The following announcement was written by Ancestry.co.uk:
- Dorset Family Fortunes Revealed – 400 Years of Local History Go Online
- 2.1 million Dorset historic records, spanning more than 400 years published online today for the first time – Ancestry.co.uk
- Records of Thomas Hardy, Mary Anning and Verney Lovett Cameron included
- Details of 2.1 million baptism, marriage and burial records and 27,000 historic local wills now online
- Records span four centuries
Ancestry.co.uk, the UK’s favourite family history website1, has launched online more than 2.1 million Dorset birth, marriage, burial and probate records, revealing the fortunes of local families from the cradle to grave and beyond.
The Dorset Records, 1565-2001, span more than 400 years and detail baptisms, marriages and burials that took place in the South West county between 1813 and 2001, along with information on the possessions and land they left behind in 27,000 historic wills dating from 1565 to 1858.
Digitised in partnership with Dorset History Centre (where the paper originals are held), the records are now fully searchable online for the first time and provide a fascinating insight into some of Dorset’s most famous names. The collection includes Thomas Hardy’s parents' marriage record from 1839. Thomas Hardy (Senior) met his wife-to-be, Jemima Hand, when she was a servant working for the Vicar of Stinsford Church. The two were forced to wed after Jemima became pregnant with his child – Thomas.
After gaining much success as an author and poet, when Thomas died in 1928, the authorities felt that he should be buried at Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner, against his own wishes to be interred in Dorset. His wife decided his body would be buried in London but his heart would stay in Stinsford, where it remains to this day. His burial records are listed in the collection.
Tolpuddle Martyr James Hammett's burial record also features in the records. The Tolpuddle Martyrs consisted of six Dorset men who were convicted for forming a friendly society of labourers to protest against declining agricultural wages in the 19th Century. Despite trade unions being legal at that time, a local landowner had the group arrested under an obscure law which banned the swearing of oaths.
The group was initially sentenced to transportation to Australia, but after their supporters organised a political march to protest, almost all were set free excepting James Hammett, who had an existing criminal record. While the other martyrs emigrated to the New World to build a new life, Hammett was released in 1837 and returned to Tolpuddle. He became destitute and his record shows he died in Dorchester Union workhouse, aged 79, and was buried in Tolpuddle churchyard.
Other famous Dorset names in the records include Verney Lovett Cameron, the first European to cross Equatorial Africa from sea to sea, and Mary Anning, a fossil collector who initially sold ‘curios’ found near her home in Lyme Regis to supplement her family’s income during the Napoleonic Wars. Mary's fossil discoveries resulted in revolutionary advances being made in the scientific understanding of the Jurassic period. She is listed in the records buried at St Michael’s church, where a stained glass window was erected her name.
Parish records are vital for anyone researching their family history, especially before 1837 when Civil Registration was established. This was a government system created to keep accurate records of citizens’ lives and today and the only way to trace a baptism, marriage or burial before then is through parish records, such as those going online today.
The records also include 27,000 historical wills, which provide an insight into the locals' worldly goods. Until 1858, when the Court of Probate Act came into force, the Church was responsible for proving the legality of wills – usually produced by richer members of the parish. In many cases the lists include inventory lists and letters to 'next of kin', offering a unique snapshot of life in historic Dorset.
Ancestry.co.uk International Content Director Dan Jones comments: “These records are a treasure trove of information about millions of early Dorset inhabitants, following the seminal moments in their lives and even revealing what they left their loved ones after death.
“Not only do the records reveal the stories of some of Dorset’s most famous children, they’ll also be an invaluable tool for anyone looking to research their own connections to Dorset.”
Dorset County Archivist Sam Johnston comments: “This is a big step for the Dorset History Centre. We are delighted to be working with Ancestry to deliver such a major online resource and one that will encourage the use and appreciation of archives, these ‘raw materials of history’, by greater numbers of people.”
Click here to start searching the records now.
1. Source: .comScore, 2010, based on genealogy related websites selected from the Family and Parenting sub-category under the Community category.
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