Jonathan Scott returns to the ancient County Palatine of Durham to see what’s new for genealogists
Trace your County Durham ancestors
County Durham has a rich industrial heritage, particularly coal, iron and lead mining and steel production. At its height in the 1920s, it is estimated that about 170,000 coal miners worked in the county. It was also home to the world’s first public railway to use steam locomotives – the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which opened in 1825. Today, tourism and other trades have replaced much of the heavy industry, but you can still research evidence of the county’s working past through the record office.
The records that survive at Durham County Record Office document not only processes and production, but also the workforce. The coal mining collections, for example, contain information on the production, statistics, opening and closure of mines, alongside trade union material and other records relating to workers. The Mining Durham’s Hidden Depths index to Durham Miners Association records (which you can search via durhamrecordoffice.org.uk) has continued to expand since our last visit and now contains 209,605 names.
The wider record office archives reflect life and work in County Durham and Darlington going back some 900 years. County Archivist Liz Bregazzi says: “They give an idea of how people worked, the landscape they lived in, what they wore, what they ate, how they spent their leisure time, what the state of their health was like, their attitudes and beliefs, politics and religion.” And since our last visit to the record office in 2010, several projects and volunteer-led drives have come to fruition.
But first, if you’re planning to investigate your County Durham roots, make sure you do a little groundwork before you set off. Keep in mind that thanks to the pesky local government shake-up of the mid-1970s, some material (especially some useful local history sources) relating to ‘ancient’ County Durham may be found in the Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (for the Gateshead, South Shields and Sunderland area) and the Teesside Archives (for Stockton and Hartlepool). The largest settlement in the ceremonial county is Darlington, which is administratively independent from County Durham, as are the boroughs of Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees. There are also several local history libraries across the region that may hold vital documentary evidence, including school records, nonconformist church records, plus parish and state sources on microfiche.
Meanwhile, Durham University’s Palace Green Library has probate material relating not only to County Durham, but also the wider North-east, alongside an
At its height in the 1920s, it's estimated 170,00 coal miners worked in the county
important collectionll off Bishop’sh Transcripts and tithe records.
Durham County Record Office is the official repository for the Diocese of Durham, and its parish holdings include the richly detailed ‘Barrington’ registers. These were kept between 1798 and 1812, following an order from the incumbent bishop that more details should be recorded in both baptisms and burials. Burial entries from this period, for example, give not only the name and abode of the deceased, but also his/her parentage, occupation, date of death, date of burial and age.
An evolving archive
Liz says: “We are adding to our collections all the time, so keep an eye on our latest news and search our online catalogue.
“We have just started the seventh inspection of parish records under the Parochial Registers and Records Measure 1978, where we inspect each
church in the diocese once every five years. This always turns up new registers and records.”
The record office is home to the vast Durham Light Infantry collection. As with most regimental archives, this does not cover official service records, but does feature all kinds of material relating to officers and men, including some 40,000 photographs that can be explored via the website, plus a collection of war diaries from the First and Second World Wars. Liz says: “Although they don’t necessarily mention soldiers by name – on the whole, it is just officers who are named – if you know the battalion in which your ancestor served, you can get a picture of what their life was like and where they were fighting.”
Durham at war
Staff recently launched the Heritage Lottery Fund-supported centenary project Durham at War ( durhamatwar.org.uk), which charts the impact of the First World War on the area. Liz says: “Volunteers are carrying out a range of tasks – such as research, transcription, indexing and data processing – to uncover amazing stories from the Home Front as well as the front line. The website also provides the facility for anyone to log in and add a story.”
The basic layout of the record office website ( www.durham recordoffice.org.uk) hasn’t changed much since our last visit (although a redesign is in the pipeline), but it remains a useful place to start your research. New search tools and catalogues include an index to land tax records compiled by the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies.
Until electoral reform in 1832, these annual land tax assessments had to be deposited with the Clerk of the Peace to form a record of freeholders eligible to elect members of Parliament for the county. They record names of proprietors, occupiers and sums assessed.
Liz says: “Land tax records are of value to ggenealogists because they often list both property owners and ttenants, placing them in both a pparish and a year. Since the aassessment was written out in tthe same order each year, it is ssometimes possible to work bbackwards using the information oof the owner or occupier, from the ttithe or enclosure map, and the aamount of tax levied to identify tthe property.” You can search the nnew index via the online catalogue uusing a surname in the ‘Site SSearch’ box and selecting the qquarter sessions catalogue.
The aforementioned Durham University Palace Green Library is currently marking the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta with a special exhibition running until the end of August featuring the only surviving 1216 issue of the charter. The library also looks after some enclosure, tithe and land tax records, and via the dedicated genealogical portal at familyrecords.dur.ac.uk you can find information and latest news on these and other sources.
Its Bishop’s Transcripts collection, for example, has transcripts of County Durham and Northumberland parish registers from 1760-1840. These record baptisms, marriages and burials, duplicating the original parish registers and in some cases filling gaps. Images of the transcripts are all available at familysearch.org.
The library has marriage licence allegations and bonds, and pre-1900 examples are also on familysearch.org. These were usually created when people did not wish to be married by the publication of banns – as was the usual practice – and typically contain information about marital status, age, residence, status and occupation. If an individual was underage, there would also be details of the consenting parent or guardian.
Finally, if you’re researching a former member of staff or student at Durham University itself, there are records going back to its foundation in 1832. While much pre-war material has been lost, there are still substantial collections of records of governance, colleges, admissions, examinations, clubs, publications and ephemera. One unusual survivor is the account book of the University College Beagles Club (1851-76), which lists masters and their beagles, often with notes on the beagles’ origin, misadventures and fate.
Who Do You Think You Are?
The High Force waterfall at Upper Teesdale, County Durham
A poster for the London & North Eastern Railway ( LNER) promotes rail
travel to the historic city of Durham
County Durham's Springwell Colliery Engine No 2, which was built by
Robert Stephenson in 1826