Guide to Marriage Records in Parish Registers 

Marriages before 1754

In very early marriage records, it is not uncommon to find little information, such as John Jones married his wife.

Limited information was entered in the record only a few years before Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753 came into force on 25th March 1754.

It still listed only the bride and groom’s name and the marriage date. This makes it more difficult especially if you are searching for someone with a common name or in a parish where the surname you are searching for is frequently mentioned.

Courteenhall Marriage Registe166

This image is reproduced with the agreement of Northamptonshire Record Office

Sometimes more information was added to marriage records. If either party came from a different place to that in which the event occurred, their home parish was stated in some instances. The residences of both parties were sometimes recorded when a couple married away from their home parish.

Courteenhall Marriage Record 174

Produced with the agreement of Northamptonshire Archives

In some cases, the parties' parents were also entered in marriage records, but this was more uncommon:

Jasper Row and Alice Attenberie Marriage Courteenhall 161

Image reproduced with permission from Northamptonshire Record Office

Their residences at the time of their marriage were not necessarily their birthplaces.

Marriage Records 1754-1837

After Hardwicke's Act 1753, marriage records changed dramatically, with a lot more detail being entered as follows:

  • Groom’s name and sometimes his status and occupation
  • Bride’s name and sometimes her status
  • Whether it was by banns or licence
  • Date
  • The officiant's signature
  • Bride and groom's signatures
  • The witnesses' signatures

Couples had to marry after banns had been heard or a marriage licence had been applied for.

Banns of Marriage

Banns of Marriage can be read out for three separate Sundays before the date of a marriage unless a marriage licence is applied for. They give the opportunity for any objections or legal impediments to be heard, such as the bride or groom not having annulled or dissolved any pre-existing marriage. Elopers had to leave England and Wales after Hardwicke's Marriage Act came into force and a popular destination for such weddings was Gretna Green in Scotland.

Banns can have their own use to the family historian. If the groom and bride come from different parishes and you are unable to find the entry in the groom’s home parish, looking at the banns could reveal that the bride came from a different parish.

It can therefore give you a clue as to where it actually took place, as any marriage often took place in the bride's parish rather than the groom's. This is often the case today.

Banns recorded in a separate register

Banns of marriage

You will note parents names are still not recorded in marriage records, but they could sometimes be witnesses as could another family member.

A churchwarden or friend often acted as a witness.  Many people were illiterate so it was not unusual for the people involved to simply leave their mark rather than sign their name.

It is important to note even if it stated the bride or groom are 'of this parish' it does not necessarily mean they were born there as they might have moved into the parish.

You can also find out more about the reading of banns today.

Marriage by banns in Roade, Northamptonshire

Banns of Marriage

The above image is produced with permission from Northamptonshire Archives

Marriage Licence

Introduced in the 14th Century, a marriage licence made it possible for a couple to marry immediately rather than having to wait for the three week period required by the reading of banns. When a couple applied for a licence, it could have been because they wanted to marry quickly, wanted to marry away from their home parish or just wanted it known they could afford to apply for it.

The usual kind of licence was a ‘common licence’ and listed one or two parishes where the marriage could take place or a ‘special licence’ was issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury or his officials which meant the marriage could take place in any church.

Marriage by licence in Roade, Northamptonshire

Marriage by Licence

The above image is produced with permission from Northamptonshire Archives

The allegation was a sworn statement made by the applicant there was no lawful impediment why they should not marry. This statement also often included details of both parties’ marital status, their ages – if either or both of the party was under 21, a written statement of approval had to be made - the groom’s occupation and their places of residence.

The marriage bond was another statement stating there was no reason why the couple should not marry and this involved paying a sum of money if it turned out not to be true. Two people had to sign the statement – one was usually the groom, and the other was very often a relative of the bride.

The bishop was given the allegation and the bond. He then gave the marriage licence to the groom, him then giving it to the vicar of the church the marriage would take place in. Few of them survive today because the vicar was under no obligation to keep it, but the paperwork – the allegation and bonds - issued is usually kept and is frequently available in Record Offices, although there is a chance earlier bonds and allegations have not survived either.

Marriages after 1837

When civil registration began in England and Wales in 1837, marriages records changed again. A new marriage register was used, and this book had room for two marriages on each page, and they contained much more information.

The first detail in new marriage records is the marriage date which is followed by the bride and groom's name and ages.  Although more details about their age was included than previously, ages were still not always mentioned fully, it simply stating whether they were a minor or of full age.

The term minor meant they were under 21 and had the consent of their parents to get married, although the bride sometimes stated she was older than she was so she did not have to obtain their consent.

Marriage after 1837 in Roade, Northamptonshire

Marriages after 1837

The above image is produced with permission from Northamptonshire Archives

The bride and groom's marital status is also mentioned.  It very often stated, especially in earlier centuries, whether they were spinster, bachelor, widower or widow.

A groom or bride was not always truthful when they declared their marital status because they did not wish to disclose the fact they had been married before.  A divorce in earlier centuries was treated as being a sin and the price of dissolution was high.

The groom's occupation was always stated in earlier marriage records, but the women's occupation was not mentioned even if she was in employment.

The groom's father and bride's father are also mentioned, along with details of their employment.  If the groom's father or bride's father had died, this information could be incorporated into the record.  This may make it easier to track down their death date.

If the groom or bride was illegitimate, their father may not be recorded or they could have misrepresented the truth by either falsifying a name or by claiming another family member was their male parent.  This means you may need to conduct more research in order to establish their identity.

If the lady was a widow, the father's name being mentioned could help you to discover her maiden name.  This may help you to find her birth registration.

Witnesses are also mentioned, but these persons could have a connection to either party.  They may not be blood related, but just be the couple's friends.

The following details are provided in the Marriage Register:

  • Year
  • Place, the Parish and County
  • Number of entry in the register
  • Marriage Date
  • Christian names and surnames of the couple
  • Both parties' ages
  • Both parties' condition
  • Rank or Profession of both parties - the lady’s occupation was often not recorded in marriages in earlier years
  • The couple's residences
  • Christian names and surnames of the couple's fathers
  • Occupations of the couple's fathers
  • The Officiant's Signature
  • Signature or mark of groom and bride
  • Signature or mark of witnesses

If you know where marriages took place, it is often cheaper to take copies of marriage records at the appropriate Record Office rather than obtain copies from Southport.

Please also view my guides to parish registers in general, baptism records and burial records.  You may also find much information is included on memorial inscriptions.