NEI Project: purpose and scope

The North East Inheritance (NEI) project began in 2006, and will run until the end of 2009. Two full-time archivists are employed cataloguing the wills and associated records, and a full-time conservator is also employed repairing, cleaning and repackaging the records. These professional staff are joined on a weekly basis by local volunteers, many drawn from family and local history societies, to complete the cataloguing work on the Durham probate records. Contact details are available for anyone who is interested in volunteering to be involved with the project. Volunteers currently work in two teams, on Thursdays and Fridays, at Palace Green Library. The entire project bid, design and management has been undertaken by Durham University Library.

The probate collection contains records of some 75,000 individuals, and perhaps numbers some 150,000 documents spanning the period ca 1527-Jan 1858. Current users of probate records must visit the search room of the Archives and Special Collections of Durham University Library at Palace Green in Durham. Some indices to the probate records already exist, and are accessible in the search room, but these are incomplete and inconsistent, and only useful for name searches. When the project is complete, however, researchers around the world will be able to search a complete online catalogue to all the Durham diocese and dean and chapter peculiar wills, inventories and bonds, with their associated documents. With these catalogue records researchers will also be able to view digital images of all such probate records for free.

A more detailed summary of the record series DPRI/1, 2 and 3 that form the scope of the project can be found in the online catalogue.

The information that the cataloguers are recording from the probate records will be more detailed than that currently available, and will enable users to search under the name of deceased (with variants), their place of residence, occupation, and the date of probate. Users will be able to limit their searches to particular kinds of document (for instance, to locate inventories that could be useful for historical research). In addition, where it exists, the following information is also recorded for each record (with some examples):

Additionally, the most fragile documents are being expertly conserved as part of the project, to ensure their survival for future generations. Large parts of the probate records are also being repackaged as they are catalogued, in conservation-standard acid-free folders and boxes. More information on the work of the conservation section is available on the Archives and Special Collections website.

Illustrated talks on the project can be given by NEI project staff by arrangement, and (for a nominal charge per head) evening visits to the archive can be arranged for local groups. Please contact us for more details. Alternatively, a NEI presentation can be downloaded here [large 7 MB .pdf file]. The project has been evaluated for the Heritage Lottery Fund for its Social Impact, the 2005-2006 report of which is available on the HLF website [.pdf file]. The NEI project was found to 'bridge the divide between specialists and the general public'; project volunteers 'have made a significant contribution' and have been inspired to continue in heritage-based activites outside the project and to press on with their own genealogical and local historical research.