This section of the website aims to provide guidance on sources relevant to researching the history of Dartmouth and the surrounding area.
Our first guidance note has been prepared for our event held in November 2023, “A History of Dartmouth in Four Houses”. It covers a variety of original records which you may find helpful in researching the history of a house. It is both broader in scope and more detailed than the answers to the FAQs below, which focus on the resources on our website.
Click here to view this document (33 pages).
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I research my family history? What resources do you have?
There are many published books, magazines and general websites available to help you research your family history so we include just a few pointers here. Start by collecting together what you know yourself and anything you can find out from older family members. Use that information and any family documents or memorabilia to construct a simple family tree going back as far as you can through previous generations.
You can then begin to use three main sources to check and confirm what you’ve found out so far and to find out more:
(1) Civil registration records of births, marriages and deaths: Civil registration began in England in 1837. General Register Officer (GRO) indexes of births, marriages and deaths since that date are available from commercial family history websites and birth, marriage and death certificates can be ordered from the GRO or the three Devon Register Offices.
(2) Census returns: The first census was taken in 1801 and every ten years after that. Censuses recorded every household but it was only from 1841 that information about individuals was retained. The latest census available for research is that of 1921. Images and transcripts of census returns are available on commercial family history websites on payment of a subscription; census information on our website is free. In the “Family History” category of the “Dartmouth Archives” section of the website you will find a full transcript of the 1861 Census for Dartmouth and the 1891 Census for Dartmouth, Kingswear and Dittisham.
(3) Parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials; these records were compiled in Church of England churches. For Dartmouth there are three – St Clements (Townstal), St Saviours in the centre of the town, and St Petrox, in Warfleet near Dartmouth Castle (which from 1831 included the dependent chapel of St Barnabas). The earliest registers to survive for Dartmouth date from 1653, 1586 and 1652 respectively; parish registers continued beyond the introduction of civil registration to the present day. We do not have non-conformist and Catholic records for Dartmouth but some are available on certain commercial websites.
In the “Family History” category of the “Dartmouth Archives” there are:
- images of the earliest surviving St Clements parish register covering baptisms 1653-1700, marriages 1653-1710, and burials 1653-1683; there is no transcript so you will need to look through the document
- transcript of marriages at St Clements 1597-1786 (records before 1653 from another source, “Bishops Transcripts”)
- transcript of burials at St Clements from early 19th century, and information on church memorials and burial locations in St Clements Churchyard
- images of St Saviours baptism registers 1924-1996; no transcript so you will need to look through the document
- full transcript of marriages at St Saviours 1586-1850; images of St Saviours marriage register 1883-1955 (some pages not available) – no transcript so you will need to look through the document
- transcript of cemetery registers for St Saviours 1857-1918 at Longcross Cemetery; information on burial locations in old St Saviours churchyard
- images of the earliest surviving St Petrox parish register covering baptisms 1652-1692, marriages 1653-1692, and burials 1652-1692; first and last pages also contain individual records at other dates. There is no transcript so you will need to look through the document (some pages are badly damaged but most entries are legible)
- images of baptisms at St Petrox (St Barnabas) 1902-1980; no transcript so you will need to look through the document
- alphabetical index to St Petrox marriages 1610-1850 (records before 1653 from another source, “Bishops Transcripts”)
- Transcripts of St Petrox interior memorials and exterior memorial inscriptions
- Transcripts of cemetery register (all denominations) at Longcross Cemetery, Townstal, 1927-2005 (for more recent burials, contact Dartmouth Town Council)
In addition there is a full transcript of marriages at St George’s Dittisham 1603-1850. There are also several other sources of information on our website you may find helpful. For example, the Dartmouth Chronicle regularly carried announcements of births, marriages and deaths, and frequently published obituaries of prominent individuals or those who had died in unusual circumstances such as accident or war. The Dartmouth Archives includes most of the editions of the newspaper from 1855-1884 and it is well worth browsing through them around dates in which you are interested. Also useful are trade directories (see the “Publications” category) which list public officials, tradespeople and many residents. Finally, try doing a simple keyword search in the Dartmouth Archives on a family surname.
Where information is provided in transcript form, on this or on any other website, it is good practice to check it whenever possible against images of the originals. Of course we try to ensure the information we provide is as accurate as possible but the Dartmouth History Research Group accepts no liability for any information provided on this website – please see our Terms and Conditions.
How do I research my house? What resources do you have?
As with family history, researching the history of your house depends on what information you already have to start with. For example, the style of the building or its decorative details, or even its name, may provide clues to date of construction; or you may have documents such as property deeds or previous sales materials which may help. Your neighbours may have useful information especially if properties were built at the same time (for example, in a terrace of houses).
If you are able to identify the names of previous owners, you may be able to track the house back through census records, trade directories and other documents. The “Property” category of the “Dartmouth Archives” section of our website includes information about commercial and residential properties in Dartmouth. Even if these do not include your own house, deeds and other such documents may have details of neighbouring properties and may help you form a picture of the development of the vicinity of your house. Try doing a simple keyword search in the Dartmouth Archives on the name of the property or street.
The Dartmouth Chronicle can be a very valuable resource – houses were frequently advertised for sale or to let and such advertisements may provide considerable detail about owners and about the way the house was being used at the time, including multi-occupancy or the use of the property for businesses such as schools. Also, the newspaper often reported on significant new buildings and on Dartmouth Town Council discussions about new buildings, so it is worth browsing editions in full. Our website currently includes images of most editions from 1855-1884.
Maps are another important source of information. The “Maps” category of the Dartmouth Archives includes large scale Ordnance Survey maps of Dartmouth and the surrounding area from 1880 and 1912, which show how the town expanded by reclaiming land in the centre and along the river. Older properties may feature on a Tithe Map – in 1836, historic tithe payments in kind were commuted to money payments, determined by a standard formula relating to land use. Land subject to tithes was surveyed to decide how payments should be apportioned amongst landowners. Large-scale maps of tithe districts (usually parishes) were drawn up and an accompanying “Tithe Apportionment” listed the owner, occupier, size and use of each numbered parcel of land on the map. The maps are often very detailed, showing individual buildings, roads, tracks and other local features. Tithe Maps and Apportionments are available on our website for the parishes of Townstal and Stoke Fleming (the parishes of St Saviours and St Petrox were not surveyed as their tithes had been commuted to money payments well before 1836). Even if your house is not shown on the Tithe Map, property boundaries often relate to previous field boundaries, enabling the history of the site of your house to be explored.
Finally, the development of Dartmouth has been discussed in several of the DHRG’s publications, notably “The Newcomen Road” and “The Development of Dartmouth Millpond to 1846” by Ivor Smart (free to download from our website), and “Up the Hill to Townstal” by Eric Preston (still in print and available to buy) which charts the twentieth century expansion of the town into the rural area to the west.
What books do you recommend about the history of Dartmouth and the surrounding area?
Dartmouth has a rich history and because of its past importance frequently figures in the story of wider national or even international events (such as the Hundred Years War, the English Civil War or aspects of maritime history such as privateering or the development of Newfoundland). A full bibliography would take up many pages!
A good starting point is the two general histories available, the most recent and comprehensive being “Dartmouth and its Neighbours” (latest edition, 2007) by Ray Freeman, the founder and first Chair of the Dartmouth History Research Group. Still going strong is a book by Percy Russell, “Dartmouth”, first published in 1950 and recently reprinted by Dartmouth Museum. Mention should also be made of “Pre-Reformation Dartmouth” by Hugh R Watkin, published in 1935 as a “Parochial History” by the Devonshire Association, now out of print but still available second-hand. This was not a narrative history but a compilation of information drawn from the town’s earliest medieval records until about 1540. Both Ray Freeman and Percy Russell drew on it. Also useful are successive volumes of “The Chronicles of Dartmouth”, by Don Collinson and Phil Scoble, which use the Dartmouth Chronicle to chart events annually from 1855-2010.
The Dartmouth History Research Group has published 40 books and booklets on aspects of the history of Dartmouth and the surrounding area. Those out of print are free to download from this website and others may be ordered by contacting us. For more details of all our publications, and how to order, see the “DHRG books” section of the website. In 2021 we published “When War Came to the Dart”, the story of how the Second World War affected the communities of Dartmouth Harbour; and this year we have published an updated edition of “Dartmouth Then Dartmouth Now”, looking at changes in Dartmouth’s shops and businesses over the last 50-60 years.
If there is a particular aspect of the history of Dartmouth and the surrounding area in which you are interested, and on which you would like recommendations for further reading, please let us know and we will try to help. Please go to the “Contact” page of the website for details of how to get in touch.
Does your group carry out family or house history research for other people?
We aim to provide information on this website and through our books and publications which will enable people to do their own research into the history of Dartmouth and the surrounding area. However, we are pleased to help with further advice, if we can, or to try and help if you get stuck! If you find our information useful, or if you have any other comments, please let us know. Please go to the “Contact” page of the website for details of how to get in touch.
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