Genealogy Help

Self-help - Marriage Certificates

Marriage Records

Marriage records are important, as you can find out the woman's name at the time of marriage, whether the bride or groom were married before, and their ages. The main source for marriage records include:

  • marriage certificates
  • church records
  • newspapers

Marriage Certificates

There's a different system for people married in England and Wales from those married in Scotland. You may also want to consider people who married overseas.

Marriage certificates in England or Wales
The 1836 Act of Parliament led to the General Register Office being established to record marriages (and also births and deaths) in England and Wales. Recording began on 1 July 1837.

If your ancestors were married before 1 July 1837, then they won't have a marriage certificate, so you must look for other sources, particularly church records, but remember the non-conformist records.


Marriage certificates give the names of the bride and groom's fathers. Therefore, even if your ancestor was married before 1837, they may have siblings who were married later, so it may then be worth researching their marriage certificates.

If your ancestor was married after 1 July 1837, then they should have a marriage certificate. You can't see the original registers, so first you must search the marriage record indexes to find your ancestor, and then send off for the certificate. These registers list the name (later also the surname of the spouse), the quarter and year of the registration (since 1983 the month), the volume and page number of the record.

Marriage certificates in Scotland

If your Scottish ancestors married before 1 January 1855, you will find no marriage certificate, so try the parish registers.

If your ancestors married after 1 January 1855, everyone had to register their marriage, whatever their religion. In 1855, the marriage records included the bride and groom's full name, age, marital status, occupation, residence, date and place of marriage, name and occupation of father, name and maiden name of mother and the names of witnesses and officiating clergy. They also include the birthplace and number of former marriages of each spouse (plus the number of children by those marriages). Birthplaces and previous marriage details were dropped after 1855, but the former was restored in 1972.

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The UK marriage certificate

Marriage Certificate Example

1 - Marriage Date

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 " Twenty seventh March 1897" but the early records are written in many different forms such as 7th August 1876, 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 8 am and 12 noon at the start of registration, later 3 pm. It is still only legal between 8 am and 6 pm.

2 - Names of Bride and Groom

Column 2 records the name and surname of the bride and groom at the date of the marriage. 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 was simply asked for the names they were known by. It was not necessary to produce any proof of the use of a name.

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3 - 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 upwards - 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.

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 the 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.

Marriage before the legal age is still invalid.

4 - Marital Status

The marital status is shown at the time of the marriage. The most commonly occurring ones in the last century were bachelor or spinster or widow or widower. Divorce was normally the option for the rich only.

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 that 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 truth. If married in by banns in church, this is supposed to check the legitimacy of the impending marriage.

Unfortunately, there is, equally, nothing to stop them from lying! And plenty of bigamous marriages to show how easy it is to lie, especially in an area outside the previous residence. And 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.

5 - Occupation

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 burglar or prostitute! Sometimes the bride or groom made the occupation sound grander than it was in fact, but some also made less of it.

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6 - Address

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 were 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).

The other scenario was 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).

Where both bride and groom were ‘registered’ at the same address, it doesn’t mean they were living together, but possibly just that they used the address in the parish. This could also be a family members address.

7&8 - 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 his 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 anyone else, if the registrar was made aware of this, of course.

If a bride or groom did not have her/his father named on the birth certificate that does not stop them being named on a 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.

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 if the father was estranged.

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 descendants with fairly common names the father's name and occupation can be a considerable help.

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9 - The Location of the Marriage

Under the main entry are the words "Married in the .......".
For a C of E marriage, it will say something along 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 a Jewish marriage would state something on the same lines.

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 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.

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 couples 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.

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10 - Signatures

These should be the signature of the bride and groom and the witnesses. It is a pity that many C of E clergy insists on people writing their full names which, of course, is quite different from them signing their signatures.

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 did use witnesses off the street.

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


The first heading is for the registration district. 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 page on births).

The next heading reads (with slight variations over the years) " Marriage solemnised at ......... in the District of ............. in the County of ......" or "Marriage solemnised at ......... in the Parish of ...... in the County of ....." (Church of England marriages only)

12 - 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 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.

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

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