Durham Probate Records
The following article is about probate records in the county of Durham. For general information about English probate records click here.
Probate is the legal court process by which the estate of a deceased person is distributed to his or her heirs. The term probate refers to a collection of documents, including wills, administrations (also called admons), inventories, and act books. The Church of England ecclesiastical courts had authority for this process until to 1858. This article explains about probates and how to get started to search for a will.
Beginning in 1858, authority over probate matters was taken from ecclesiastical courts and put under the civil authority of the Principal Probate Registry. The Probates After 1857 section below has a link to an article about probates after 1857.
Follow these steps to look for a probate record before 1858:
- Discover when and where your ancestor died. If you don’t know, use the approximate date and place where they lived.
- Go to the Court Jurisdictions section below and read about the first court to search.
- If a will wasn't found, go to the Durham Probate Courts section and search the additional courts.
Court Jurisdictions by Parish
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.
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
In addition, the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury had jurisdiction over the whole of England and specifically in the following cases.
- Wealthy individuals
- Interregnum, 1649-1660, because the Prerogative Court was the only court.
- Property in more than one diocese in the Province of Canterbury.
- Property in both the Province of Canterbury and Province of York.
- People who died outside England, including British citizens and others who held property in England.
Any probate that was disputed and could not be settled by the county courts could be sent to these higher appeals courts:
The Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury also served as an appeals court.
Probate Indexes Online
- Durham and Northumberland probate records, 1527-1857. The planned completion date is 2010.
- Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills 1383-1858
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.
Estate Duty Records
Starting in 1796, a tax or death duty was payable on estates over a certain value. Estate duty abstracts may add considerable information not found elsewhere. Estate duty indexes may help locate a will. For more information, go to Estate Duty Records.
Probates After 1857
Beginning in 1858, the government took over the settlement of estates and all wills are now probated through the Principal Probate Registry system. For more information, go to Principal Probate Registry.