Parish registers and records
Dorset History Centre holds parish registers for 300 different parishes around Dorset. The registers contain records of baptisms,marriages and burials around the county. To check we have the registers for the parish you are interested in please search our catalogue or view our full list of parish registers.
Our guide to parish registers gives more details on how to use parish registers and is designed to help you make the most of the archives held at the History Centre.
In addition to the parish registers, local parishes also kept other records that can be of use to local historians.
You can search our parish collections using the online catalogue.
Minutes - vestry or parochial church council
The Vestry or Parochial Church Council is the committee that oversees the church and parish. It is sometimes also simply referred to as the 'parish council', but should not be confused with the civil parish council.
Accounts - churchwardens and overseers
Churchwardens were responsible for the upkeep of the church and its grounds. Their account books record both money raised and paid out. The Overseers of the Poor administered poor relief such as the distribution of money, food or clothing. The Overseers accounts often contain records of payments made for these items and the names of the people receiving them.
In order to qualify for poor relief, people had to prove they were established residents of the parish - typically either because they had been born there or because they had served an apprenticeship in the parish. These documents represent a brief biography of an individual, and can therefore be invaluable for family history.
Parishes were also keen to avoid paying for the upkeep of illegitimate children. Much like settlement examinations, parish overseers would interview mothers expecting an illegitimate child to determine who the father was. If the name of the likely father was given, a bastardy bond or maintenance order was drawn up to ensure payment by the father.
Accessing our parish registers and records
There are three different ways to access our parish registers and records:
- at Dorset History Centre - most of the registers are held on microfilm
- through ancestry.co.uk; access to the website is free at Dorset History Centre and in Dorset libraries
- by making use of our research service