By Luke Mouland, Kith & Kin Research
Wednesday marked the launch of the new Dorset Records Collections at Ancestry.co.uk, providing a wealth of vital information to those attempting to trace their West Country roots, with over four hundred years’ worth of records being made searchable online.
Whilst these records offer an undoubtedly important snapshot into the lives of our forebears, the collections also provide a fascinating insight into the history of Dorset as a county – the very backdrop against which these family dramas were played out. Indeed, when explored further, they are a reflection of what was taking place within the wider community at any given time.
For example, the parish of Fordington, which lies on the outskirts of the county town of Dorchester, suffered tremendously from the devastating effects of the cholera outbreak of 1849. A simple search of the burial register of St. George’s Church for that year soon reveals the extent of the outbreak, with a marked increase in the number of interments during that period. It is also possible to see from the ages of those recorded in these documents that a greater number of parishioners were dying whilst in their prime or during infancy. In just three months, the outbreak is said to have killed more than 33,000 people throughout Britain.
Meanwhile, on searching through various marriage registers, it soon becomes clear how the arrival of the railways had a shattering impact upon rural communities in Dorset and the strong social ties which had existed there. As the nineteenth century wore on, marriage registers illustrate how the expansion of the railway network and an increase in public transport led to unions between local residents and partners who lived much further away. The register for Holy Trinity Church in Shaftesbury notes that some were living as far away as York or London. Of course, on the other hand, the railways also enabled many Dorset folk to escape from these rural communities, in order to seek work in the cities and manufacturing districts.
On a similar note, the records will also prove useful to those whose Dorset ancestors emigrated abroad. Following the move towards mechanised farming in the first half of the nineteenth century, many agricultural workers found themselves redundant, poverty stricken and desperately in need of work. Whilst many sought employment in the rapidly-growing industrial areas, many others fled abroad during the 1830s to establish new lives in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and South Africa. With the arrival of these new collections online, their descendants will now have access to vital information about their earlier forebears here in the UK.
So, whether you are tracing your Dorset roots or simply have an interest in local or social history, these collections will paint a fascinating picture of the county’s vivid history and take you on a truly magnificent journey of discovery. Therefore, I urge you to take a look and see what you can uncover.