Guide to a marriage certificate in England and Wales

A marriage certificate is important because you can make sure that a couple you had been led to believe married each other actually had. For example if you find the marriage registration in the GRO Index, and believe the couple married each other, it is important to obtain a certificate to confirm it. 

Two or three marriages are entered on each page in a church marriage register.

The first information stated is the year of marriage and the venue, such as a church, chapel or register office, and the name of the parish and town or village and the county in which the event occurred.  The registration district can be written on the bottom of the certificate, or in the heading, especially for marriages taking place in earlier years.

Columns on a Marriage Certificate explained

No.

This column records the entry number from the original marriage register from the venue.

When Married

The marriage date is written in this column.  Many marriages took place on Christmas Day in earlier years.

Name and Surname

The full name of the bride and groom is recorded in this column.  Names written here are usually the names they had at the time of their marriage, and may not necessarily be the names the person had at birth.  For instance, I have seen instances of people switching their names round if they had two names, such as Nora Alice instead of Alice Nora.  It is also possible that a bride had been married previously, and used her previous husband's name rather than her maiden name.

Age

In earlier centuries, their ages may not have been recorded in full, it only stating whether they were of full age or a minor. If the term minor was used this meant they had not reached the age of 21 and had parental consent to marry, although sometimes the lady could add a few years on to her true age so she did not need to seek consent.  

A person did not have to prove how old they were unless it was blatantly obvious that they were a lot younger than they claimed to be.  

It could also be that the bride or groom did not know how old they were, having no access to their birth certificate or were born before civil registration began, relying on their baptism record,  so the marriage certificate could state the wrong age.

Condition

The couple's marital status is written in this column, it very often stating, especially in earlier centuries, whether they were spinster, bachelor, widower or widow. Sometimes, however, either party was not always truthful about their marital status if they wished to hide the fact they had been married previously. 

This was especially true in earlier centuries when divorce was looked on as being a great scandal and it cost so much to dissolve a marriage.


Frederick William Dunkley and Ethel Priscilla Baker Marriage

Marriage of Frederick William Dunkley and Ethel Priscilla Baker on 17 September 1927 at St James Church, Northampton, Northamptonshire, England


Rank and Profession

In earlier certificates of marriage the groom's occupation was stated, but the women’s occupation was very often not stated even if she did in fact work.

Residence at time of Marriage

Please remember when looking at the couple's residence that their place of residence may not have been where they were born, and even, in some cases, not their actual abode.  It is possible that they moved into the area seven days prior to the marriage so that they could marry in that district, and then returned to their own district after the marriage.  I have seen on several occasions that the bride and groom lived in the same place prior to their marriage.

Father's Name and Surname

If either party was illegitimate the column for father’s name could be blank or the bride or groom could have stated another family member was their father so it sometimes requires further research to prove his identity.  I myself have found this to be the case in that my great-great grandfather’s brother, who, being illegitimate, stated that his uncle was his father on his marriage certificate.  It could also be the case when a person was illegitimate that their father was unknown to them.

The fact that the father's name is usually stated can help to further family tree research especially if the lady is a widow or was previously married because it may reveal her maiden name.

Please bear in mind that just because the father is not listed as deceased on the certificate does not necessarily mean that he had not died prior to the marriage.

Rank and Profession of Father

The father's occupation is listed in this column, and this can help tremendously if you have found many people with similar names, and want to ascertain if you have the correct family.  Sometimes, especially if the marriage date is close to a census year, you may be able to find the family in the census, and therefore knowing the father's occupation can help you track the family down.

Other Items

The bride and groom signed the marriage certificate, and if they were illiterate, a cross was entered, signifying they had made their mark.  Because they were illiterate, they did not know if the information recorded was correct, so the information supplied should be verified using other sources.

It also gives details of witnesses, who could be relatives of either party. These relatives could have been previously unknown to you.  The witnesses could also be family friends.  They have to sign the certificate.


Example Marriage Certificate:

John Dunkley and Mary Ann Katherine Carter Marriage Certificate

What information is on a marriage certificate at a glance:


  • Year of marriage
  • Venue, Parish and County
  • Entry Number in the Register
  • Marriage Date
  • Bride and groom's names and surnames
  • Ages of both parties
  • Condition of both parties
  • Rank or Profession of both parties
  • Bride and groom's residences at the marriage date
  • Names and surnames of the father of the groom and father of the bride
  • Ranks or professions of the groom's father and the bride's father
  • Signature of the officiant
  • Bride and groom's signatures or marks
  • Signatures or marks of witnesses


How to obtain marriage certificates:

It is possible to order a certificate from the ONS in Southport after you have found the appropriate registration in the GRO Index.  The current price is £9.25.


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