The history of British marriage certificates

Civil registration in England and Wales commenced on 1 July 1837, and relates to the birth, marriage and death of an individual. In Scotland records began in 1855 and in Ireland in 1864, with Irish non-Catholic marriages recorded from 1845.

In England and Wales, up to that time, the government had relied on the church to register the population but this was was not a complete record, not a full listing of the population. Also, mass printing of government administration forms was now possible due to advances in printing technology.  A single tier registration system was introduced, based on the administrative poor law unions, which had been set up in 1834, and previously the administrative hundreds. These became the registration districts. Births, not baptisms, and deaths, not burials, were recorded as well as marriages.  Parish and nonconformist baptism & burial registers were still completed at the same time that the new civil registration system began.  The Act also permitted marriages to be performed in Register Offices and outside the confines of the Anglican Church. Many nonconformist chapels were authorised to perform marriages. Since 1837 there has been much fine tuning of the system and various new regulations and legislation have been introduced.

It can be very rewarding to send off for a copy of our ancestor’s marriage certificate.

And below are are some pointers to understanding what you may read.

No exact age may be shown and ages may be recorded that the bride or groom were “of full age”, an age in excess of 21 years. Although this statement may have been false to avoid a minor having to obtain parental consent.  Where an actual age is given, it is usually reasonably accurate but it may also have been altered for a variety of reasons and remember not everybody actually knew their exact age!

The same address for both parties may show and  this was common to avoid paying two sets of banns fees if one or other party resided in a different parish.  Marriages traditionally took place in the parish of the bride.

The absence of a father’s name and occupation usually meant he was unknown.  But, also a made-up name, or a male name with in the family, could have been used with (deceased).  I have seen several suspected examples of this on certificates.  Also this is a clue of illegitimacy.  If the father was in fact dead the name was usually filled in and the word deceased written alongside it.  The inclusion of the name of the father without the word deceased did not automatically mean that he was alive at the time of the marriage! Remember the certificate was being hand written with details often being given by the bride and groom who could not always read and write, and vital information may not of been asked for.