England, Dorset, Parish Registers (FamilySearch Historical Records)
|This article describes a collection of historical records available at FamilySearch.org.|
Access the records: England, Dorset, Parish Registers, 1538-1910 .
Baptisms (christenings), marriages, and burials were recorded on blank pages in a bound book called a register. The events of baptism, marriage, and burial were all recorded in one volume until 1754, when a law required that marriages be recorded in a separate book. Banns, or proclamations of “an intent” to marry, were recorded in yet another book. Starting in 1812, preprinted registers were introduced, and then separate registers were kept for baptisms, marriages, and burials. Before 1812, bishops’ transcripts were usually recorded on loose pieces of paper. Following that year, the transcripts were recorded on the same preprinted forms as parish registers.
- Further information: Church of England Parish Registers
This collection covers records for the years 1530 through 1900.
Parish registers were created to record church events of baptism or christening, marriage, and burial. Baptismal entries usually list the person’s birth date, and burial entries list the death date. In the Church of England, baptism, which was also called christening, was performed soon after the birth of a child. Marriage in the church legally united a man and a woman for civil legal reasons and for the purpose of founding a religiously sanctified family. Burial is a function of the church to inter the deceased soon after death.
Church of England parish registers are the most reliable and accurate family history source until July 1837, when the government instituted the civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths. Information in parish registers and Bishop's Transcripts can be verified against each other. There are often variations in Bishop's Transcripts of names and spellings. Bishop's Transcripts may also omit years or part of years and are incomplete according to Diocesan practice and preservation.
Citation for This Collection
The following citation refers to the original source of the data and images published on FamilySearch.org.
- Church of England. England, Dorset, parish registers. Dorset Record Office, Dorchester, England.
Church of England parish register baptism records usually contain:
- Baptism date
- Name of the child
- Sex of the child
- Legitimacy of the child
- Marital status of the parents
- Social class of the parents
- Name of the father and often mother’s given name
- May list the residence of the parents, especially after 1812
Church of England parish register marriage records usually contain:
- Marriage date
- Name of the bride and groom
- Age of the bride and groom
- May list names of parents or other relatives
- Residence of the bride and groom
- Marital status of individuals and couples
- May list the dates that the marriage was announced (also called “banns published”). This normally took place on three separate occasions prior to the marriage and gave anyone with a valid reason a chance to object to the marriage.
- After 1754, the full names of witnesses
- After 1837, the full names of the fathers
- May note if a spouse is single or widowed at the time of the marriage.
Church of England parish register burial records usually contain:
- Burial date
- Name of the deceased. If the deceased is a child, the father’s name might be given. If the deceased is a married woman, the husband’s name might be given.
- Age of the person
- Residence of the deceased
- May give the sex of the deceased
- Residence of the deceased
How to Use the Record
Parish registers are one of the best sources for identifying individuals and connecting them to parents, spouses, and other generations. In July 1837the government instituted the civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths. However, parish registers continue to play an important role because they are often more readily available than civil registers. Bishops’ transcripts are a backup source for parish registers that are missing or illegible. If possible, you may want to search both the parish registers and the bishops’ transcripts since one is a handwritten copy of the other and might contain differences.
Baptism or christening records list the parents’ names, making it possible for you to connect your ancestor to an earlier generation. You may find a birth date listed or be able to approximate a birth date. After 1812, the baptismal records list a place of residence, making it easier to identify your family by where they lived. The records also list the father’s occupation, which makes it easier to identify your ancestor's family when more than one family with the same name lived in the parish.
Marriage records sometimes state the residence for the bride and groom. You can use this information to look for their baptisms and to identify the children of this couple. Sometimes the groom’s occupation is listed, which could help you find more records about the groom. Marriage records after 1754 list the names of witnesses, who were often family members. These can help you identify your ancestor’s family. Signatures in the records might be used to identify a particular individual by the handwriting style. After 1812, and sometimes before, burial records include the age of the deceased. Use this age to approximate the person’s birth year and to find the baptismal record. If the deceased is a child, the parents’ names might be given. This information helps to extend your family another generation. The occupation of a deceased male might be given (especially after 1812) and can help identify your ancestor when there is more than one person by that name in the area. Knowing the occupation might also provide you the opportunity to find other records about your ancestor.
Banns indicate the parish of residence of the bride and groom. This information often leads to the records of another parish. You can search for the baptisms of the bride and groom in the parishes of residence since these might also be the parishes where they were born.
To search for a person in a Church of England parish register, you must know the following:
- Where the person lived and the corresponding parish
- When the person lived; if you do not know the time period, you must estimate it from what you know of more recent generations. A useful means of locating parishes prior to 1851 is England Jurisdictions 1851.
Transcription is a human process and can include error. If you are searching a computer data base which has been indexed exactly as viewed, it may be necessary to search on variants of the given name and surname. The transcriber may have faithfully rendered Thos. or a Latin spelling like Xpher and your search for Thomas or Christopher may not produce a search result.
Parish register entries may not correspond with post 1837 Civil Registration certificates. The registration of Marriages involves a quarterly return from each authorised person (Registrar General approved) to the local Registry Office and each Registry Office in turn to form a National Index. The transcription of information from the event may not correspond to the original entry.
Since Civil Birth registrations are only partial in the early decades of Civil registration parish registers may be the only source of record for infant birth and death in a period of high infant mortality rates.
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Citation Example for a Record Found in This Collection
"England, Dorset, Parish Registers, 1835-1910," database and digital images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org: accessed 28 March 2012), Charity Martha Adams, 11 December 1850; citing Parish Records, FHL microfilm 2,427,411; 268 reels, Dorset History Centre, Dorchester, England. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.