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What information is on a marriage certificate

what information is on a marriage certificate


To understand some of the current complexities of marriage in this country it is necessary to understand some of the historical background. Marriages in this country (until very recently) fell into one of six categories. The four most commonly occurring ones were marriages

  1. in the Established Church (Church of England in England, the Church in Wales in Wales),
  2. in a Register Office
  3. in a non-conformist Church
  4. by Jewish or Quaker ceremony.

These tutorials - while much of the information will be the same for these four - are specifically about marriages in Register Offices, Non-conformist Churches and those of Quakers and Jews as the Established Church has always taken total responsibility for its marriages and I am not entirely familiar with the fine detail.

The way in which the process of marriage shall take place was laid down in Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1754. This Act laid down that marriages (with the exception of Quakers and Jews) could only take place in the Parish Church and were either by banns or by licence. They had to take place between the hours of 8am and 12 noon (remember poor Fanny in Far from the Madding Crowd who went to the wrong church and got to the right one after midday?!) This was later extended from 8am to 3pm and finally to the current hours of 8am to 6pm.

Marriage by banns meant that a couple had to be resident in the parish for one week before the banns could be read, banns had to be written into a banns notice book and were either called in the church or proclaimed in a public place such as a market. The total process thus took one month from the start of residency to the completion of banns when the marriage could take place. Notice that the couple (or individual) only had to be resident for that one week - it was not necessary to be resident for the whole month. A huge number of couples used this loophole to have a marriage in a place other than the one they truly lived in and they married in other places for a variety of reasons ranging from wanting to be married in a particularly pretty church, to wanting to return to their parents area, to wanting to keep the marriage hidden from the people who would know them (and they couldn't afford the licence fee).

I do not know the specific requirements for marriage by licence that were laid down at the same time but the marriages also had to be written in to the marriage licence book.

All marriages including Catholic and other non-conformist ones had to be performed in the parish church with the exception of the Quakers and the Jews. The reason for the exception of the last two groups was twofold. Firstly neither group was baptised in the Christian faith, the Jews for obvious reasons and the Quakers because they believed that each man could communicate himself with God and it was not necessary to have an intermediary. Secondly both groups did not believe that a specific building was necessary for the practice of their religion. The Jews only require 10 members of the synagogue and the Ark of the Covenant to be present and the Quakers only need 2 people gathered together in Christ's name for there to be a religious gathering. Quakers and Jews were therefore exempt from the rule that marriages had to be performed in the parish church - helped no doubt by their outstanding record keeping and thorough investigation by their societies into the bride and grooms marital status and relationship to one another and reasons for marriage. While most of their marriages did in fact take place in a Synagogue or Meeting House they did not have to and it was perfectly possible for the marriage to take place in a private house or other building of their choice. 250 years later while the place of marriage has been widened to include a large number of other secular buildings it is still not possible for the vast majority of people to get married in any building they choose (only registered ones) and they certainly can't get married outside.

This was the legal basis of marriage in 1837 and still remains essentially the same today. Marriages may be in the Church of England in which case all the legal preliminaries are made by the Church, and the marriage is solemnized in a Church. The only difference that the 1837 introduction of registration made to the Established Church was that it now had to keep two identical registers one of which stays with the Church authorities when completed and the other is given to the Superintendent Registrar.

Marriages may be entirely civil with notice given to the Superintendent Registrar(s) of the district(s) in which the parties lived. Until 2000, there was still the dual system of 1 weeks residency followed by 3 weeks in which the notice is displayed (for any legal objections to marriage to be made) or of 15 days residency by one party followed by the issue of the licence for marriage after one clear working day. Saturday is a working day in this respect but all Sundays, Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are not. From the start of 2000, marriage by licence (except in the Church of England) was abolished and now all parties have to give 15 days clear notice of marriage. Only under exceptional circumstances can this period of notice be waived.

Marriages may take place in a non-conformist church that has been registered for marriages in which case all the preliminaries will take place as stated above but the actual marriage would be in a church.

Marriages may take place anywhere for Quakers and Jews after the proper civil preliminaries have been made.

The fifth type of marriage is reserved for the housebound or detained. If someone is too ill to be moved, or is in prison and cannot be allowed to go to a register office for a marriage then it is possible, after the proper civil preliminaries and various other extra ones too (such as evidence from a doctor about the health of the housebound) for the marriage to take place at a private home or in an institution or prison.

Lastly there are marriages by Registrar General's licence. These are reserved for the dying when all the usual preliminaries are waived and the marriage may take place at any place at any time of the day or night once permission from GRO has been obtained.


The first heading is for the registration district and this is the name you will find in the indexes at St Catherines (or Myddleton Place from 1st April 1997). Registration districts were not split into sub-districts for the purposes of marriage and a rural district could be extremely large - even in the past some of the registration districts could cover an enormous area. The point is that you have to remember that the name of the registration district will not coincide with the name(s) of the town or village that the couple were living in and indeed the name of the registration district could even be from an adjoining county (see the earlier tutorial on births).

The next heading reads (with slight variations over the years) "Marriage solemnized at. (1). in the District of. (2). in the County of. (3). " or "Marriage solemnized at. (4). in the Parish of. (5). in the County of. (3). " (Church of England marriages only)

(1) this could read something such as The Register Office or The Baptist Church, High Street or a private address (rare)

(2) this will be a repeat of the registration district name given in the heading above

(3) this will be Surrey or York or whatever

(4) this will say something like the Parish Church of St Matthews

(5) this will be the parish name such as St Matthews

The heading there needs to be checked with the line immediately below the groom and brides details. There are 6 possible variations here

(1) Church of England/The Church in Wales " Married in the parish church (or a chapel name) according to the rites and ceremonies of the established church (or the Church of England or in the Church in Wales) " or some similar wording.

(2) All other non-conformist churches or other religious groups (except Quakers or Jews) "Married in the. according to the rites and ceremonies of. " Look carefully at this line because the religious denomination shown in the top heading does not have to be the same as the one shown underneath the entry. So you could get an entry which reads "Marriage solemnized at the Baptist Church, Queen Street " at the top and has "according to the rites of ceremonies of the Presbyterians" underneath. Provided that the religious building is registered for marriages, any denomination may hold a marriage there after the proper legal preliminaries and with a registrar or authorised person present. Small religious denominations without their own registered building or with a building too small for a marriage might do this.

You can get rarities such as "Marriage solemnized at the. " at the top and that bit only repeated without the "according to the rites and ceremonies" bit underneath. That would happen if the minister failed to show up at the wedding - the register or authorised person would do the legally binding parts of the ceremony and the couple would be legally married but it would not be by the rites and ceremonies of the religious group even though the marriage had been in a church.

(3) "Married at 4 The High Street" according to the rites and ceremonies of the Quakers (or Jews)or "Married at Braeside House. "etc. Quakers and Jews might have a marriage ceremony in a registered building in which case 2 would apply but they could equally get married in a private residence or hotel. If you have a private address as the place of marriage you need to check whether this is indeed because it was a Quaker or Jewish marriage or whether you have a deathbed marriage or a marriage of detained or housebound people.

(4) "Married in the Register Office. " There will be no further qualifications to this

(5) "Married at St Thomas Hospital (or a private address) according to the rites and ceremonies of. " either a non-conformist denomination or Established Church together with the ceremony being conducted according to the Registrar General's licence means it was deathbed marriage

(6) "Married at. (private address)" together with "according to the rites and ceremonies of" but without mention of the Registrar General means a marriage of people actually taking place in the prison or mental institution where one of them is detained or in the private home of a housebound person.

Entry Number

The first unnumbered column on the certificate is simply the entry number in the book. It can be any number between 1 and 500. These days churches etc have a book that is commensurate with the number of marriages performed - so a small church that only does one marriage in a blue moon will only have a marriage book of 10 entries while the marriage register for a popular church in a large parish or catchment will have as many as 500 entries. The church will have two identical registers and when they are complete one book is deposited with the superintendent registrar and the other is kept by the church authorities and may finish up in the county record office or in the local church.

Some small chapels were issued with 500 entry registers in 1837 and still have not completed them so it is quite possible for a superintendent registrar (SR) to have no record of the marriages in a church in their district (another reason why it is better to apply for your marriages certificates from GRO who receive copies every quarter, rather that the local SR).

The entry number in the marriage book has nothing to do with the GRO reference in their indexes.

The first numbered column - Column 1 - is the date of the marriage. The marriage entry is the only record that is completed at the time of the event and there is no separate date for the registration as there is for births and deaths. It should be recorded in the form "Twentyseventh March 1997" but the early records are written in many different forms such as 7th August 1876 or May 9 1900 or November the thirteenth 1854. There is no time given for the marriage but marriage was only legal between the hours of 8am and 12 noon at the start of registration and from 8am to 3pm until fairly recently. It is still only legal between 8am and 6pm.

Names of Bride and Groom

Column two is the name and surname of the bride and groom at the date of the marriage. Those last 6 words are crucial - the name used at the date of marriage is not necessarily the one on the birth certificate of the bride or groom. These days the words "Name changed by Deed Poll" or "formerly known as. " or "otherwise" indicate that the bride or groom has changed their name since birth but that is a fairly recent phenomenon. In the past, the bride or groom were simply asked for the names they were known by. Remember that it was not necessary to produce any proof of the use of a name.

Names were changed in all sorts of ways. One of the most common would be by the bride or groom using a stepfathers surname. Or a person might use a mothers maiden name or indeed a name chosen at random because they didn't like the one they were born with or because they wanted their original identity hidden for a variety of reasons.

First names also frequently changed - the child named Albert Henry is always known as James for some reason and that is the name he marries in.

In theory it should be possible to use the column showing fathers name and surname as a guide to the original surname of the bride or groom but fathers details too are not always accurate.

Age at the Date of Marriage

The next column shows the age at the date of marriage. There are all sorts of problems here. First of all the information is only as accurate as the bride or groom cared to make it - remember that unless the bride or groom appeared to be under the age of consent they were not asked for proof of their age or identity.

There are many instances when the age was "massaged" to make it a little more palatable! Brides who were older than their grooms often "lost" a few years or grooms who were younger "acquired" a few. Some people genuinely wouldn't know precisely how old they were.

Unfortunately some marriage registers simply state "of full age" which tells you nothing except that the bride and/or groom were aged 21 or over and could have been anything from 21 to 80+ - not terribly helpful. It was always possible for a bride under 21 to add a few years if she thought she could get away with it so that she did not require the consent of her family.

In the past, at the age of 21 a man or a woman was considered old enough to give their own consent to their own marriage. Under that age, the consent of the parent(s) or the legal gaurdians or the court was required. Parents of people under the age of consent were notified separately that a notice of marriage of their child had been taken - giving them time to object to the marriage if they should wish. If one or both parents objected and stated so (no reasons need be given) then the marriage cannot take place until the bride or groom reaches the age of their own consent. Technically, a marriage of a couple who should have had consent of parents and have married without it is not legal.

The age at which a person could marry and at which they would require consent has changed since 1837. Then marriage could be at 12 for a girl and 14 for a boy, but consent of parent(s) was required for both up to the age of 21. In 1926 the age of marriage for both parties was raised to 16 but consent for both was still required until 21. Now, the age at which people can marry is still 16 but the age for consent has been lowered to 18.

The only exception to the requirement for consent was for a second marriage before the age of 21 ie if a bride/groom had married once with consent of parents and had been widowed they could marry the second time without consent of parents. I thought that the logic of that was - if they had tried it once and still wanted to do it again. but in fact it stems round the fact that once a woman has married, her father no longer has legal status with regard to consent, and so she can give her own consent to her own marriage.

Marriage before the legal age is invalid.

Marital Status

The fifth column shows the marital status at the time of the marriage. The most commonly occurring ones in the last century were bachelor or spinster or widow or widower.

You have to remember that it is not possible to prove that someone has not married - it is very easy to prove that someone has been married and also that a marriage has ended in the death of one of the partners or in divorce. There are relevant papers to show these events but there is nothing which exists to show that someone has not married. If a man or woman states that they have not been married, then they have to be taken to be speaking the


Unfortunately there is, equally, nothing to stop them from lying! And plenty of bigamous marriages to show how easy it is to lie.

No matter how old they are, any woman who has not previously been married is entered as a spinster and any man not previously married is a bachelor.

It is also possible for a man or woman to be stated to be a bachelor or a spinster when there has been a previous marriage. If a person had been previously married and that marriage was void or voidable then they would revert to the marital status previously existing. So someone whose first marriage was void or annulled would be entered as bachelor or spinster on their second marriage.

A marriage would be void if a legal impediment to the marriage existed ie one of the following a) one of the parties was under age b) the marriage was within the forbidden degrees of relationship c) the marriage was between two people of the same sex d) there was an existing legal marriage for one of the parties

The age of consent has changed over the years and the degrees of forbidden relationship have also changed with time. At present (and in the past) it is forbidden for a man to marry his mother or adopted mother, grandmother, daughter or adopted daughter, niece, granddaughter, aunt, or sister, and the equivalent relationships are banned for a woman. It may be possible now for a couple to marry within the boundaries of step and in-law relationships depending on circumstances but these were forbidden in the past: eg it is now legal (since 1912) to marry a brother or sister in law (good thing Gilbert and Sullivan weren't writing their operas today!)

(Incidentally, it is assumed in law that the innocent party IS innocent and did not knowingly contract an unlawful marriage).

Before August 1971 a person whose marriage was voidable and had been annulled would also have reverted to their previously existing marital status at their next marriage. Since that date the marital status would be "previous marriage annulled". A voidable marriage is one which meets the legal requirements but which the court has annulled. A marriage is voidable if there is an inability or wilful refusal by one party to consummate the marriage, if one of the parties is deemed to be mentally incapable of understanding the purport and meaning of marriage (this could be from mental handicap or from mental illness - temporary or otherwise) or if the bridegroom had married the bride believing her to be carrying his child when she had deliberately misled him. This last example would be of a marriage under duress and if either party is forced into marriage under duress that is also a voidable marriage. None of these marriages HAVE to be annulled - the grounds exist for an annulment if one of couple wish to end the marriage but they don't HAVE to eg if a couple are both quite happy in an unconsummated marriage that is their affair, and mentally handicapped people are not barred from marriage if their families/carers feel this is an appropriate step for them (but the family of a wealthy heiress might try to have a marriage annulled on the grounds of mental instability if they felt that their emotionally unstable daughter had been talked into a marriage by a fortune hunter).

In this century increasing numbers of brides and grooms have "previous marriage dissolved" as their marital status (this was shown as "previously the wife/husband of. in the early part of this century). In the last century, divorce was immensely expensive as each divorce required an individual act of parliament to dissolve it and was also considered a great scandal. Few couples therefore were divorced and anyone in a marriage that was effectively finished but could not be dissolved would either have to admit the truth to a new partner and the couple live together as husband and wife without going through any legal ceremony or had to lie to a new partner and go through a bigamous marriage.


The next column shows the occupation at the time of marriage. A line through this column does not necessarily mean that the bride or groom was not in employment. In the last century most women did not have an occupation shown on a marriage certificate even when most women worked. Only paid employment is shown and only acceptable occupations so you would not find burgular or prostitute! Sometimes the bride or groom makes the occupation sound grander than it was in fact but on other occasions the bride or groom has made less of it.


The address at the time of the marriage can often be a misleading column. Except for a couple having a Jewish or Quaker marriage for whom totally different rules apply, when a couple wanted to get married one of them had to

  1. live in the parish for a C of E wedding
  2. live in the district in which the nonconformist church was situated

But there where two exceptions.

If a couple lived in one parish/district but regularly worshipped at a church in a different parish/district then they could get married in that church while still living at their real addresses if one of them was on the electoral roll for a C of E church or could state that the nonconformist church was where they usually worshipped (and the Minister would agree that was so if approached). I have known a bride state that her usual place of worship was a Methodist chapel 300 miles away - she rarely went to church but when she did, that was the church she attended and she didn't go anywhere else -it was therefore her usual place of worship.

Or if a couple wanted a marriage in a denomination for which there was no church/building in either of their districts, then the couple could nominate the specific church of the correct denomination where they wished to get married (and this did not necessarily have to be the one nearest to either of their districts). eg the nearest Greek Orthodox church to me is 20 miles away and if I was Greek Orthodox then I could nominate that church for my marriage if I chose or I could nominate one that was 50 miles away if I preferred.

In general then the address of either the bride or groom will be close to the church they are marrying in but it does not have to be so - the registration district for the church may be many miles away from the bride/grooms address(es).

However, for a variety of reasons a couple might want to get married in a church or a register office which was not in the district in which they lived and they did not fall into one of the two exceptions mentioned above. The only way round that was to establish residency (for one or both of them) in the district in which they wanted to get married. All that was necessary was for one or both of them to go and live at an address for 7 days in the required registration district and at the end of the 7 days go and give notice of marriage (This information is correct for non-conformist marriages and marriages in the register office - I do not know about the specific rules of residency for Church of England marriages). They did not then have to stay at that address but could return to their usual address. In other words - having an address on a marriage certificate is not necessarily where the bride and/or groom usually lived.

Name and Occupation of the Father of the Bride / Groom

The last two columns on the marriage certificate are the name of the father of the groom/bride and the father's occupation.

The man named in this column - with the exception of an adoptive father after 1926 - should be the natural father of the bride or groom. It should NOT be stepfather, godfather, mothers latest lover or anyone else.

If a bride or groom did not have her/his father named on their birth certificate that does not stop them being named on a marriage certificate. My illegitimate Joseph Edward Calvert (mother was Mary Calvert) named his father as Robert Twistleton when he - Joseph - got married. On the other hand my illegitimate David Culshaw (mother was Mary Culshaw) named a man also called David Culshaw as his father on the marriage certificate but I am sure this is a figment of David's imagination - he just did not want to see blanks on the marriage certificate.

On the other hand - if a bride or groom does not want her/his father shown on a marriage certificate they do not have to. The Times carried a half page on the recent marriage of Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit with a copy of their marriage certificate showing that Liam had refused to have his father's details on the marriage entry - apparently Liam and his father have not spoken for 20 years. And I have done a marriage where the groom refused to have his fathers details. His bride did not know who her father was and he insisted that if she had to have blanks for father then so would he.

If the father of the bride or a groom has died by the time of the marriage then it should say "deceased" under his name but this is not a very reliable item.

The last column is father's occupation. It should say "retired" if a father had reached retirement age but that was not an option for a lot of men in the past! Unfortunately when it was an option there are plenty of registers around which simply say retired. Where you are trying to sort out descent with fairly common names the fathers name and occupation can be a considerable help. For example I have two Thomas Bishops born within a year of one another getting married in Skipton, both with fathers called Thomas. The fact that one father was a tailor while the other was a nailmaker was the only way of sorting the two Thomas out.

Rest Of The Certificate

Don't neglect to look at the rest of the marriage certificate because it can still tell you something.

Under the main entry are the words "Married in the. ".

For a C of E marriage it will say something on the lines of "Parish Church according to the rites and ceremonies of the Established Church".

For other non-conformist churches it will say something like "The Baptist Church according to the rites and ceremonies of the Baptists" or "The Catholic Church according to the rites and ceremonies of the Roman Catholics.

Quaker certificates say (after the place of the marriage) "according to the usages of the Society of Friends" and I believe that a Jewish marriage would state something on the same lines.

However - the rites and ceremonies bit does not have to match the denomination of the church. It is quite possible to have something along the lines of "Married in the Baptist Church according to the rites and ceremonies of the Seventh Day Adventists". In other words it is quite possible for one religious denomination to borrow another denominations church for a wedding - quite often done for small religious groups who do not have a building which is registered for marriages. A marriage like this will be registered in the marriage register of the building where it took place - there will not be a marriage register for the actual denomination of the ceremony.

It is also possible that it will simply state "Married in the Catholic Church of St Anthony" without the qualifying words stating whose rites and ceremonies were used. This would happen if the couple had given notice for a marriage - it was all fixed up with the proper minister and a registrar but on the day something went wrong such as the minister falling ill or getting held up in a snowstorm or something. If the registrar was present that registrar would do the ceremony as though in a register office with the legally binding declaration and contract and someone else could lead the congregation through hymns and prayers etc. but without the authorised minister it could not be "by the rites and ceremonies of".

The last part of the line under the main entry reads "by. after or by me.

Filling the gap you might find

(1) "by certificate" which would be found on a marriage entry in a register office marriage register or in a non-conformist marriage register. It shows that the couple waited 3 weeks between giving notice and getting married.

(2) "by licence" which would be found in the same set of registers and would indicate that the couple may have married with less than three weeks between giving the notice and getting married (minimum of 1 clear working day). However - a licence lasts three months so the marriage wasn't necessarily done in a rush. It may have been easier to give only the one licence notice rather than the two that would have been needed for a marriage by certificate if the bride and groom lived in different districts.

(3) "after banns" which can only be found in a Church of England marriage. It is the equivalent of the certificate for the register office/non-conformist churches.

(4) "by common licence" which can only be found in a Church of England marriage. The licence has been issued by the Bishop for the diocese and I believe is the equivalent of the licence in a register office or non-conformist church.

(5) "by special licence" which can only be found in a Church of England marriage. The licence has been issued by the Archbishop not the Bishop. I believe that this would allow the couple to get married in a church which is not the usual parish church for either of them but I am not sure of this.

(6) "by Registrar Generals" which could be found on any marriage certificate except for one where the marriage was by the rites of the Church of England. It is issued when one of the couple is dying and it allows a marriage ceremony to take place at any location at any time of the day or night.

(7) "By superintendent registrars certificate" is a very rare finding. It is issued for a Church of England marriage but instead of banns being called in the church, notice of marriage has been given to the superintendent registrar. In the early days this would be necessary where services were held so infrequently e.g. in a small chapel,that it was not possible to call the banns on three succesive Sundays and get married all within the three months time limit. Later on it was sometimes used as an expedient if for some reason the vicar did not want to make the forthcoming marriage in the church public knowledge and have the entry in his banns book which anyone can look at. The sort of problem might be where a bride and groom were of different persuasions and the vicar either didn't want the congregtion in general to know or even the bride/grooms family if he thought they might try to disrupt the ceremony. It is sometimes used these days when one of the couple is divorced and the vicar does not want it generally known that he is marrying a divorcee in his church.


These should be the signature of the bride and groom and the witnesses. It is a pity that many C of E clergy insist on people writing their full names which of course is quite different from them signing their signatures. If you want to compare signatures to ensure you are looking at the correct bride or groom or whatever or to see if one person has been impersonating another. then a full name written out is not as useful as a proper signature.

The witnesses should be personally known to the bride or groom. After all their function is to witness in a court of law what they heard and saw at a marriage ceremony and it might be necessary to contact them at a later stage to witness on your behalf. However, some couples do use witnesses off the street that they do not know from Adam!

It is not necessary for a marriage register to be completed and signed for the marriage to be legal. The marriage is valid in law once the declaration and contract have been verbally made - hence the witnesses. There are no laws concerning the age of marriage witnesses - they need to be old enough to function properly as a witness that is all.

A marriage must be witnessed by 2 people, but it is perfectly possible to have more than 2 signing.

The certificate will be completed with the signature(s) of those taking the ceremony. There may be two signatures eg all Register Office marriages have 2 signatures which are those of the superintendent conducting the ceremony and that of the Registrar who is doing the registration. Non-conformist marriages might also have 2 in the same way. Church of England marriages would usually only have the one signature of the cleric who has both conducted the ceremony and completed the registration.

The certificate is completed with the date of issue of the certificate - which may be the same date if it is the one completed on the marriage day or could be a later date.

The last feature on a marriage certificate should be a line drawn through the space at the end of the certificate but outside the box containing all the details. The line indicates that there have been no corrections to the original entry. If it is the certificate completed on the day there should be a line drawn through this space. If a correction to the entry is made after the marriage then this is where the correct details will be shown.

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