01935 429609
Somerset & Dorset
Family History Society

Welcome to the SDFHS

How can we help you? We will help you to find documented facts about the lives of your former family members which will unlock doors to your own personal family story. Although we do specialise in Somerset and Dorset and have extensive records from our two counties, our experienced Research Volunteers have skills which can help you trace your family roots, regardless of where they might have originated.

SDFHS Family History Centre

Our Family History Centre is at Broadway House, Peter St, Yeovil BA20 1PN. Find out more about how we can help with your research and the facilities we have to offer.

The Society’s Family History Centre in Yeovil is still closed to members and other visitors, but we are very pleased to have reopened our bookshop for online sales and orders by post, only – please do not come to the Centre to buy books.

Our Research Volunteers are still working mainly from home but do now have some access to our resources at the Centre, so if you would like any help with your family history research email: [email protected] and we will do our best to help you.

When we are able to reopen the Centre to visitors, we will inform members by electronic newsletter and will also post the information on our website and on Facebook. If you do not already receive e-newsletters, but would like to do so, please email: [email protected].

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on Social Media

Recent Facebook

Somerset and Bath County Lunatic Asylum made a positive effort to, “render the corridors and dayrooms more cheerful by the addition of books, maps and engravings and everything should be done to give the house an air of freedom by removing all painful and depressing associations and by keeping the minds of the patients occupied by easy work and recreation. Several birds are kept in cages for the benefit of the patients and some are so tame that they live principally out of the cage." Dr Robert Boyd 1852This photograph from the museum collection shows the staff of women's ward 3 at the hospital with Nurse Emily Francis, we think, in the foreground. Nurse Francis worked at the asylum for 36 years and her husband Herbert for 34 years.They retired to live in Bath in 1919 on a pension of £81 17s 10d. ... See MoreSee Less
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Did any of your ancestors sew one of these samplers? ... See MoreSee Less
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*** Online talk *** 18th January 2021. Do you have any unusual surnames in your family tree? Have you ever wanted to know how to research them? ‘Searching for Surnames: Challenges, Pitfalls and the Downright Ridiculous’ presented by Kirsty Gray via Zoom. Please book by emailing Susan Stevens at [email protected] (replace the 'at' with an @) ... See MoreSee Less
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Great news - Findmypast have confirmed that the long-awaited release of the 1921 census will go ahead in January 2022! When we spoke to Pete Benson at the Office of National Statistics, he explained what family historians can look forward to from the records:www.whodoyouthinkyouaremagazine.com/news/when-will-the-1921-census-be-available/ ... See MoreSee Less
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Booking has opened for our Ancestors in Print seminar. This will now be held as a series of four webinars open to both members and non-members. Registration opens on 15th January. More details here one-name.org/ancestors-in-print-webinar-series/ and here one-name.org/seminar-events/ ... See MoreSee Less
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Today's post has been written by Dr Janet Few.As a social historian, I was aware of asylum admissions records. Through them we gather intimate details; we find entries that reveal individual stories of anguish and despair. Real people, who had to cope with mental ill-health in a less enlightened age than our own, spring from the pages. I first had occasion to study these records for Devon’s County Asylum at Exminster when I was researching a minor character for a based-on-fact historical novel. Here before me was a poignant but fascinating insight into the life of an unfortunate individual, an unmarried woman with no descendants, someone who had been forgotten by history. Unlike some asylum records, there was no photograph but there was a detailed physical description, brief notes that created an evocative image of the woman, “Defective memory, keeps scratching her face, old [she was 58], well nourished, marked cavities, beard and moustache, dark eyebrows, blue eyes, pale complexion, flushed cheeks, far away expression, expression slightly worried in character, teeth bad. Weight 7½ stone.” There was information about her symptoms, which were a telling insight, an account of personal distress, “Suicidal. Sleeps badly, noisy at night. Says she hears voices and is to be killed. Says she has only a little bit of a tongue and no stomach, so nothing goes through her, constipated. Frequently gives way to swearing saying that the devil has changed her tongue. Formerly happy in religious faith but of late has said she was going to hell.” It was the last phrase that particularly caught my eye. Although I was initially interested in a single inmate, I spent hours looking at other cases and was surprised to see how frequently religion was mentioned. This was often expressed in terms of the individual believing that they had been abandoned by God, or by using the phrase “religious mania” as the reason for admittance to the asylum. As a researcher with a particular interest in both the history of medicine and the impact of non-conformity on rural communities, this was a corollary of religious adherence that I had not considered. I began to wonder about the links between mental ill-health and faith, in particular non-conformist religion, which was predominant in much of the West Country. The embrace of the chapel was all-consuming. Chapel-going went far beyond acts of communal worship. Your employer, your landlord, your friends, were almost certainly fellow chapel-goers. Your social life revolved around chapel activities. ‘Chapel’ vied with ‘church’ as the community with which you identified. Adherence to a particular way of worship engendered a sense of well-being, of belonging. Yet, if you spent your Sundays listening to evangelical preachers espousing the rhetoric of ‘hellfire and damnation’, the danger came for those who felt that they had transgressed in some way. In their own minds, those individuals would have believed that they had lost everything, including their immortal soul.Details of the Records of Devon County Lunatic Asylum held by the South West Heritage Trust can be found at devon-cat.swheritage.org.uk/records/3769A.Dr Janet Few is an historian and author of historical non-fiction and fiction. She is the chairman of Devon Family History Society. The novel referred to above is Barefoot on the Cobbles: a Devon Tragedy (Blue Poppy Publishing 2018).Image David Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0 creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons ... See MoreSee Less
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Here's our programme of #OnePlaceStudy Webinars for the first six months of 2021, featuring a great line-up of topics and speakers. Please note that two of the presentations will not be recorded for our YouTube channel and so can only be viewed 'live' by members—why not join up and join in?!? www.one-place-studies.org/join-us/ A huge Thank You to our speakers, and to Janet Few for coordinating these events! If you haven't already registered for next week's webinar, use the link in our secretary's email of 4 December 2020 or log in to our website and go to the Webinars page in the Members Only section. ... See MoreSee Less
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Some of you will be familiar with Lucy Sarson’s blog about The Crescent in #Taunton. This year she’s joining in with the One-Place Studies Society’s monthly blogging prompts. This month’s prompt is landmarks - but which landmark should she choose 🤔 ... See MoreSee Less
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Recent Twitter

#Wassailing the apple trees traditionally occurs on Old Twelfth Night, 17 January. The Queen of the #Wassail (good health) toasts the largest trees in the orchards with
cider-soaked bread. The crowd then drinks to the health of the trees to ensure a good crop. #FolkloreThursday


The #Wassail Queen on Old Twelfth Night, 17th Jan, was often a child. She would knock on the trunk of the oldest tree in the orchard & ask the fertility spirit within, known as the Apple Tree Man, “to awake”. She then placed cider-soaked bread in its branches. #FolkloreThursday

*** Online talk *** 18th January 2021. Do you have any unusual surnames in your family tree? Have you ever wanted to know how to research them? ‘Searching for Surnames: Challenges, Pitfalls and the Downright Ridiculous’ presented by Kirsty Gray via Zoom. See our website to book

One of Dorset's finest Briantspuddle was built by Sir Ernest Debenham c1929. Not so much a village more a agricultural enterprise. The Arts & Crafts homes had inside toilets and a acre of garden each. Unusually house numbers were based on the order the rent was collected.