Dorset Family History and Genealogy
Researching your family tree (genealogy), the trials and tribulations of the family history, is one of the most enjoyable, yet sometimes frustrating hobbies. If you are only just beginning, the vastness of records available can be daunting, but rest assured there is plenty of help available. Family historians and genealogists all have one goal in mind - to trace their roots. It is a strange feeling to stand before the altar in the parish church where one's ancestors pledged their marriage vows, perhaps hundreds of years ago. It is a kind of "belonging" yet one so distant in time.
Dorset is a beautiful county with many quaint and delightful villages tucked quietly away down narrow country lanes. England of old is brought to life again with ancient parish churches, manor houses, and old mills and quaint thatched cottages. What a good excuse family history provides to visit these hidden gems. Dorset has some breathtaking scenery and a heritage rich in history.
The Ancient County of Dorsetshirehas had many boundary changes over the years, but for family history research, it is usual to take Dorset as it was prior to the boundary changes of at least 1974. The reason for this is that places such as Bournemouth although now in Dorset, was in Hampshire until that boundary change and therefore the majority of records relating to it are held at the Hampshire County Record Office. Poole, anciently, was both a town and a county in its own right. The records for Poole are however mostly held at the Dorset History Centre, formerly the Dorset County Record Office.
Some border parishes, most notably those on the Devon and Somerset borders have changed counties more than once. The following parishes were originally in Dorset, but became part of Devon at various times: Chardstock (1896), Dalwood (1844), Hawkchurch (1896), Stockland (1844), Thorncombe (1844), Wambrook (1895). The following parishes were originally in Somerset but became part of Dorset: Goathill (1895), Holwell (1844), Poyntington (1895), Sandford Orcas (1895), Seaborough (1895), Trent (1895).
Holwell is most interesting in that it was part of Somerset, yet totally surrounded by Dorset parishes and also in Dorset ecclesiastically, until it was officially transferred to Dorset in 1844.
The Dorset History Centrein Dorchester holds most of the historical records relating to the county. The DHC is purpose-built for the safe storage of the County archives and has been almagamated with the Local Studies Collection formerly in the County Library in Dorchester. At the DHC you will find the Parish Registers of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials as well as other parochial records. (Any parish incumbents reading this, who still hold old records no longer in current use, please consider depositing them at the DHC for the sake of preserving our heritage.) Census Returns, poll books, land tax, wills, nonconformist records and many other useful archives are housed here too. In some cases there are collections held elsewhere such as in the National Archives, or in the case of some wills, in the Wiltshire County Record Office.
Several years ago it was usual to have the original parish registers in your hands to do your research. Some were very fragile, some fragmented, by decay, vermin, and in one case, that of Broadwindsor, lost by the churchwarden's wife, Deborah Reader, having taken a page out to light the fire with! Now it is rare to see the original documents as they have been put on microfilm or fiche to enable their continued preservation. Many records, mainly parish registers have been transcribed and indexed. The transcripts have been done by volunteers and are available on the open shelves at the DHC. Transcripts of some nonconformist's records have been transcribed by volunteers at the National Archives and donated to the Dorset History Centre.
Previously published in The Greenwood Tree, the journal of the Somerset and Dorset Family History Society, are two articles written by the webmaster of this website concerning Quakers (Society of Friends):
For those whose ancestors are from Weymouth and/or Melcombe Regis, there is a Family History page for genealogical information on those two places:
Useful Links for genealogists and family historians (external):
Dorset Online Parish Clerks transcripts of parish records done by volunteers
Dorset History Centre, formerly the Dorset County Record Office
More useful links are to be found on the Links page
All photographs and text on this page are my own and I therefore hold the copyright. Please respect this and if you wish to copy any of them or use them elsewhere, please ask permission first