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 is 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.  This 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. 

In some instances (e.g. surviving pre-1858 wills), further information can be accessed by consulting the original record held at PRONI.  In other instances (e.g. pre-1858 will and admon indexes, and religious census extracts) there is either no original record to consult, or no further information to be found.  The search results 'detailed view' indicates whether or not further information is available and cites a PRONI Reference number where applicable.

The following indexes and extracts are included in Name Search:

  • indexes to pre-1858 diocesan wills and administration bonds
    in this instance, the 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

About 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:

  • whether or not 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) court:

Diocesan (or consistorial) courts

Each Church of Ireland Diocese had a Diocesan court which administered the estates of persons who had been resident within that diocese and whose property was also within that diocese.

The following dioceses covering Northern Ireland existed:

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

The Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Armagh

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

What types of testamentary papers were there?

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 a sufficient number of witnesses.

What changed 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.

What pre-1858 testamentary papers for Northern Ireland are available in PRONI?

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 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 (ncluded in Name Search)
  • early indexes to the Prerogative Court wills (1536-1810) published by Sir Arthur Vicars (not included in Name Search)   

What pre-1858 diocesan wills and admons are 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 is an attempt 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 - 1858
  • Clogher diocesan administration bonds, 1660-1858
  • Connor diocesan administration bonds, 1661- 1857
  • Derry diocesan administration bonds, 1698/9 -1857
  • Down diocesan administration bonds, 1641-1857
  • Dromore diocesan administration bonds, 1742 -1857
  • Kilmore diocesan administration bonds, 1728-1858

Please 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, 1633-1857
  • Clogher diocesan wills, 1661-1858
  • Connor diocesan wills, 1622-1859
  • Down diocesan wills, 1608-1859
  • Kilmore diocesan wills, 1682-1857

Please 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 Prerogative wills

  • Prerogative wills, 1811-1858

Please 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.

Transcription and accuracy

Please note, in many instances 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 placenames.  
It is often difficult to identify placenames.  Where it is reasonably certain to ascertain, 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.  

About 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 what occasioned the census to be 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 2 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.

What 1740 protestant householders returns are 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):

  • Co. 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.
  • Co. Armagh: Derrynoose, Mullaghbrack, Shankill and Tynan
  • Co. Donegal:  Clonca (by townland), Clonmany (by townland), Culdaff (by townland), Desertegny (by townland), Donagh (by townland), Fahan (by townland), Moville (by townland), and Templemore (by townland).
  • Co. Down:    Kilbroney and Seapatrick.
  • Co. Londonderry:  All parishes except for Agivey, Arboe and Derryloran (may be covered in the Co. Tyrone part of Co. Londonderry); the following parishes have information recorded by townland – Aghanloo, Balteagh, Banagher, Bovevagh, Clondermot, Cumber, Drumachose, Dungiven, Faughanvale, Tamlaghfinlagan, Tamlaghtard and Templemore
  • Co. Tyrone:  Derryloran and Kildress

Placename spellings on Name Search

The attached table of spellings used in the 1740 Protestant Householders Index on Name Search  provides a list of the modern and original placename 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 (i.e. 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 ensure 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, nevertheless 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 compile 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 constitute 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 Co 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.  

What 1766 Religious Census Returns are on Name Search?

The following parishes are covered:

Northern Ireland parishes

  • Co. Antrim:  Ahoghill, Ballintoy, Ballymoney and Ballynure
  • Co. 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.
  • Co. Down:  Inch, Kilbroney and Seapatrick
  • Co. Fermanagh:  Derryvullan, Devenish, Kinawley (partly in Co. Cavan) and Rossorry  
  • Co. Londonderry:  Artrea, Ballynascreen, Banagher, Bovevagh, Cumber,   Desertlyn, Desertmartin, Drumachose, Dungiven, Moneymore and Magherafelt
  • Co. Tyrone:  Aghaloo, Artrea, Carnteel, Clonfeacle, Derryloran, Donaghenry, Drumglass, Errigal Keerogue, Kildress, Tullyniskan, Magherafelt and Dungannon Town and Corporation
  • [Drumglass and Tullyniskan with Dungannon Town were commonly called the Parish of Dungannon in 1766]

Republic of Ireland parishes

  • Co. Cavan:  Kinawley (partly in Co Fermanagh), Lavey, Lurgan and Munterconnaught
  • Co. Cork:  Youghall
  • Co. Donegal:  Inch (Island of), Leck
  • Co. Dublin:  Castleknock, Clonsilla and Tawney (Taney);
  • Co. Kildare:  Ballymore Eustace, Tipperkevin
  • King’s Co:  Ballycommon
  • Co. Limerick:  Clonagh, Croagh (Crough), Doondonnell, Killscannell, Nantinan and Rathkeale
  • Co. Longford:  Abbeylara
  • Co. 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.
  • Co. Meath:  Ardbraccan, Churchtown, Liscartan, Martry, Rataine
  • Queen’s Co:  Lea, Mountmellick (no present day parish of Mountmellick)
  • Co. Tipperary:  Burgess (Burgesbeg), Ballingarry and Uskane
  • Co. Wexford:  Ballynaslaney, Clonmore, Edermine,
  • Co. Westmeath:  Russagh (Rossough)
  • Co Wicklow:  Dunganstown, Rathdrum and Wicklow (no present day parish of Wicklow)

Personal names

Sometimes Groves abbreviated Christian names to the extent that makes it impossible to correctly guess what the name is eg 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’.

Placename spellings used in the 1766 Religious Census Returns on Name Search

The attached table of spellings used in the 1766 Religious Census Returns Index on Name Search provides a list of the modern and original placename 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 (i.e. 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 proportion of the population in Ulster and were seen by the Established Church of Ireland as posing just as big a threat as Roman Catholics.  Consequently, 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 were thereby 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 extant petitions that formed part of the records of the Irish Parliament were transferred to the Public Record Office of Ireland (PROI) in 1870.  They were subsequently lost 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 indicate 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.  

What 1775 dissenters' petitions are on Name Search?

The Petitions cover the following towns, parishes and congregations:

  • Antrim Borough (probably 1st Antrim Presbyterian Church)
  • Old Antrim (Probably Antrim Unitarian Church)
  • Ardstraw and Newtownstewart, Co Tyrone
  • Armagh Parish, Co Armagh
  • Ballee Congregation, Co Down
  • Ballyclare Town and neighbourhood, Co Antrim
  • Ballymena Town and neighbourhood, Co Antrim
  • Ballynure town and neighbourhood, Co Antrim
  • Bangor Town and Parish, Co Down
  • Belfast Parish and town
  • Benburb Town and neighbourhood, Co Armagh
  • Carnmoney Parish, Co Antrim
  • Carrickfergus Town and County, Co Antrim
  • Clare Congregation, Co Armagh
  • Coagh. Co Tyrone
  • Coleraine and Killowen Parishes, Co Londonderry
  • Comber Parish, Co Down
  • Cookstown Congregation, Co Tyrone
  • Donegore, Kilbride and Nilteen Parishes, Co Antrim
  • Dundonald Parish, Co Down
  • Dromore Parish, Co Down
  • Dromara Congregation, Co Down
  • Drumballyroney and Drumgooland Parishes, Co Down
  • Dungannon Barony, Co Tyrone
  • Dungannon Town and neighbourhood, Co Tyrone
  • Dunmurry Congregation, Drumbeg Parish, Cos Antrim and Down
  • Killyleagh Parish, Co Down
  • Larne, Raloo, Carncastle, Kilwaughter, Glenarm and Ballyeaston Parishes, Co Antrim
  • Lisburn Town and neighbourhood, Cos Down and Antrim
  • Londonderry City, Co Londonderry
  • Newry Parish, Co Down
  • Rathfriland Congregation, Co Down
  • Seapatrick, Tullylish and Donaghcloney Parishes, Co Down
  • Strabane Town and neighbourhood, Co Tyrone

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