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Special Collections

Description of Special Collection

Collection Level Description: Durham Probate Records
University Library

Collection Level Description: Durham Probate Records

Collection name: Durham Probate Records
Collection code: GB 033 DPR
Date range: ca. 1526-1940
Extent: 256 metres
Language: English; Latin
Created by: Durham District Probate Registrar, incorporating the pre-1858 probate records of the diocese of Durham administered by the Durham Diocesan Registrar

Probate jurisdiction was changed by the Probate Act of 1857, which came into force in January 1858. The records are consequently divided into two sections:
DPR1: pre-1858 probate records. Records of the pre-1858 probate jurisdiction administered through the Bishop of Durham's consistory court, or by the commissary of the Dean and Chapter of Durham.
DPR2: post-1857 probate records. Records of the post-1858 probate jurisdiction administered through the Durham District Probate Registry (part of the Court of Probate, later the Probate Division of the High Court).

The pre-1858 records (DPR1) relate to the area covered by the diocese of Durham, together with some areas over which either the Bishop or the Dean and Chapter of Durham had probate jurisdiction, viz:
Northumberland (excluding Hexham and Hexhamshire pre-1837)
County Durham
Crayke (Yorkshire), pre-1837
Northallerton and Allertonshire (Yorkshire), pre-1846

Further guidance on the pre-1858 probate records held, their geographical scope and administrative background, is available within the detailed DPR1 catalogues and at our North East Inheritance project website.
The post-1857 records (DPR2) relate to County Durham only. They exclude Gateshead and parts of South Tyneside after 1926.
About the creator:
Prior to 1858 jurisdiction over testamentary matters was exercised by the Church of England and was most commonly administered through the consistory court of the local diocesan bishop. This court was presided over by the spiritual chancellor of the diocese, with the day- to-day running of the administration being carried out by the diocesan registrar centrally, and by local surrogates throughout the diocese. Further information on the pre-1858 probate jurisdiction of the church courts is included on the North East Inheritance project website.
The Probate Act of 1857, which came into force on 12 January 1858, transferred jurisdiction over testamentary matters from the Church of England to the state, and also provided for the establishment of District Probate Registries and of a Court of Probate. The Court of Probate later became the Probate Division of the High Court, which is now the Probate Service within the Family Division of the High Court. The Durham District Probate Registry, which was situated in Durham City, dealt with probate matters for the whole of County Durham until 1926. From 1926 to 1969, it served County Durham excluding Gateshead and some other areas on the south bank of the river Tyne, which were transferred into the jurisdiction of the Newcastle upon Tyne District Probate Registry. The Durham Probate Registry closed in 1969, when most of its records were transferred to the York Sub-Registry.
The pre-1858 records within DPR1 were deposited with the University of Durham (Department of Palaeography and Diplomatic, since 1990 part of the University Library) on 17 January, 25 February and 1 December 1958 by the Durham District Probate Registrar.
The registers in DPR2/1 were donated to the University of Durham (Department of Palaeography and Diplomatic, since 1990 part of the University Library) on 23 March 1962 by the Principal Probate Registrar. DPR2/2-4 were transferred to Durham University Library on 26 August 2006 from Newcastle City Library, shortly before it closed for demolition and rebuilding (accession Misc.2006/7:7).
Previous ownership history:
The pre-1858 probate records from the bishop of Durham's registrar (and Dean and Chapter's official) were taken over by the Registrar to the Durham Court of Probate (established under the 1857 Probate Act). Responsibility for both these and the post-1857 records was ultimately taken over by the Principal Probate Registry (now the Probate Service, part of the Family Division of the High Court).
Newcastle City Library had no record of the provenance for the volumes in DPR2/2-4. They might have been sent to Newcastle City Library by the Principal Probate Registrar in ca.1969 on the closure of the Durham District Probate Registry. Alternatively they could have been placed in the Library in March 1962, when the registers in DPR2/1 were donated to the University of Durham.
The Durham Probate records are Public Records as defined by the Public Records Acts of 1958 and 1967.
There are no general restrictions on access to records in this collection but productions of such documents are normally limited to twelve items per searcher per day, or twenty items if sufficient prior notice is given. See our online page on viewing probate documents for further details. A list of record agents who can be commissioned to carry out searches on behalf of enquirers may be requested from the search room or by email.
Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Sub-Librarian, Special Collections (e-mail and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material. Guidance on Crown copyright in public records (including the Durham Probate Records) is available at The National Archives website.
See our online page on ordering copies of pre-1858 probate documents for further details. The post-1857 volumes in DPR2 are too large to be photocopied and other forms of copies are not provided from these volumes: see the detailed DPR2 catalogue for information on where to obtain copies of post-1857 wills.
Detailed catalogues of the Durham Probate Records are available online as follows:
All pre-1858 wills, inventories, registered copies, probate bonds and related records are included within the online North East Inheritance (NEI) database. This is the best catalogue to use for locating this material, is likely to be more up to date than the lists below, and will be linked to digital images of the material as these become available.
Downloadable (PDF) lists of the above pre-1858 probate records are also made available for the benefit of family historians or others searching for specific persons.
A general catalogue of all the pre-1858 Durham Probate Records, including all the volumes within the collection but not details of individual wills or bonds etc, is available at this site (DPR1)
Catalogues are also available for the other material covered in the North East Inheritance database, viz registered copies of wills: , probate bonds (some places of abode omitted): and records of the Dean and Chapter's Allertonshire peculiar (DPR1/6).
Catalogue of the post-1858 probate records (DPR2)

Other finding aids for specific items or series, and superseded catalogues, are summarised as appropriate within the above online catalogues.
A bibliography, with links to online full texts where available, is held on our North East Inheritance project pages.

Index terms

Church of England. Diocese of Durham.
Durham District Probate Registry.
Durham (England : County) -- Social life and customs.
Durham (England : County) -- Genealogy.
Northumberland (England) -- Genealogy
Northumberland (England) -- Social life and customs
Allerton (England)
Allertonshire (England)
Alston (England)
Crayke (England)
Thockrington (England)
Hexham (England)
Hexhamshire (England)
Genealogical sources.
Legal records.
Public records.
Probate Courts -- England.
Probate Records -- England -- Durham (County)
Probate Records -- England -- Northumberland.
Wills -- England -- Durham (County)
Wills -- England -- Northumberland.

Date last modified: 28 October 2011