Weymouth-Dorset.co.uk Local History

Dorset Family History and Genealogy

Researching Family History and Genealogy in Dorset

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 Dorsetshire has 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 Centre in 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 recently 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.


Census Returns have also been transcribed and indexed by members of the Somerset and Dorset Family History Society and made available by publication in book form, microfiche and CD-ROM. (see below) The Census Returns for Dorset for 1851 and 1891 have all now been completed and are available for purchase through the Society. Transcription of the 1841 census is well under way and most is already available as publications. Indexes are also available covering the census years of 1841, 1861 and 1871 (together) for the following areas: Swanage, Wareham, Corfe Castle, and the Purbeck boundary parishes.


The Somerset and Dorset Family History Society is run entirely by volunteers, for the benefit of the membership. It is a society for those with ancestors in either of the two counties, or for those currently living in either county.

Regular meetings are held each month in eight area groups where a speaker talks about a family history related topic. The meetings are friendly and open to all.

The Society publishes a quarterly journal called The Greenwood Tree with articles contributed by members and often lists of names. Each edition contains a full list of Society publications, a full list of Society services available to researchers for a small fee and a help section for those elusive ancestors. A series of "Spotlight" on particular parishes is usually to be found too and many snippets of useful information which other members have come across during their researches.

As a taster of what The Greenwood Tree has to offer an article previously published about Clockmakers and Quakers of Dorset is reproduced, as is another article about The Norman Family, Quakers of Dorset

The Society also have their own publications for sale. These include Census Indexes as mentioned above and many other transcripts and indexes useful to family historians and genealogists. A complete list of the Society's publications is included here for visitors to Weymouth-Dorset.co.uk

Publications of the Somerset and Dorset Family History Society

Of particular interest to those tracing family history in Dorset and Somerset is a CD archive, published in 2005, of all the parish histories that have been published in the Greenwood Tree over the last 30 years. In most cases, pictures have been added to the CD that were not published with the original articles.


A recently published, revised, hardback edition of a book entitled "The Crabchurch Conspiracy" will also be of interest to family historians as it gives the names of ordinary Dorset men who signed up to be soldiers during the Civil War of the 1640's. This book, beautifully written by local author Mark Vine and illustrated by the talented Semi Vine is available through this website (please use the link above). The original paperback edition is still available via the Somerset and Dorset Family History Society or at the Dorset County Museum.

For those whose ancestors are from Weymouth and/or Melcombe Regis, there is a Family History page for genealogical information on those two places: Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Family History

You may find the Weymouth & Dorset Local and Family History Forums on this site useful in requesting help in tracing ancestors in Dorset, or perhaps you can help someone else. Who knows, you might find a relative! You will need to sign up as a member in order to post any queries or information you may have. The forums also contain many useful links for both local and family history.


Useful Links for genealogists and family historians (external):

Radipole-Dorset.co.uk is a sister site to Weymouth-Dorset.co.uk and is especially for the local and family history of Radipole

Dorset Online Parish Clerks transcripts of parish records done by volunteers

Dorset History Centre, formerly the Dorset County Record Office

Somerset & Dorset Family History Society

More useful links are to be found on the Links page


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