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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 in Yeovil reopened to visitors on Thursday 12 August. Initially we will only be open in the mornings (10.00am-1.00pm) Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Since the UK government is still advising caution, and we want all our volunteers and visitors to feel safe, there are some conditions for visiting the Centre. Please click on the button to find out more.

Online Talks

Online talks are being hosted by some of our local Groups, giving us the opportunity to engage with our members and the family history community worldwide.

Visit Our Shop

Are you looking for Christmas presents?  Why not try looking in our on-line shop. We have a wide range of books and CDs relating to both Somerset and Dorset, as well as more general family-history and local-history publications.

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CD-Rs may only last 10 years! I’m thinking about how many photos I have on CDs since they were produced instead of negatives in the days when I had 35mm films developed.It’s so important to back up your family history, and ensure that your back-ups keep pace with technological advances. I follow the 321 rule of backing up my computer )& non-CD photos): 3 different back-ups, stored on 2 different types of storage media, 1 back-up should be off-site. I do my back-ups manually, there are services which will automatically back up your data every time you turn your computer off, but at a cost.We discovered in recent #UOSH training that CD-Rs may only last for 10 years before totally failing. The only way to preserve them is to digitise them. Time is running out! ⏱️#ConservationNightmare #ExploreYourArchive ... See MoreSee Less
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Timeline PhotosWanting to improve or refresh your research skills?Learn methods and strategies used by credentialed genealogists to solve complex research problems in our Research Methods and Strategies series. You don't have to be a professional to benefit from these methods! Get started today— spr.ly/6188Jg4Zs. ... See MoreSee Less
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The Taunton Elopement Scandal. It is impossible to tell this story from any involved persons perspective because even after looking at this incident for a couple of months and reading a book dedicated to it I still cannot decide who I think was telling the truth, although I am leaned towards one side, I will not say which as I would like you the reader to consider the evidence and draw your own conclusions. The story will come in three parts over three mornings.Part One - Elopement or abduction? We have two parties – the first is Miss Maria Glenn- represented by her uncle Mr George Leman Tuckett, who claims that Maria was coerced, abducted and almost forced to marry a young man against her will. The accused was James Bowditch, a twenty-five-year-old farm labourer, described as of slender build and good looking. He and nine others of his close family and friends stood trial for ‘a most devious and calculating conspiracy of wickedness, fraud and cruelty' to bully this 16-year-old girl into marriage, believing that she was heiress to a great fortune in the West Indies. The Bowditch’s defence was that Maria Glenn had fallen in love with the farm labourer, had spent time with him in which she was witnessed to be affectionate and loving toward him, and consented to the elopement. The Bowditch claim is that this ‘conspiracy’ had been invented by her uncle, who wanted to protect her good name against a scandal involving a love affair with someone of lower social standing.It is July 1818 and this most intriguing and scandalous case is to be heard at the Dorchester assize, although both parties come from Somerset, the reason for this will be clear as the story goes on. Justice Parkes resides over the case and a jury was sworn in. Both sides of the case have excellent legal representation. The case is read out – conspiracy to kidnap is the charge and the accused are Mrs Joan Bowditch, her two sons James and William, Susannah Bowditch and Elizabeth Gibbons, Joan’s daughters, Susannah Mulraine - a friend of the Bowditch’s, Mr and Mrs Paul, Joan’s daughter and son-in-law, and servants Elizabeth Snell and Jane Marks. For the prosecution, Mr Tuckett took the stand and recounted his story. Maria Glenn was his niece through marriage, she was born in St Vincent and her grandfather was a wealthy man, owning two sugar plantations. Maria had grown up in St Vincent with her mother. six years ago it was agreed she was to be educated in England and the Tuckett’s offered for her to reside with them and their small children in Taunton, where Mr Tuckett worked as a barrister. Mr Tuckett described his niece as a naive and unworldly girl, shy in her manner and plain in her features, she had always conducted herself with great dignity and her character had never been called into question as she always behaved with great propriety. Mr Tuckett stated that in the summer of 1817, Maria and one of his children got the whooping cough and were very unwell. Their doctor had recommended that they both required clean fresh air and so he went into an arrangement with Mrs Bowditch who resided at Holway Farm, on the outskirts of Taunton. The agreement was that Maria and his children would convalesce at the farm, and was to be given a section of the house to lodge in. He arranged for the nursemaid Mary-Ann Whitby to accompany them and he would provide food and visit regularly. He stated at this point he had no idea Mrs Bowditch had a son living at the property, he had seen James Bowditch at work but assumed he was a labourer.Mr Tuckett went on to say he had no inkling that anything foul was afoot when Maria returned to his house in September. The evening of the abduction was much like any other in the Tuckett house, the children played chess and Maria played the harp, something she did most beautifully, and then she retired to bed, she slept in the same room as her two cousins. Mrs Tuckett suffered terribly with her health and was often awake during the night, on the evening of Maria’s disappearance she left her bed-chamber at 4 o clock in the morning and noticed the bedroom door of the children’s room was open. Realising her niece was gone, she awoke her husband who went downstairs and found the window to his study, which was at the back of the house, wide open and Maria was gone. Desperately trying to think of any explanation as to his niece vanishing, his wife mentioned that a woman named Mrs Mulraine, who Maria had met at Holway Farm, had called round to speak with the 16-year-old on a few occasions, something she had thought odd and decided to discourage, there was no other irregularities in Maria’s life of which they could think. At first light, Mr Tuckett set about finding this mysterious woman. By the later morning, he had discovered where she lodged and went to confront her. Mrs Mulraine told the man that Maria was madly in love with James Bowditch and that they had eloped to Dorset to marry. She added that she had nothing to do with Maria running away from home or the elopement itself, she provided him with the address of Mr and Mrs Paul of Thornford where she believed the lovers had gone. Mr Tuckett found a bailiff named Mr Lee and a constable and asked them to go quickly to Thornford and bring back his niece- which they did.Next to take the stand was Maria Glenn. She was dressed in a simple dress and matching bonnet, her youth was very visible from her demeanour and fresh complexion, she was described by the Taunton Courier as an ‘interesting looking woman’. Maria spent a total of four hours under examination at the hearing.Maria Glenn told the court she was sent by her uncle to Holway Farm with her two young cousins and the nursemaid. They were given quarters and ate separately to the Bowditch’s. She testified she did not know of James Bowditch’s existence until three weeks into her stay. She had had little contact with him but he had helped her on and off of a pony on a few occasions. On the 2nd of September, the day before she was to return to her uncle's house, Mrs Joan Bowditch and Mrs Mulraine had come to her quarters and asked if she really was intending to leave that day, to which she replied she was. Joan Bowditch then said she was very worried about her son James, who had formed an attachment to Maria and was now lovesick and distraught that she was leaving. Maria told the court this was a great shock to her as they had had very little contact. She said she told the women her uncle would be very disappointed in any suggestion of a love match between them as they were not of the same social standing and it should not be spoken of again. Mrs Bowditch commented that it was little wonder James should fall in love with such a fine young lady but she was sure it would pass. Maria and her two cousins returned home the following day.On the 15th of September, Mrs Mulraine and a woman named Mrs Gibbons, one of Joan Bowditch’s married daughters, came to the Tuckett's house. They asked Maria’s aunt for permission for Maria to walk with them to which her aunt refused. Once they had her alone they told Maria that James Bowditch was now so distracted by his love for her that he had considered destroying himself. Mrs Gibbons went on to say he had spoken of killing Maria and then himself as he could not bear the misery. She quoted him as saying he would follow her to any part of the world and murder them both. Mrs Gibbons told Maria not to tell her uncle as this may place her in further danger. Mrs Mulraine then advised Maria that it would be better to consider a love match with James – for to be murdered would be truly shocking. After the women left the house, Maria said she was stopped on the stairs by Jane Marke, the family’s servant, who told her she knew of James’s love for her and that it would be very dangerous to tell her aunt and uncle.On the 20th of September, she was sent by her aunt to Taunton market to get some poultry. On her journey, she was met by Mrs Mulraine and James Bowditch. Mrs Mulraine said, ‘come with me I need to tell you something’, when Maria hesitated, James made a gesture with his arm and fiercely said ‘go now, you know what I’ve declared may happen, there is no occasion for me to repeat it.’ She reluctantly went with them to white lion court in East Street which is now known to be the home of William Bowditch. They took her into a parlour room where Mrs Mulraine presented a piece of paper and asked her to sign it. This would later be a letter supposedly written to James from Maria. Immediately after, a man appeared in the room, who she now knows to be Mr Oxenham, the clerk to a law attorney in the town. He came into the room with a document that appeared to be written in a different language, possibly Greek, he told her he desired for her to sign it and placed her shaking hand to the bottom of the page. As she did so, James and William Bowditch stood on either side of her.On the following Sunday whilst walking back from church with her aunt and Joan Bowditch, she was advised by her aunt she would be going away to boarding school at Chelsea in the coming days. Maria said she was greatly relieved to know she would soon be escaping this terrible situation she felt trapped in, and even though Jane Marke had brought her a note from someone stating James would be coming for her at the end of the week, she felt sure she would be in Chelsea by then. Maria told the court that this was the first night in a while that she did not cry herself to sleep.In the early hours of the same night, she was awoken by Jane Marke, who came without a candle and dressed in a long black dress to disguise herself. She woke Maria and said, ‘get up, they are waiting for you and you know what Mr Bowditch said.’ The servant slipped a dress over Maria's head, and without lacing it led her from the bedroom and down the stairs. Maria told the court she was too frightened to shout for help. Jane led her to her uncle's study where the window was stood open, a box of her belongings had been placed outside, and she could see William and James Bowditch waiting at the bottom of the garden. She was then taken to Holway farm, where, in the presence of Mrs Mulraine, she was put in a bedroom. As Mrs Mulraine left the room she spoke to her saying ‘Oh! what will become of me’, to which the woman replied ‘You had better not let Mr Bowditch hear you say that. However, I had nothing to do with it.’ Maria said that another unnamed woman present said this was a most scandalous and abominable thing, that such a young creature be in this situation.A little later Joan Bowditch took her to the kitchen where she forced her to drink a cup of something black and bitter. The Bowditch brothers then led her across a field to a gig, where she was forced to drink some more of the unknown liquid. She then fell into a deep stupor. When she awoke she was in an unfamiliar place, which she would later realise was Thornford in Dorset, at the home of Mr and Mrs Paul. Mrs Paul being Joan Bowditch’s daughter. They were met by Mr Paul, who asked James Bowditch about the journey to which he replied, ‘I could hardly keep her in the gig, she was one minute laughing and another crying’, to which Mr Paul replied, ‘well never mind! we shall soon have the bells in the parish ringing.’ They took her immediately to a room in the house where a tall man sat waiting with papers strewn across the desk. The man asked her age and she replied sixteen, he then asked if she had the consent from her parent or guardian to marry to which she replied she did not. The man then looked at James Bowditch and said ‘well this marriage could not be lawful. But never mind you shall be married anyway.’ She then felt faint and was taken back to the room upstairs.Later that day she was brought downstairs for dinner and a clergyman named Mr Templer had been invited to eat there. She said she had sat at the dining table as ordered but did not eat any food. She later laid her hands on some paper and ink and had endeavoured to write to her uncle but was caught by James Bowditch, who took it and called her a little bitch, stating angrily that nobody could blame him if he used her unkindly. The following morning her uncle sent men to come and rescue her and she was returned to Taunton.Mary Ann Whitby, the Tuckett’s nursemaid then took the stand to say she had never witnessed any familiarity between Maria and James Bowditch, there was never any hint of endearment or elopement between the two. She also confirmed she had seen Maria into bed on the evening of the abduction and there was no indication that Maria was planning to flit. The final prosecution witness was Reverend Blakesley Cooper, who proved he had granted a license of marriage to James Bowditch, on the oath that the girl was of age and had gained consent.The Defence then began their case. The first in the witness box was Mr Oxenham, a copying clerk who had worked with the highly esteemed Mr Kingslake, lawyer of Taunton. He testified he had never seen Maria Glenn before the day she came to his office to view the letters (which will be mentioned in the case) Mr Oxenham then provided an alibi for his whereabouts on the day Miss Glenn claimed she was forced to sign paperwork. Two letters were then presented in court. The first read –‘My dear James, In answer to your last letter, I want you to buy the licence and I assure you I was twenty-one on the 28th of August. Remember that I have no independent fortune. Can there be any blame in us forming this alliance when love and interest actuates the deed?Yours Truly, Maria Glenn Sept 14, 1817’The second letter was addressed to Mrs Susannah Mulraine –‘Miss Glenn sends her kindest love to Mrs Mulraine and informs her that it will be perfectly out of her power to see her before half past twelve tonight as her aunt and uncle will be with her If she goes for a walk. She understands that she has something to communicate with her of consequence. If so she would be obliged to Mrs Mulraine if she could write and inform her of it by this bearer – Sunday Morning.’A third letter was also presented in which Miss Glenn had written to a friend. Miss Glenn acknowledged the last letter but told the court she knew nothing of the previous letters and they had not been written by her. Next to the stand was local man Charles Puddy, who lived next to Holway Farm. He testified that he had witnessed Miss Glenn and James Bowditch on several occasions, both behaving affectionately. He said it was clear the girl had a liking for James. On one occasion he had seen the two kiss whilst sat in a waggon, another time witnessed them walking hand in hand and on one evening whilst Miss Glenn was staying at the farm, saw her in the kitchen sat on James Bowditch’s knee. Mr Puddy stated that on an occasion Miss Glenn had gone to his house to view some paintings and was very taken with a picture of a Gretna Green elopement.Another local man, Samuel Mansfield, told the court that he had seen Miss Glenn and James Bowditch in the summerhouse at the farm, behaving very affectionately with each other and had also seen them walking in the fields hand in hand. At this point the prosecution asked if he could be sure it was Maria he saw, suggesting that part of the conspiracy was to place a woman with similar looks to fool the community. At first, Mr Mansfield said he was sure it was Maria, but when pressed further stated he could not be absolutely sure.Mrs Warren then took the stand, she lived near the Tuckett’s and said she had witnessed the two of them walking in French Weir, she told the court that Maria was not wearing a bonnet and she clearly recognised her face. Another woman named Mary Priest stated that Mrs Mulraine had stayed at her property and that Maria Glenn had called at the house looking for James Bowditch. She had also seen them walking together on East Street in Taunton, and they both appeared to be fond of each other. She added that she had gone to the christening of Mrs Mulraine’s child at St Mary Magdalene’s church and could testify that Maria Glenn stood as godmother, alongside James Bowditch as godfather.The Reverend George Templer took the stand and confirmed he had dined at the Paul’s home on the day mentioned. He stated that he witnessed no sadness in Miss Glenn’s behaviour and she had actually eaten a hearty meal of beef and apple pudding. The reverend’s servant Edward Jones said he saw Maria Glenn with James Bowditch and she had been sat on his lap as they played dominos. He also saw her take her breakfast in the kitchen of the Pauls home with James, where she appeared perfectly happy and in no way distressed. She had said that she had learnt to make butter and was hoping to learn to make cheese, appearing to relish the idea of being a farmer’s wife.The only Bowditch to take the stand was Sarah Bowditch, who is never really mentioned in this story. Sarah told the court that she had seen Miss Glenn’s handwriting and could confirm the letters were written in her hand. Speaking of Miss Glenn’s stay at the farm, she said Maria had busied herself with her cousins during the day but would come to the kitchen in the evenings where Sarah had witnessed the most impropriety in Maria's behaviour, such as purposely treading on her brother's toes, throwing handkerchiefs at him and sitting on his knee. Sarah testified she was present on the night they left for Thornford and Miss Glenn was in an excited and good-spirited mood.Francis Smith, a farmhand sent to get the gig on the night they left, testified he was present when the party left for Thornford. He witnessed the young lady board the gig first and after was joined by James Bowditch. The young woman had then spoken to William Bowditch saying ‘Come up into the gig, there’s plenty of room’, to which William replied he would follow on his horse.William Cridland of Thornford then took the stand and said he had seen the couple arrive in the area. He swore on oath that he saw them alight from the gig and gave them directions to the Paul residence, which they followed , walking away arm in arm. He saw them again the following day near the Yeovil bridge and could testify that Miss Glenn was sat comfortably in between two men, looking quite content.In defence of these claims, Miss Glenn’s counsel called Mr Long, St Mary Magdalene’s parish clerk, who said that although the reverend who conducted the christening of Mrs Mulraine’s child was too unwell to testify, he could confirm that the woman who acted as godmother was not this woman that sat before him today- Maria Glenn. The defence also recalled Mary Ann Whitby who told the court that Mrs Mulraine had told her she should say Miss Glenn was at the christening and stood as godmother.Sarah Northam was then called, she lived near the Tuckett's home and said that she had been called out by a neighbour who had said ‘Now, you can see that’s Miss Glenn with the Bowditch boy’, as a couple walked off arm in arm toward French Weir. She said if she saw any more of it she would speak to Mr Tuckett but later her daughter returned from washing her hands at the Weir to say the woman was not Maria. Miss Glenn was then recalled and denied all the claims of the defence's witnesses. The prosecution then stated that as part of the conspiracy a young woman similar to Maria’s build and dress was used to deceive Mr Cridland and others that saw them from afar.As Sergeant Pell began asking Miss Glenn questions, a member of the jury interrupted, stating that they did not feel they needed to hear any further evidence, nor did they need summing up from Justice Parkes. The member of the jury stated the multiple witnesses were clearly the defences effort to continue their deceitful conspiracy. They suggested that Elizabeth Snell be freed as she was not implicated in any statements but that they had heard enough to make their decision. Justice Parkes observed that it was irregular to end before all witnesses called, he concurred that the defence was made up of calculated lies and how sorry he was to see a continuation of conspiracy to ruin a young ladies good name. Turning to Miss Glenn he complimented her on her strength and firmness whilst giving evidence. He then dismissed Elizabeth Snell before finding the remaining nine accused people guilty.So is this the end of the Glenn/Bowditch saga? Had justice been done? Absolutely not! The Bowditch’s immediately applied for retrial and the case went to the court of Westminster.....Part two tomorrow at 8am. #somersetstories #tauntonsomerset #Taunton #somerset #georgianscandal ... See MoreSee Less
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We are thrilled to announce that, as of tomorrow, we will once again be welcoming our wonderful visitors and supporters through the door! The volunteers have been working hard to put lots of new exhibitions in place, which includes our main temporary display charting the history of Sherborne's fairs, festivals and markets. We also feature the portrait of a pioneer vaccinator from Yetminster, Benjamin Jesty, and one of our newest acquisitions, the 17th century longcase clock made by Simon Aish of Sherborne.Initially, we will be open for three days a week (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, from 10.30am-4.30pm), as well as on Sunday 21st November (11am-2pm) and Sunday 5th December (11am-2pm). Although we are operating on reduced hours at the moment, we hope to increase these depending on the availability of Front of House volunteers. If you would like to support Sherborne’s heritage by becoming a volunteer at the museum we’d be really pleased to hear from you. Please get in touch with the Curator, Elisabeth, at [email protected] We look forward to seeing you! ... See MoreSee Less
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Are you (virtually) attending The #ReallyUsefulShow? If you are, do call in to see us in our booth, we’d love to chat to anyone with ancestors in Somerset & Dorset! #FamilyHistoryHave you got your ticket for this year's Really Useful Family History Show yet? 12-13 November, 2021. Book here: www.fhf-reallyuseful.com/day-ticket-for-november-2021-show-208 and use Discount Code Penny21 to get tickets at £8.50 instead of £10pp. ... See MoreSee Less
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Forthcoming local group talks:The West Dorset group’s next talk, at 2.00pm (GMT) on Saturday 13 November 2021, will be held online, using Zoom, and all members are welcome to attend. Brian Bates will discuss his new book, Villains, Victims and Tragedies: stories from the Dorset Assizes. If you would like to attend please email [email protected]East Dorset Group. The next talk will be by Roger Hills, The Wimborne Leaze, at 7.30pm (for 8.00pm) on Monday 15 November 2021, in the Hilda Coles Learning Centre, Museum of East Dorset, 23-29 High St, Wimborne Minster, Dorset, BH21 1HR.Blackmore Vale Group. On Wednesday 17 November Helen Baggott will discuss The Mayflower Connection. 7.30pm at The Exchange, Old Market Hill, Sturminster Newton, DT10 1FH.South Dorset Group. Graham Perry will give a talk on Photos from Weymough Museum. Friday 19 November 2021. On 10 December 2021 Sue Virgin will give a talk (rescheduled from August) on Upwey and Broadway: past lives. Both talks are at 3.00pm, at St Aldhelm's Church Centre, Spa Road, Weymouth, DT3 5EW. ... See MoreSee Less
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They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them. ... See MoreSee Less
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A broken link on the #OnePlaceStudies Directory was reported this morning. 😕
It was for the Wedmore #OnePlaceStudy in Somerset, hosted by WikiTree, but now discontinued.🙁
A quick internet search revealed there is a #HouseHistory in Wedmore which will now be added as a link! 🙂