (Taney)

County Kildare

  • Ballymore Eustace
  • Tipperkevin

King’s County

  • Ballycommon

County Limerick

  • Clonagh
  • Croagh (Crough)
  • Doondonnell
  • Killscannell
  • Nantinan
  • Rathkeale

County Longford

  • Abbeylara

County Louth

  • Carlingford

In the returns for the part of Creggan Parish which is in County Louth, ‘The ‘Five Towns’ may refer to five townlands in County Louth.

County Meath

  • Ardbraccan
  • Churchtown
  • Liscartan
  • Martry
  • Rataine

Queen’s County

  • Lea
  • Mountmellick (no present day parish of Mountmellick)

County Tipperary

  • Burgess (Burgesbeg)
  • Ballingarry
  • Uskane

County Wexford

  • Ballynaslaney
  • Clonmore
  • Edermine

County Westmeath

  • Russagh (Rossough)

County Wicklow

  • Dunganstown
  • Rathdrum
  • Wicklow (no present day parish of Wicklow)

Personal names

Sometimes Groves abbreviated Christian names making it impossible to correctly guess what the name is, for example in Drumachose Parish ‘Da’ could be ‘David’ or ‘Daniel’.  Because ‘Dan’ is also used it could be assumed that ‘Da’ is David.  Another example in Drumachose Parish is ’Ma’ which could be ‘Mary’ or ‘Martha’ or ‘Margaret’.

Place name spellings used in the 1766 religious census returns on Name Search

The table of spellings used in the 1766 religious census returns index on Name Search provides a list of the modern and original place name spellings used in Name Search as an aid to using the ‘location’ search option.

Where the modern spelling of a townland recorded in the religious census returns could be identified, this has been used in Name Search and should be used in a ‘location’ search.  Where a modern spelling could not be identified (that is - where a question mark appears in the table), the original spelling from the religious census returns has been recorded in the database and should be used for location searching.

About 1775 dissenters' petitions

The Penal Laws, passed after 1691 mainly by the Irish Parliament, were designed to restrict the religious, political and economic activities of Roman Catholics so that they would not have the means to threaten the Protestant (Anglican or Church of Ireland) monopoly of power.  

As a result Roman Catholics were excluded, for example, from political power at local and national level; from holding land on long leases and from many of the professions as well as the armed forces.  However dissenters, those Protestants who were not members of the Church of Ireland, were also affected by the Penal Laws.  

These were largely Presbyterians who formed a sizeable part of the population in Ulster and were seen by the Established Church of Ireland as posing just as big a threat as Roman Catholics.  So, they too suffered from religious and political discrimination.  Presbyterians, for example, could not be married legally except in a Church of Ireland church and the ceremony performed by a Church of Ireland clergyman. This prevailed until 1782.  

Discrimination against dissenters was further extended in 1704 when the Irish Parliament passed an act to prevent the further growth of popery. This act contained a clause imposing a ‘sacramental test’ for public offices that applied equally to all Protestant dissenters.  The sacramental test required those seeking or holding office to take communion at the Church of Ireland.  Many Dissenters refused to do so and because of that were excluded from political and civic influence, and from the learned professions (apart from medicine) and other occupations requiring the oath.  The test was not removed until 1780.

Attempts to limit the powers of dissenters continued throughout the 18th century.  In 1774, the Irish Parliament passed an act excluding them from voting at vestry meetings of the Church of Ireland.  This greatly angered Ulster Protestants who in protest petitioned Parliament in October and November 1775 and as a result the act was repealed in 1776.  

About the petitions

The petitions still in existence that formed part of the records of the Irish Parliament were transferred to the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) in 1870.  They were lost later in the destruction of the PROI in 1922.  
Although the original petitions were lost in the destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland, fortunately transcripts of some have survived. They were copied by Tenison Groves, an antiquarian and genealogist working in the Public Record Office of Ireland before 1922.  They can be accessed in PRONI under T808/ 15307.  

While they exist for all counties in Northern Ireland except for County Fermanagh, they are most extensive for parishes, towns and congregations in Counties Antrim and Down. Because the names index is based on transcripts, there is no guarantee of accuracy or completeness.

The petitions are lists of names of dissenters arranged either by parish, by congregation, by town and neighbourhood or in one instance by barony. Occasionally, members of the Established Church also signed the petitions. The lists usually show whether the signatories were dissenters or Established Church members. Where no denomination is given against a name this is because the list contained the names of both dissenters and Established Church (Church of Ireland) members without distinguishing between them.  

1775 dissenters' petitions on Name Search

The petitions cover the following towns, parishes and congregations.

  • Antrim Borough (probably First Antrim Presbyterian Church)
  • Old Antrim (probably Antrim Unitarian Church)
  • Ardstraw and Newtownstewart, County Tyrone
  • Armagh parish, County Armagh
  • Ballee congregation, County Down
  • Ballyclare town and neighbourhood, County Antrim
  • Ballymena town and neighbourhood, County Antrim
  • Ballynure town and neighbourhood, County Antrim
  • Bangor town and parish, County Down
  • Belfast parish and town
  • Benburb town and neighbourhood, County Armagh
  • Carnmoney parish, County Antrim
  • Carrickfergus town and county, County Antrim
  • Clare congregation, County Armagh
  • Coagh, County Tyrone
  • Coleraine and Killowen parishes, County Londonderry
  • Comber parish, County Down
  • Cookstown congregation, County Tyrone
  • Donegore, Kilbride and Nilteen parishes, County Antrim
  • Dundonald parish, County Down
  • Dromore parish, County Down
  • Dromara congregation, County Down
  • Drumballyroney and Drumgooland parishes, County Down
  • Dungannon barony, County Tyrone
  • Dungannon town and neighbourhood, County Tyrone
  • Dunmurry congregation, Drumbeg parish, counties Antrim and Down
  • Killyleagh parish, County Down
  • Larne, Raloo, Carncastle, Kilwaughter, Glenarm and Ballyeaston parishes, County Antrim
  • Lisburn town and neighbourhood, counties Down and Antrim
  • Londonderry city, County Londonderry
  • Newry parish, County Down
  • Rathfriland congregation, County Down
  • Seapatrick, Tullylish and Donaghcloney parishes, County Down
  • Strabane town and neighbourhood, County Tyrone

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