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About Dorset Marriage Index  1538-1856

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The Dorset Marriage Index was compiled by the Somerset & Dorset Family History Society from Dorset parish registers. The index covers about 150,000 marriages, dating from 1538, of which all but a thousand are pre-1837; it includes all the marriages that the Society has been able to find in the Dorset Record Office and other sources. As far as possible it is complete up to 1837 and has been double checked. Most records were transcribed from the original parish registers, some from the Bishops Transcripts, and some from non-conformist circuit registers.

While most marriages were by banns, some were by licence. Whether the marriage was by banns or licence, the record is of the actual marriage, not of the reading of banns or of the issuing of the licence.

As well as the names of the married couple, the witness names are also included, so that the index contains over half a million names in total.

Parishes covered
Click here for parishes covered by Dorset Marriage Index

What the index contains
This dataset is rather more than an index, and essentially contains abstracts of the original entries. The Dorset Marriage Index records contain the following fields:
  • Male Surname, standardised
  • Male Surname, transcribed
  • Male Forename
  • Male X
  • Male Status
  • Male Parish
  • Male County
  • Female Surname, standardised
  • Female Surname, transcribed
  • Female Forename
  • Female X
  • Female Status
  • Female Parish
  • Female County
  • Year
  • Date
  • Register
  • Register County
  • Witnesses
  • Notes
The contents of these fields are described below.

Surname, standardised; Surname, transcribed; (Male & Female)
Surname, standardised is a standardised version of the surname - Surname, transcribed is the surname as recorded in the register; eg HERRING for HEERING, MACKRELL for MACKERILL, TOLMAN for TOLEMAN. In the majority of cases the two surnames are the same.

The Dorset Marriage Records are searchable by both these surnames, while the NameX option allows searching on many other possible surname variants.

Forename (Male & Female)
Many forenames are abbreviated in the register. The abbeviated versions are preserved here, but searching can be on the full forename or on the abbreviated versions. The NameX option also pemits searching on other abbreviations, spelling variants and diminutives.

Male X, Female X
An 'X' in either of these fields indicates that the party 'signed' the register with their mark, so indicating probable illiteracy.

Status (Male & Female)
The Status fields can show different types of information about the person, including (but not restricted to):
  • marital status, ie bachelor/spinster, widower/widow
  • occupation, eg apothecary, soldier, parson, vicar
  • army regiment, for soldiers, eg '10th Regt. Dragoons'; barracks may also be given, eg '20th Light Dragoons in Fordington'
  • vessel, for a sailor, eg 'carpenter, H.M. Sloop "Laurel"'; 'of HMS "Le Chiffere"', 'now in Weymouth Roads, bachelor'
  • living, for a clergyman, eg 'Parson of Beer Haggett', the living may be in the marriage parish, eg: 'Vicar of this parish'
  • place of residence, especially for sojourners. Often the marriage parish, but sometimes another place. See Help on Searching for more details
Parish (Male & Female)
The Parish is normally that where the party was residing at the time of the marriage. However, there are some cases where the Status entry appears to indicate where the party was staying, possibly temporarily (if indicated by 'sojourner' - see Help on Searching), and the Parish value shows the permanent place of residence. In some cases it is not clear which of two different places named in the Status and Parish fields is the permanent place and which the temporary place of residence.
In the majority of cases (and the vast majority for the bride) the parish of residence is the place where the marriage took place, as shown in the Register field. In such cases, the Parish field shows 'of this parish', or similar wording.

County (Male & Female)
The county for the Parish (Male or Female, as applicable), or the country where the parish is not in England or Wales. 96% of the marriages of the male partners are from Dorset, and over 99% of the females. Of the non-Dorset participants, two thirds of the males are from Devon, Somerset or Wiltshire and 84% of the females. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries (the time of the Napoleonic Wars) there were more than 500 marriages involving soldiers stationed in Dorset. In very few cases is it stated where the soldier actually came from, and the county has correspondingly been left blank.

The year of the marriage. For pre-1752 marriages the year is shown as New Style.

This is the actual date recorded in the register, with all pre-1752 years given as new style. An asterisk after the date means that the date was unclear and best effort was made to interpret it.

The Register field contains the name of the register from which the record of the marriage has been abstracted. In all cases this field contains a placename, normally of a parish. The registers are in most cases parish registers - so the Register field contains the name of the parish where the marriage took place - but there are Registers for peculiar courts (see Help on Searching for details) and for Quaker Meetings, eg Quaker Dorset Meetings - Wimborne.

Note that the parish of Stockland, which has been in Devon since 1842, is a Dorset parish so far as the Dorset Marriage Index is concerned.

Register County
In principle all the register entries should refer to Dorset, but for completeness a Register County field is provided

The Witnesses field generally contains the names of the witnesses but in the cases of marriages by licence it contains the name of the bondsmen or, in a single instance, bondswoman.
All names appearing in the Witnesses field have been included in the database index.
Many witness names contain an "x" between the forename and the surname. This indicates that the witness "signed" the register with their mark, indicating probable illiteracy.

The Notes field contains miscellaneous additional information, which may include:
  • whether the marriage was by banns or by licence. (NB if not stated it cannot be assumed that the marriage was by banns.)
  • variant names of the parties, for example where the signature does not agree with the name in the register text, or where the Bishop's Transcript ('B.T.') entry does not agree with the original entry in the register.
  • occasionally the name of the bride's father may be given.
Note that where variant names for the parties appear in the Notes field, separate index records have been created for each variant. So you will sometimes find more than one record referring to the same marriage.

The Dorset Marriage Index 1538-1856 is made available on British Origins with the permission of Somerset & Dorset Family History Society, who retain all rights to the Index. The work done by members of the Society in compiling the Index is gratefully acknowledged.

© 2009 OMS Services Ltd and Somerset & Dorset Family History Society

See also:  Help searching Dorset Marriage Index
  Parishes covered by Dorset Marriage Index
  Search the collection