We have just added 4 million historic UK parish records online, enabling family historians to delve further back in their British history than ever before.
The new records feature baptisms, marriages and burials, which took place in Dorset and Warwickshire between 1511 and 1997, and have been added to what is now the largest collection of digitised parish registers online. These records join tens of millions of other parish, catholic and non-conformist records from across the UK and Ireland.
The huge value of these records is that they pre-date Civil Registration – the government system established in 1837 to keep accurate records of citizens’ lives, for example in censuses and BMD records (birth, marriage, death). Thus the only way to trace a birth, marriage or death before the 19th century is through parish records, such as the ones now online.
Infamous Smugglers Revealed
The fact we can now easily delve further back into our history enables everyone to find out more about historic figures for whom very few records exist. For example, the Dorset Baptisms, Marriages and Burials include some of Britain’s most enigmatic and infamous smugglers.
Smuggling was rife along the Dorset coast during the Georgian period (1714-1830), shifting from what had generally been a small-scale evasion of duty to a booming business that brought huge quantities of contraband into the south coast of Britain.
It was not unheard of for a single smuggling trip to bring in 3,000 gallons of spirits – the equivalent of more than 13,600 one-litre bottles of spirits by today’s measure. According to one source, illegally imported gin was so plentiful that in some Kentish villages it was used as window cleaner, while four fifths of all tea drunk in England had been brought in illegally.
Such feats were even more impressive considering the limitations of the technology at the time. Goods were brought from abroad on sailing ships while kegs were manhandled up sheer cliffs, and then transported slowly inland by pony carts.
A number of infamous smugglers can be found in these records including Issac Gulliver. He was known as the ‘King of Smugglers’ for his legendary smuggling feats and escapes from customs – including on one occasion when he laid in a coffin and pretended to be dead. Gulliver has gone down in history as a gentleman smuggler who never killed a man, and his marriage to Elizabeth (Betty) Beale appears in the collection (shown below).
The new collections include Warwickshire baptisms (dating from 1813 to 1910), marriages and banns (1754-1910), burials (1813-1984) and Dorset baptisms, marriages and burials (1538-1812), bastardy records (1821-1853) and parish poor law records (1511-1997).