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  • Records reveal fascinating details of births, deaths, marriages and school admissions from centuries of Somerset’s history
  • Legendary cricketer Jack Cornish White, statesman Ernest Bevin and Sir Henry Cole, pioneer of the Christmas card, appear in the records
  • Historic prisoner records from Somerset gaols also go online
Cricket legend, foreign secretary and Christmas card pioneer among those found in collection

Ilchester gaol book

Over seven million historical records containing centuries of details of Somerset residents have been published online by Ancestry, the leader in family history and consumer genomics.


Digitised from original records held by the South West Heritage Trust, the collections hold details of births, deaths, marriages and school admissions from almost 400 years of Somerset’s history, including the Somerset School Registers, 1860-1914 and the Somerset Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812.


A Somerset cricket legend and the inventor of the commercial Christmas card are just two of the millions of names and stories that feature in the records.


Searchable by name, age, type, date and location of crime, the newly digitised records contain vital information and fascinating details for anybody looking to find out more about ancestors who may have lived in the county.


Many notable names appear within the records, including:


  • Jack Cornish White – Born John Cornish White but known as 'Jack' or 'Farmer', White was a legend of Somerset cricket, having taken over 2,000 wickets for the county, a record still stands today. His baptism record is contained within the newly digitised records, as well as the record of his enrolment at Stringston Church of England School.


  • Ernest Bevin – Statesman, trade union leader and Labour politician Ernest Bevin was born in Winsford in 1881. While the future Foreign Secretary would move to Devon to live with extended family following his mother’s death in 1889, details of Bevin’s admission to Winsford First School in 1884 can also be found in the new collection.


  • Sir Henry Cole – Pioneering the Christmas card was just one of the many achievements of Sir Henry Cole, who was born in Bath in 1808. The record of his baptism at Walcot St Swithin in October of that year is recorded in the collection – long before he would play a key role in the development of the Penny Post, and become the first director of the South Kensington Museum, otherwise known as London’s famous Victoria and Albert Museum.


Other names that appear include George Williams, the founder of the YMCA, Victoria Cross recipient and hero of the Boer War Henry George Crandon, buccaneer William Dampier and artist Flora Twort.


The records tell interesting stories of everyday people

The records also tell interesting stories of everyday people, such as the marriage record of Anne Holbrook and James Hilliar at Walcot St Swithin in March of 1794, which says that “the man came so drunk as not to be able to repeat the words of the ceremony” – meaning the actual marriage had to take place in April. Another record details the marriage of a very interesting pair in Yatton in 1762, that of Sage and Onion, Samuel Sage and Hannah Onion.


The registers of criminals from three prisons – Ilchester Gaol, Shepton Mallet Gaol and Wilton Gaol – have also been made available online for the first time in the Somerset Gaol Registers, 1807-1879 collection.


The gaol records provide insights into crime and punishment in Somerset in the 1800s, containing prisoner registers and descriptions. They provide specific details of crimes – for example that of Solomon Sparks, who was jailed for six months for “stealing 19 cheeses’”, or William Weare, who was sentenced to nine weeks’ hard labour and a whipping for “stealing two ducks”.

Archives in our care are now accessible worldwide


Ancestry’s Senior Content Manager Miriam Silverman commented: “These collections provide an amazing insight into the history and people of Somerset. People across Britain and indeed around the world can now research their ancestral links to the county, whether they are descended from famous cricketers like Jack Cornish White or criminals from Somerset’s historic jails.


“These records can help add names and stories from Somerset to your family tree, whether you’re just starting your research or have previously been stumped when looking at your families historical records.”


Janet Tall, Head of Archives and Local Studies for the South West Heritage Trust, said: “We’re thrilled that these fascinating archives in our care are now accessible worldwide. It’s amazing to know that millions of people can now easily explore their ancestral connections with Somerset.”


The Somerset School Registers, 1860-1914 collection, the Somerset Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812 collection and the Somerset Gaol Registers, 1807-1879 collection are among several other digitised Somerset-focused record archives being launched online for the first time.


Please Note

Some records have not yet been added to Ancestry, but will be going online later in 2016.  To see a list of the parishes not yet available, please view this PDF guide

Search the collections

To search any of these collections, and more than 17 billion other historical records worldwide, visit

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