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Archives and Special Collections: Durham University Records: Ancestor at DU

Our collections

 Information you might be looking for

Was my ancestor at the university? Annual lists of those at the university and those still alive with degrees from the university were published in Calendars up until 1937. These may not include those on evening classes or not registered for a university degree. After 1937, there were 3 volumes of then living graduates published in 1948, 1954 and 1960. On arrival students would have signed the university matriculation register and possibly a college admission register; these are held in the archive.

What was their academic record? Degrees awarded were also published in the Calendars and then the Gazettes up to 1986. Some early intermediate and even entrance exam results are recorded in the Calendars.

Does their academic work survive? Doctoral theses are held in the Bill Bryson Library. Only a few Masters or undergraduate dissertations are held. Undergraduate essays and other course work have not been kept.

What about extra-mural activities? Records of sporting, political, administrative or other society activities and offices held may be recorded in minutes in the archives or, for earlier years, printed in the Durham University Journal, or, for later years, in college magazines. The student newspaper Palatinate is also a good source from 1948. Social lives are likely to be undocumented except perhaps in some of the more scurrilous student magazines.

Any personal details? Birth/baptism/marriage/death details are not held.

Any family or geographical background? There is usually scant information on a student’s origins.

Subsequent careers? For earlier years, the Durham University Journal has some details of students’ later achievements, especially in the Church. College magazines then sometimes provide such information.

Would you have an image of an ancestor? Unlikely; there are some formal sporting groups but even these few are not all identified.

I am interested in an honorary graduate. Lists of current honorary graduates are provided in the Calendars. The orations extolling their achievements made when they received their degrees were published in the Durham University Journal, then the Gazette and most recent ones are held in the archives.

What about a member of staff? These are listed annually in the Calendars. Some notices of their appointment, retirement or death can be found in the Durham University Journal and then the Gazette. There are files of published obituaries/ biographies on open access in the Barker Research Library in Palace Green Library.

1.    Calendars: up to 1937, these list all those who had attained degrees from and/or studied at the university. They may also record the exams passed, the class awarded, the title of a thesis, the date the degree was taken, and any prizes or exhibitions gained. Honorary graduates are also recorded, along with the date and degree awarded, along with academic members of staff.
 
2.    Gazettes: Published lists of degrees awarded, along with titles of theses for higher degrees from 1898 to 1985. Speeches celebrating honorary graduates are also sometimes published. Announcements of staff appointments and retirements or deaths are made in the Gazettes (or the university Journal) and there may also be obituaries. Local newspapers can also be a source for such information.

3.    The Durham University Journal: In its early days from 1876, the Journal recorded the officers of student clubs and societies and reported on student sports events and other activities such as debates, often naming the significant if not all participants. Details were also often recorded of the subsequent careers of former students, principally in the Church, along with dates of death and obituaries. Such information generally ceased in the 1940s.

4.    Graduates of the University with Historical Lists of Officers and Professors: The university published in 1948, with supplements in 1954 and 1960, lists of then living graduates which can be useful for those at the university in the early and mid twentieth century whose dates are not known. These list graduates’ names, degree, date awarded, college and, if relevant, maiden name.

5.    Student publications: For example, The Northerner and The Courier and college magazines which generally contain gossip and news items, as well as student notices and literary and artistic work.

6.    Archives: Archival records are unlikely to do much more than corroborate information from the other sources of information here described. Runs of these records are inconsistent. 

7.    The Durham University War Roll: In 1918 the university made a concerted effort to record the war service of all its members and details of units served with, wounds, deaths and honours. The Roll has been published at our Roll of Honour website, with an ongoing project based at both Durham and Newcastle Universities researching the lives both of those members who were killed, and those who survived.

8.    Other sources of information: These can include university reports, Committee and Senate minutes, prospectuses, newsletters and university publications.

9.    Theses: Postgraduate theses and dissertations are available in Bill Bryson Library. 

1.    The main source for establishing if someone attended Durham University is the published annual Calendars. These list all those who had attained degrees from the university and who were in attendance at the university from its foundation up to 1937. They will also list the college attended. Other information is not so consistently recorded, but it may also be possible to ascertain from these volumes the exams passed, the class awarded, the title of a thesis, the date the degree was taken, and any prizes or exhibitions gained. Honorary graduates are also recorded, along with the date and degree awarded.


2.    When dates are not known, for those possibly at Durham in the early and mid twentieth century, the university published in 1948 a list of then living Graduates of the University with Historical Lists of Officers and Professors. Supplements were published in 1954 and 1960. These lists graduates’ names, degree, date awarded, college and maiden name.


3.    The University Gazette from 1953 to 1986 published lists of degrees awarded, along with titles of theses for higher degrees. Speeches celebrating honorary graduates are also published here.


4.    Earlier speeches were published in The Durham University Journal which also, in its early days from 1876 to 1939, recorded the officers of student clubs and societies and reported on student sports events and other activities such as debates, often naming the significant if not all participants. Details were also often recorded of the subsequent careers of former students, principally in the Church, along with dates of death and obituaries. All such information generally ceases to be published by 1939.


5.    The university made a concerted effort to record the war service of all its members and published in 1918 The Durham University War Roll which details units served with, wounds, deaths and honours.


6.    The actual archival records are unlikely to do much more than corroborate information recorded above. 

1.    The main source for establishing if someone was an academic member of the staff of the university is again the published annual Calendars. Each year, these will record someone’s academic rank and department.


2.    Announcements of staff appointments and retirements or deaths are made in the Durham University Journal or the university Gazette and there may also be obituaries as appropriate in these organs.


 

Students are of course at Durham University usually for only a brief span of time,  around 3 years in their early twenties, and the university will generally only hold information about them for that period of their lives. This means that there is unlikely to be the following information available in the archives:

•    Dates of birth
•    Details of parents and other relatives
•    Details of subsequent careers
•    Dates of death

Essays, dissertations and any personal correspondence or photographs of students are unlikely to be held. Higher degree and PHD theses may be available in the university library.

 


 

An ancestor ‘being at Durham’ may not always mean that someone was at the University. Other possible interpretations of this and sources of information are:

•    Bede, Hild (main archives held at Durham County Record Office) or Neville’s Cross (archive held at New College Durham) teacher training colleges
•    Ushaw College (archive held at Ushaw College)
•    Durham School. Published biographical registers of the school detail pupils and staff
•    Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. This was founded in 1924, having grown out of Trinity College, established in 1838 and located in Durham from 1892. It has lists of students dating back to 1853 and lists of matriculants published in its annual Bulletin. Contact uarchives@notes.duke.edu for further information. 
•    A nineteenth century feature of Durham University was its awarding of degrees to graduates of Oxford, Cambridge or Dublin universities, in an attempt to gain the support of these institutions and their members. These were known as ‘Ad Eundem’ degrees and entailed only a payment of a fee with no residence or exams required. Such persons will appear in the Calendars, but any further information on them will need to be sought elsewhere.

 

A ‘family tradition’ or an uncorroborated reference that someone was ‘at Durham’ can on occasion turn out not to be sustainable from the sources. The University's Armstrong College did admit some locals to lectures and provided day and evening classes, but such attendees were not matriculated members of the university and gained no formal award from the university so have usually left no mark in the university record.

Alternatives to a university education at Durham in the nineteenth century were not many, and the obvious alternatives to search, not least because they have published biographical registers for this period which are available in many libraries or online, are the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and London, Scottish universities, and Trinity College Dublin.
 

Access to original sources

The collections mentioned above are located at Palace Green Library.  Our current opening hours are below.

  • Monday to Friday: 10am to 5pm
  • Saturday: closed
  • Sunday: closed

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