Source Information

Ancestry.com. Dorset, England, Poor Law and Parish Records, 1511-1997 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com, 2011.
Original data: Parish Poor Law Records, 1601-1900. Dorchester, England: Dorset History Centre.

Christchurch Board of Guardians. Dorset History Centre, Dorchester, Dorset, United Kingdom.

Parish Poor Law Records, ca. 1601-1900. Dorset History Centre, Dorchester, Dorset, United Kingdom.

About Dorset, England, Poor Law and Parish Records, 1511-1997

This is a collection of records related to England’s Poor Laws. Both civil and ecclesiastical parishes are represented.

Historical Background

For many centuries, the task of caring for the poor in England was left to the Church. Each parish was given an Overseer of the Poor to help with this cause in 1572. In 1601, the Poor Law Act empowered these overseers to collect a poor rate from wealthier members of the parish and distribute the funds among those needing relief.

The 1601 law remained in effect until 1834, when a new law, the Poor Law Amendment Act, took effect. Under this law, parishes were grouped into Unions. Each Union elected a Board of Guardians, which was then responsible for care of the poor across all of the individual parishes.

Many of our ancestors received help through these Poor Laws, including the elderly, orphaned, abandoned, unemployed, and sick. Aid came as more than just money; the poor could also be provided food, clothing, and work. Children from poor families were often placed in apprenticeships or sent to schools and other institutions.

What’s Included in This Database

This collection includes a variety of different records created in areas of Dorset in connection with the Poor Laws. They’ll help you identify which members of your family were considered poor, find out what aid they received, and discover details of their everyday lives. It’s sometimes possible to piece together the story of a relative’s life, from their placement at a school as a child, through their time in a workhouse, up to their final fate—be it their eventual passing or an escape from poverty. Or, you may find your ancestor on the other side of the coin, among the rate payers.

Examples of the types of records found in this collection include

  • workhouse records detailing employment, clothing dispersal, and other particulars
  • Board of Guardians meeting minutes
  • treasurers account books
  • churchwardens records
  • school records
  • records of charities
  • church council records
  • parochial church council records
  • overseers records
  • court records
  • rate books (records of assessments and collections)
  • vouchers
  • vestry records
  • incumbents’ records
  • peculiar court records

The exact information you can find varies according to record type. For example, on a workhouse admission and discharge register you may see the person’s name, their date of admission, age, religious persuasion, and date of discharge. On a voucher, you could find a person’s name and list of goods received. An apprentice register might list the apprentice’s name, their gender, age, the name of the person they were bound to, date of indenture, parents’ names, trade, and residence.

This is a large collection of images of original records. In it, you can read details about your ancestor as they were recorded sometimes centuries ago. Because the records haven’t yet been indexed, it’s not possible to search for your relatives automatically. Instead, you should identify which documents your family members are most likely to appear in, then use our browse options to look for their details.