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Thursday, 8 November 2012

Irish Soldiers' Wills 1914-17 launched by NAI

Click image to download the 1916 will of Patrick
McKenna from Kilkenny who was killed in Belgium
on 19 Aug 1917. PDF is 2.5Mb.

The National Archives of Ireland (NAI) has launched its Irish Soldiers' Wills collection, free, online, on its new genealogy website.

You can access the latter here, and then select the Soldiers' Wills tab.

This collection contains the only official documents held by the NAI which directly relate to WW1 soldiers.

Spanning 1914 to 1922, there are more than 9,000 wills in the full collection. Most are the wills of soldiers who died in World War One, but there are also a small number (29 to be precise) that date from the South African/Boer War 1899-1902. It was not obligatory to make a will, and most of those in this collection are categorised as Informal Wills, meaning that they were not witnessed.

Searching the collection is easy. There are just six search fields: First name, Surname, War Office (WO) Number, Service Number, Date of Death and War Office (WO) Date ie the date the WO processed the will; they can be used alone or in combination.

Given that this is a small collection, I was surprised to find the will of one of my grandmother's cousins from Wicklow. Aged 22, he enlisted with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, signed his will and set off for the battlefield. He was killed just 10 months later, on 8 August 1917. He left all he had to his mother who ran the hardware store in Main Street.

This first phase of the digitisation project takes in only those wills covering 1914-1917.

The second phase, covering the remaining four years, will be released early in 2013.