Family history

If you have ancestors who lived in West Stour this page may help you find the records you need to research your family history.

Parish Registers

Since your ancestors from West Stour were probably have been baptised, married or buried at St. Mary’s Church, the Parish Registers (PRs) recording these events are important in genealogy. They survive from 1654, but only the current registers are kept in the benefice. The old registers can be found in the Dorset History Centre in Dorchester.

You can find information about the opening hours etc. here.

For West Stour the registers in the History Centre contain the following information:

Register Dates covered on Ancestry*
 Baptisms  1813 – 1981 1813 – 1921
 Marriages  1754 – 1990 1813 – 1919
 Burials  1678/9 – 1981 1813 – 1981
 Banns  1823 – 1970 1813 – 1921

* – The History Centre is working with Ancestry to make a digitized version of their records available online and those from 1813 on can be found on Ancestry – although a subscription is needed to see these records many public libraries have one which enable you to view them for free.

Bishop’s transcripts

Bishop’s transcripts survive for many of the years 1731 on. Although being a transcript they may have acquired errors, they do survive for years for which the PRs are not available.  Because these are owned by the Diocese rather than the Parish they are held with all of Salisbury Diocese archives in the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre – they cover the years 1731-78, (for transcript, 1759-60 se under East Stour), 1780-1812, 1814-41 and 1844-79.

The Bishop’s transcripts have been transcribed by an “Online Parish Clerk” (OPC) and made available online – they can be found here.

Monumental inscriptions


West Stour’s OPC has also provided online information about the headstones on the graves in the churchyard.

In church

to be done

Other references

The Dorset History centre has a number of other collections which may help with your research – listed here. The parish collections can be browsed using the online catalogue. For West Stour they include “Vestry minutes” (included in the churchwardens’ accounts for 1901, 1906-1907, 1912-1938; no others) and “Churchwardens’ accounts” (1794-1885, 1904-1939). These are minutes of the annual church meeting and accounts for the church. They may mention your ancestors, in the minutes generally if they were churchwarden or sidesman, in the accounts if the church was paying them for something – e.g. for playing the organ, burying the dead, providing communion wine, or for carpentry or masonry work in the church.

Wills and other probate records

Prior to 11th January 1858 church courts proved wills. When a person’s estate lay totally within a Diocese then the Will would usually be proved in a court in the Diocese. These wills were then lodged in the Diocesan Records, and for Salisbury Diocese these are now held either in the Dorset History Centre in Dorchester (wills proved in the Court of the Archdeaconry of Dorset, which West Stour used to be in) or the  Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham (wills proved in the Consistory Court for Salisbury Diocese, or for some reason in the Court of the Royal Peculiar of Gillingham or the Archdeaconry of Salisbury).

Wills in the Dorset History Centre

As well as being viewable on microfilm in the Centre, these wills have now been digitized and can be viewed on the Ancestry website – either via a personal subscription to this site, or for free in many public libraries (in the UK at least).

Wills at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre

The index of wills can be searched online, and many have been digitized and the digital images can be purchased.

Wills held by the National Archives

Before 1858, the national court for obtaining probate was the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC), which was a church court based in London. Whilst intended to deal with estates when property was located in more than one Diocese, it was sometimes used by other people. PCC wills can be viewed at both the Public Record Office at Kew and the Family Record Centre in London. There is a useful National Archives document on the subject.

Although most people did not leave wills, and of those who did most would have left property only in one Diocese, estates did not have to be large to be in more than one Diocese, and this would be especially common in this area where we are close to the border with Bath and Wells Diocese, and when we used to be in Bristol Diocese, and were then also close to the border with Salisbury Diocese!

The National Archives has an index to PCC wills from 1384 to 1858 which can be searched online. Copies can be downloaded for £3.50 (at the time of writing in 2011). Leaving the name blank and entering West Stour Dorset in the place field can be a good way of covering all possible spellings of surnames, but you also need to search on West Stower Dorset.

This doesn’t pick up relations in nearby parishes, for which a name search may be useful (but remember we are near Somerset and Wiltshire, so you might want to search a surname in each of the 3 counties in turn).