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First steps in family history

New to family history research? Not sure where to begin? We can help you get started and introduce you to some of the more useful family history sources.

Our guide to family history (pdf, 118kb) (opens in a new window) will help you get to grips with using records at Dorset History Centre and will give a good idea of records available for family history research elsewhere in the country. Here are a few tips to get you started: 

  • talk to your relatives about the family. This will help you start to draw up a family tree back as far as you can by talking to your relatives
  • you can use parish registers to obtain details of baptisms, marriages and burials. The earliest parish registers held at Dorset History Centre started in 1538. The Dorset parish registers are now available online through
  • it is also possible to obtain information regarding birth, marriage and deaths that took place after 1 July 1837 from the General Registers Office (GRO) (opens in a new window) 
  • census records can provide information on your ancestors and other members of their household, including their age, where they lived and their occupation.  The detailed census of individuals has been taken every 10 years since 1841

This guide will be of help whether your ancestors lived in Dorset, or elsewhere in the country. You can find the relevant record office for other parts of the UK by using The National Archives' Discovery (opens in a new window) database.

Family history at Dorset History Centre

Dorset History Centre holds key sources for family history. Whether you are a family history beginner looking for tips on where to start, or an experienced researcher stuck at a particular point, why not contact us to see if we can help?

We also have a range of books for sale which could help with your research.

If you are not able to visit us in person, you may wish to try our research service. A member of staff will undertake research for you and send you their findings.

Many of Dorset's records are available on the Ancestry (opens in a new window) website. This can be accessed for free at the Dorset History Centre and in Dorset's libraries.

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