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Durham University

Special Collections

Wills and other probate records

What are the Durham Probate Records?

Wills proved in Durham diocese before 1858 and in County Durham from 1858 to 1940. For those who died intestate (without making a will), an administration bond may survive: this allowed their next of kin (or sometimes their creditors) to manage the goods and money that they possessed when they died. Other documents often accompany wills and administration bonds, including inventories, accounts of executors and additional court documents.

Where and when: geographical coverage and dates

  • Original wills and related probate records for the period from 1526 to 1858, relating to Durham diocese (County Durham and Northumberland)
  • Contemporary copies of wills for 1858 to 1940, relating to County Durham only

See also additional details of geographical coverage near the bottom of this page.

What family history information will I find within Probate Records?

Wills can be a particularly good source of names and relationships to help you build your family tree. Legacies within a will may relate to many different members of the family, including the extended family and 'in laws', as well as children or grandchildren.

All probate records (but especially wills, inventories and executors' accounts) can add rich information about how your ancestors lived - what they had in their houses at the time of death and patterns of relationships.

Will of Catherine Selby, proved 1798

An extract from the will of Catherine Selby of Frierage near Yarm, written in 1783 but not proved until 1798 (after she died). Thirteen people from four different families are named in this short list of legacies.

Where is the catalogue and does it include names?

There are four types of catalogue for the Durham Probate Records:

  • The main catalogue for pre-1858 probate records is our North East Inheritance database. This includes names of all deceased persons for whom records survive, with links to digital images. It can be searched by name (simple search), or by place, occupation, document type, date etc.
  • An abbreviated version of the whole database is available as a set of downloadable (PDF) documents, arranged in name order for the use of family historians.
  • Archival lists showing the same information are available for browsing online (but showing only one series of records at a time, not presenting all the documents for the same deceased person together, and without links to digital images).
  • Lists of all series within the Durham Probate Records (but without any details of contents and without names) are available for pre-1858 series and for post-1857 series.

Are the Durham Probate Records available online?

Yes, digital images of almost all probate records for the period 1660-1857 are available at the familysearch website, but you are recommended to use the North East Inheritance database to access these most directly.

When using the images on familysearch, note:

  • The images have not been indexed, so will not be found by carrying out a surname search on familysearch. They are only available for browsing on that site.
  • You will have to sign in to access the images. If you do not have an account on familysearch, you will first need to set one up. This is free of charge.
  • familysearch is an external site and is the responsibility of the Genealogical Society of Utah, not of Durham University.

Details of geographical coverage for Durham Probate Records

Within the final column of the table below, Durham refers to this collection of probate records, Borthwick refers to probate records at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York, Woodhorn to Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn, HMCTS refers to post-1857 probate records held by Principal and District Probate Registries (part of HM Courts & Tribunals Service). Copies of post-1857 wills held in this collection cannot be photocopied or photographed, and are not available online: for copies of post-1857 wills, consult the HMCTS webpage about searching for probate records.

Area Details Location of pre-1858 wills Location of post-1857 wills
County Durham (most of county) County Durham north of the Tees, including Darlington, Hartlepool, Stockton, Sunderland and part of South Tyneside boroughs Durham Original records with HMCTS. Copies of wills 1858-1940 at Durham
County Durham (part of Tyne and Wear) Gateshead and most of South Tyneside boroughs Durham Original records with HMCTS. Copies of wills 1858-1926 at Durham. Copies of wills 1926-1941 at Woodhorn
Crayke (Yorkshire)

Durham before 1837; Borthwick 1837-1857

Original records with HMCTS

Allertonshire (Yorkshire) Birkby, Brompton, Cowesby, Deighton, Hutton Bonville, Kirby Sigston, Leake, Northallerton with Romanby township, Osmotherley, Otterington North, Rounton West, Nether Silton, Thornton-le-Street and Worsall High Durham before1846; Borthwick 1846-1857 Original records with HMCTS
Alston (Cumberland) Alston and Garrigill Durham Original records with HMCTS
Thockrington (Northumberland) Borthwick before1846; Durham 1846-1857 Original records with HMCTS. Copies of wills 1858-1941 at Woodhorn
Hexhamshire (Northumberland) Allendale St Cuthbert, Allendale St Peter, Allenheads chapelry, Bingfield St Mary, Carrshields (or High West Allen), Hexham, Ninebanks (or Low West Allen), St John Lee, St Oswald in Lee and Whitley chapel Borthwick before1837, Durham 1837-1857 Original records with HMCTS. Copies of wills 1858-1941 at Woodhorn
Northumberland (rest of county) Durham Original records with HMCTS. Copies of wills 1858-1941 at Woodhorn

For further information

For background information on probate records, including a bibliography of useful texts, see our North East Inheritance (NEI) project pages. An online exhibition of wills, inventories and other probate documents is available as part of the NEI project.

For wills and other probate records elsewhere, relating to people living in Durham or Northumberland, see:

  • Prerogative Court of York (PCY) wills, before 1858: proved wills for people with estates valued over £5, or with additional property located elsewhere within the Northern Province (within Carlisle, Chester, Sodor and Man or York dioceses), held at York, see Borthwick Institute for Archives research guides for genealogists.
  • Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills, before 1858: proved wills for people with additional property located within the Southern Province, and all wills proved 1653-1660, see National Archives guide.
  • Wills proved after mid January 1858: see HM Courts and Tribunals Service webpage for searches and copies of post-1857 wills.

For other guides to probate records, see National Archives guides to pre-1858 wills and administrations, and to post-1858 wills and administrations.