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My passion is genealogy and family history. I host a podcast about Australian family history, Genies Down Under. In my day job, I work as a lecturer and a researcher in higher education, teaching pre-service teachers.

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Wednesday, 6 January 2016

How much information can be revealed in probate records?

A lot of information can be revealed in a packet of probate records. Below is an analysis of the probate records of one of my great-grandmothers, Margaret KENEALLY (nee BUTLER).

Margaret was born in 1853 in a very small town called Doolough in County Clare, Ireland.

After her eldest brother, Michael, migrated to Australia in 1878, Margaret followed him in 1880, and many of her siblings joined them in later years (1882 and 1884). After marrying her husband, William Kennelley/Kennealy/ Keneally, in 1890 at St Augustine's Catholic Church in Balmain, Margaret lived most of her life in the Drummoyne area of Sydney, specifically in Renwick St and died at her daughter and son-in-law's home at Five Dock in 1946.

Margaret Kennealy (nee BUTLER) and William Kennealy
Note: Kennealy is also spelled Keneally, Kennelley, Kenneley

I would imagine that owning land and/or property would have been very important to both Margaret and her husband, William, since they came from very poor areas in Ireland. Over their lifetime in Sydney, they owned 4-5 properties in and around the Renwick area of Drummoyne.

Key terms in probate records

First of all, here are a couple of useful definitions of terms used in probate records, from Archives in Brief 84: Probate Packets, Useful definitions

A grant of probate is the authority given by the Supreme Court NSW to the executor(s) to deal with a deceased person's estate. Probate documents certify that a will is valid.
A person who dies leaving a valid will has died testate. They are often referred to as the testator.
A person who dies without leaving a valid will dies intestate. Without a valid will there is no named executor and the Supreme Court NSW issues a letter of administration. 

In the case of Margaret Kennealy, she was a testator because she made a will before she died.

Finding probate records

I searched online for Margaret Kennealy's probate records on the NSW Government State Records - Online Search site, under Probates.

A search on this site located Margaret Kennealy's probate records:

After I located her probate records online, I visited the Kingswood State Archives and was able to see and copy the original documents in her probate packet (about 35 pages).


Here is the information that Margaret Kennealy's probate records revealed.


The probate of the will of Margaret Kennealy was granted to Leo Bertie Bede Northcote on 10 September 1946. Leo Bertie Bede Northcote was the executor. He was Margaret Kennealy's son-in-law, her daughter's (Ellen Northcote, nee Kennealy) husband.

File details

The probate packet was number 317588 in the Supreme Court of NSW, Probate Jurisdiction.

Margaret's details

Margaret Kennealy's probate documents indicates she is known by three versions of her name:

  1. Margaret Kennealy
  2. Margaret Kenneally
  3. Margaret Kenelley

Margaret is referred to as being "late of Drummoyne near Sydney in NSW" and a widow.

Mrs Peile

On 13 August 1946, one of the neighbours who was well known to the family, Martha Anna Maria Peile of 20 Murralong Ave Five Dock, swore an oath that she was well acquainted with Margaret Keneally who had passed away on 4 August 1946 and that she had seen the dead body and wasn't interested in deceased person's estate. Mrs Peile also co-signed Margaret Kennealy's will the year before she died.

Her estate

It appears that £1991.5.3 (one thousand nine hundred and ninety one pounds five shillings and threepence) was the value of her estate when she died, including

Real estate: £1975
Furniture: £17 and 2s
Rents accrued: £2 and 15s
 Including rent for

  • no. 36 Renwick St, Drummoyne to the tenant, Mr Graham, weekly rental of  £1.5.0 (6 days). Amount accruel to date of death: £1.2.0
  •  no. 38 Renwick St, Drummoyne to the tenant, Mr Chapman, weekly rental of  17.6 (6 days). Amount accruel to date of death: 15s
  • no. 85 Renwick St, Drummoyne to the tenant, James Joseph Kennealy, weekly rental of  £1 (6 days). Amount accruel to date of death: 18s
From the above amount (£1991.5.3), the following debts had to be paid:
4 August 1946: Dr Max Stephens, Drummoyne. Medical fees: 12 shillings, 6 pence
4 August 1946: Aust. Gas Light Co., Sydney. Gas: 6 shillings, 5 pence
4 August 1946: Metrop. Water Board, Sydney. Water rates: £15 and 2s
4 August 1946: Municipality of Drummoyne, Drummoyne. Rates: £2 and 10s 10 pence
A total of  £17 and 12s and 10 pence (secured) and 12 s and 11 pence (unsecured)

The following four properties were listed as part of her estate:

26 Renwick St, Drummoyne which had been purchased on 24 December 1894
Lot 44 of Sec. 3, D.P. 862 Concord Parish, Cumberland County, 30 feet by 130 feet.
Vol. 1150, Folio 122.
Value: £500

In the Certificate of Valuation, application no. 31571, this property was referred to as "Killea". It was described as a double-fronted weatherboard cottage. Four rooms. Kitchen and offices. Iron roof.
[Note that this was the hometown of her husband, William Kennealy, in County Tipperary in Ireland.]
26 Renwick St, Drummoyne (photo taken 2009)

36 Renwick St, Drummoyne which had been purchased on 1 May 1894
Lot 39 of Sec. 3, D.P. 862 Concord Parish, Cumberland County, 30 feet by 125 feet
Vol. 1126, Folio 57
Value: £550

In the Certificate of Valuation, application no. 31574, this property was referred to as "Almaville". It was described as a double-fronted stone cottage. Four rooms, kitchen and offices. Slate roof.

36 Renwick St, Drummoyne (photo taken 2011)

38 Renwick St, Drummoyne which had been purchased on 23 August 1892
Lot 38 of Sec. 3, D.P. 862 Concord Parish, Cumberland County, 30 feet by 124 feet.
Vol. 1067, Folio 168.
Value: £350
In the Certificate of Valuation, application no. 31572, this property was described as a weatherboard cottage. Three rooms. Kitchen and offices. Iron roof.

38 Renwick St, Drummoyne (photo taken about 1995)

85 Renwick St, Drummoyne which had been purchased on 3 October 1895
Lot 111 of Sec. 2, D.P. 862 Concord Parish, Cumberland County, 30 feet by 125 feet
Vol. 1174, Folio 227
Value: £575

In the Certificate of Valuation, application no. 31573, this property was described as a double fronted brick cottage. Four rooms and kitchen and offices. Iron roof.

85 Renwick St, Drummoyne (photo taken 2009

The total value of these properties, according to the Valuer General's Certificates, was £1975 on 20 August 1946.

A very full account of the furniture and contents of her home, no. 26 Renwick St, were provided by Cashman and Company, Real Estate Auctioneers and Valuers. Most items were described as "old", "very old", "damaged", "old model" or "old fashioned". The items in the following rooms were listed and valued:
  • Entrance hall (old cane palm stand, old carpet runner and four old door mats)
  • Main bedroom (very old double iron bedstead and bedding, old single wardrobe with bevelled mirror and two drawers, old chest of drawers with bevelled mirror and eight drawers, old marble top wash stand with jug and basin - damaged, and two old odd chairs)
  • Second bedroom (two very old iron bedsteads and bedding, old chest of drawers with mirror attached and six drawers, old small table with round top, old fashioned wash stand with jug and basin)
  • Lounge room (upholstered suite of seven pieces including lounge and six chairs - very old, old cane music stand, old round cane table with draught board on top, old overmantel with six bevelled mirrors, two china vases, very old lino on floor)
  • Dining room (pine dining table, old sideboard with three bevelled miorrors, five very old chairs with cane seats and cane backs, very old damaged rocking chair with cane seat and cane back, very old model Singer sewing machine - out of order, two small vases - one damaged)
  • Kitchen (one small pine table, two small chairs - damaged, small pine safe, small mirror - damaged)
  • Breakfast room (old pine table, suite of eight chairs, two sea grass chairs, one dresser with two glass doors, one old couch, one old table, small quantity of crockery and glassware - partly damaged)

The total value of these items, according to Norman Cashman was £17 and 2 shillings on 16 August 1946.

A £15 funeral donation was provided by the St Augustine's Branch of the A. H. C Guild of Balmain. A letter, dated 20 August 1946 was sent to Leo Northcote, written by J. Fitzgibbon, asking for details of where to send the cheque. It seems that the A. H. C. is the Australian Holy Catholic Guild. This society is made up of "Catholic laity established to promote Catholic interests and solidarity across the colony" (source: http://dictionaryofsydney.org/organisation/australian_holy_catholic_guild).

Annexure D of the probate documents lists each of the people who were entitled to receive a legacy from Margaret Keneally's will, including:

  • Her daughter, Ellen Northcote, received real estate (no. 26 and 36 Renwick St, Drummoyne), furniture and personal belongings) valued at £1256.5.3
  • Her son, James Joseph Kennealy born on 20 April 1895, aged 51 years, received life interst in 85 Renwick St, Drummoyne,valued at £575.
  • Grandchildren being children of children of said James Joseph Kennealy (Irene Kennealy aged 25 years, William Kennealy aged 23 years, James Kennealy aged 22 years, Albert Kennealy aged 20 years, John Kennealy aged 19 years, Margaret Kennealy 18 years, Gwen Kennealy 15 years and Mildren Kennealy aged 18 years), estate remainder in equal shares in 85 Renwick St, Drummoyne.
  • A marble slab over graves of deceased and husband £20
  • Drummoyne Parish Priest, Legacy of £40
  • John Francis Butler, nephew (son of deceased's brother), Legacy of £20
  • James Butler, nephew (son of deceased's brother), Legacy of £20
  • Maria Emery, sister, Legacy of £20
  • Ellen Josephine Britten, sister, Legacy of £20
  • Joe McDonnell, nephew of deceased's late husband, Legacy of £20

Her will, dated 21 May 1945, also provided more details about the above.

  • Her daughter, Ellen Northcote, was referred to as "my dear daughter".
  • Quite a few details were provided about the use and treatment of no. 85 Renwick St by her son and his children.
  • The £40 to the parish priest was for the celebration of Masses for the Repose of the Souls of my late husband, myself and my late brother, Patrick Butler.
  • 38 Renwick St was to be sold and the proceeds to be divided to pay debts and funeral expenses, to pay the parish priest and to give £20 to a number of family members.
  • The remainder of her property went to her daughter, Ellen: "As to the rest and residue of my property whatsoever and wheresoever situate I give devise and bequeath the same unto my dear daughter Ellen Northcote absolutely.
Margaret Kennealy signed her name at the end of her will:


  1. Probate records are such fun aren't they? I found this post through Jill Ball's GAGs post.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Alex. You never know what you'll find in probates. I love how they are called "probate packets" as they often include packets of info.

  3. Excellent post!!Thank you.
    This blog has clearly explained the information present in the probate records and Probate is the process of proving and registering in the Supreme Court the last Will of a deceased person.Hence it is useful to know what is present in the probate records.probate law NSW