Durham Probate RecordsEdit This Page
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Probate is the legal court process by which the estate of a deceased person is distributed to his or her heirs. Probate records include wills and administrations. This article is about probate records in Durham. See England Probate Records for a general description of probate records in England.
1858 to the Present
Beginning in 1858, the Principal Probate Registry had the authority for probating estates. Click on the link to learn more.
Before 1858, Church of England ecclesiastical courts had authority for this process. To search for a pre-1858 probate record in Durham, follow these steps:
Step 1. Search Indexes
Here are some online indexes to probate records that include individuals who lived in Durham. Search these indexes first:
- Durham and Northumberland probate records, 1527-1857. The planned completion date is 2010. Index is wonderful!
- Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills 1383-1858
- Sunderland Wills and Invetories Transcribed 1601-1650 with 90 probate records
Did you find a reference to a probate record?
- If yes, go to Step 4 below.
- If no, go to Step 2 below.
Step 2. Identify when and where your ancestor died
Determine when your ancestor died. If you aren't sure, use an approximate date.
Determine where your ancestor died. It is easier to find a probate record if you know whether the place where your ancestor lived or died is a parish. To learn whether it is a parish, look it up in a gazetteer. Here is a link to the 1872 Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales online:
The gazetteer will either tell you:
- A place is a parish, or
- What parish it is a part of, or
- What place it is near.
If the latter, look that place up in the gazetteer and see if it is a parish.
Once you have identified the parish, go to Step 3.
Step 3. Identify court jurisdictions by parish
Once you have identified the parish where your ancestor lived or died, learn which courts had jurisdiction over it then search indexes for those courts. Every town and parish in Durham fell under the probate jurisdiction of a primary court and several secondary courts. Click on a link below for the letter the parish begins with.
The whole of the county of Durham was under the primary jurisdiction of the Court of the Bishop of Durham (Episcopal Consistory). This court should be searched first when looking for the probate of a deceased person who lived or owned property in Durham. Additional courts listed below also had jurisdiction over Durham. If you do not find a probate in the Court of the Bishop of Durham, search those additional courts.
Step 4. Obtain a copy of the probate record
Once you have found an index reference to a probate, obtain a copy of the record. Do so by one of these methods:
- Visit or contact the record office that has the original records in its collection.
- Visit the Family History Library or a family history center and obtain a copy of the record on microfilm. For more information, click on a court name below.
Durham Probate Courts
The following court had jurisdiction over county Durham before 1858.
- Court of the Bishop of Durham (Episcopal Consistory)
- Exchequer and Prerogative Courts of the Archbishop of York
- Court of the Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of York
- Chancery Court of the Archbishop of York
- Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury
Some Explanatory Notes on the Courts of Durham
The earliest original wills for Durham date from 1540, but there are some registered copy wills for 1526-1534. There are earlier records filed with the superior courts, some dating back to 1311, in the bishop's general serices of act books. There are gaps in the records for early periods; others in poor condition.
Inventories were prevalent from the earliest period through th efirst quarter of the 18th century. They may be filed with the administration bonds as well as with the original wills. Registered copies are usually indexed and arranged chronologically. Page numbers appear in the upper right corner and testators' names are frequently written in the margins. There may be an inventory written at the end of the copy will and almost always there will be a probate act in Latin indicating when the will was proven.
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