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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Genealogical Finds at Online Parish Clerks (OPC)

If you have English ancestry, especially if you can trace your ancestors to Dorsetshire, the Online Parish Clerks projects is a must visit. Originally the project began in Cornwall before spreading to Devon, then Dorset. There are now 15 counties included as part of the website. The online parish clerks consist of a group of volunteers who research and transcribe parish records to assist family historians to further their genealogical hunt. These genealogical records include births and baptisms, marriages and marriage intentions, deaths, burials and gravestone transcriptions. Other information you may find, depending on the county or parish are Bishop Transcripts, wills, census records, directories, Rolls of Honour for the war dead, photographs, ordinance map surveys, a brief history of the village/town and militia lists. Additional genealogical data is always being added and users of the site are encouraged to contribute or donate their own genealogical finds. All the records are free to use, but can not be used commercially.

One of the best OPCs is the Dorset OPC and it also serves as the home page for the online project. It boasts a complete list of Dorset parishes. After the parish name, there is a code (example: [P]). The "P" indicates that a online parish clerk is assigned to that parish; if it is grayed out, the post is vacant and users can apply to be the clerk for that particular parish. The code lists over the list of parishes and provides the code's meaning.

Content is spotty for some parishes, but others offer genealogical data as early as the 1500s to the 1700s. A few parishes require you to contact the online parish clerk to perform lookups for you and still others, have barely gotten off the ground requesting that you return to the site at a later date. Some parishes link to external sites where the genealogical data sits offsite.

There is a "search" function which allows a genealogist to search across all Dorset parishes except for external sites. Three separate search portals comprise the expanded search capability and each is clearly marked on which portal you need to use. This is a bit more awkward than the previous search portal, but greatly speeds up the results process. Dorset OPC also offers an updates and contacts page that keeps you updated on new additions to the site and personnel changes in parish clerks. All in all, it's a very useful site and you can't beat the price.

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