This page looks at the marriages in my ancestry, and explores the changes in the expectations of marriage through history.
These days, the expectation is that a wedding cements a relationship of love, anticipating to live together ‘happily ever after’. The marriage ceremony often a culmination of months of planning and expense, and may often be seen as an attempt to outdo all other weddings.
Traditionally marriages took place in church, then later, maybe a registry office. Now, many spectacular buildings have been registered as wedding venues, capable of hosting a wedding ceremony. Same-sex marriages are also common.
Our ancestors, it seems had a different view of marriage. The well to do, were keen to marry above their own status’ and to keep or increase family fortunes.
Women would be looking for security, and men, for a partner to keep house efficiently. Looking at the marriages of my ancestors, it would appear many marriages were ‘of necessity’, as many babies were born within 9 months of marriage!
The poor took marriage as a necessary way of living in society, with a wedding ceremony being fitted into working life, following publication of Banns, or purchase of a license. The sensible would have been saving any spare cash and collecting together items for a ‘bottom drawer’ to set up home.
'Bottom drawer' usually a collection by a woman, of bedlinens and houseware, handmade by herself or family members to set up home. The items are stored in the 'bottom drawer'.
An unhappy marriage was to be borne, although I have found apparent cases of double lives amongst some of my ancestors. Early death was also reasonably common, and often led to remarriage of one or other of the couple with the result that many households contained step children.
Civil registration was introduced in 1837, making a legal obligation to register births and deaths. Previously marriages had been registered in Parish records, but civil registration demanded marriages also to be registered to a common format.
As society required official documentation particularly when it came to claiming from the Poor Law, or for inheritance, civil registration became increasingly important.
For the purposes of Family History, marriage certificates can be very helpful in linking back to previous generations.
Information contained in a Marriage certificate
Place of marriage (registration district and particular church/ venue).
It was usual to marry in the bride’s parish, so the place of marriage, may give a clue as to where to search for ancestors.
Date of Marriage
Names of Bride and Groom – this will give the brides maiden name, (to link back a generation) – and the full names of B&G, which may have been used in different orders in other documentation and may offer suggestions as to how to search for ancestors.
Age of B&G – If researchers are lucky, they will find the exact age of an ancestor in the marriage certificate, but more often, it was given as, ‘of full age’, ie over 21 years and not requiring parental consent. Many couples may have given a false age in order to marry, perhaps if under 21, or where there was a large age gap between husband and wife.
Occupation of B&G This is usually only given for the groom, the brides occupation being left blank. It is a good way of identifying an ancestor, as ‘trade occupations’ usually stuck throughout life, such as ‘wheelwright’, ‘cutler’ or ‘shoemaker’. On the other hand ‘labourer’ was common, and could be interchanged or used in description of many basic occupations, agricultural or industrial.
Address of B&G – A useful link if precise address is given. Not so helpful if it is more ‘an area’
Father of B&G – This is particularly helpful, as it can usually prove a relationship, especially if the names are uncommon, or used in conjunction with the occupation. (Don’t forget that there may be second or even third marriages in which this information can give proof).
Occupation of Father – As above.
Signature of B&G – This will show whether the B&G could write, and how confidently if so. Otherwise the signature will be given as a ‘X’. ‘The mark of’
At least 2 Witnesses names and signatures – As above. Witnesses were often relations or friends, which may help with identification of ancestors.
Marriages of My Ancestors
1940 – 17th February (Grandparents)
William Arthur Sanderson and Esme Gillott
1927 9th January (Grandparents)
Charles Harvey and Winifred Alice Tranter
1908 – 24th November (Gt.Grandparents)
George Gillott and Alice Darlow
1903 Gt Grandparents
Vincent Sanderson and Norah Thompson
Frederick John Tranter and Florence Caroline Frost
1883 Gt Grandparents
John Jr. Harvey and Saran Ann Ayliffe
1870 – 10th July (Gt.Gt. Grandparents)
David Thompson and Mary Anne Barker
1868 – 30th November (Gt.Grandparents)
William Tranter and Maria Jane Potter.
1866 – 1st April (Gt.Gt.Grandparents)
Albert Sanderson and Elizabeth Dyson
1859 – 27th March (Gt.Gt.Grandparents)
Stephen Harvey and Jane Cowdrey
1848 – 19th June (Gt.Gt.Gt.Grandparents)
Samuel Barker and Jane Parker
1846 – 8th November (Gt.Gt.Gt.Grandparents)
Joseph Lovell Raine and Betsy Rogers
1844 – 11th March (Gt.Gt.Gt.Grandparents)
Joel Sanderson and Eliza Sanderson
1841 – 11th January (Gt.Gt.Gt.Gt.Grandparents)
George Dyson and Amelia Furness
Changes in Marriage Laws (England & Wales)
For centuries the British marriage laws had been adapting to the changes in civil and religious ideas. They had become diverse and rather confusing, and the Government began to streamline the marriage laws by a series of national acts. (Marriage laws in England and Wales - Wikipedia) (Divorce laws in England and Wales - Wikipedia) By early modern times, to be legitimate, weddings should have been held in an established church. Legal age for males 14 years and females 12 years. Before 1857, divorce was rare and extremely expensive, requiring an act of Parliament, gradually it became easier to obtain. The Marriage Duty Acts of 1694 and 1695 required that banns be read or marriage licences obtained. Clandestine Marriages Act 1753, also called the Marriage Act 1753, popularly known as Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act laid down rules for where marriages were allowed to take place, whom you were and were not allowed to marry, the requirement for at least two witnesses to be present at the marriage ceremony and set a minimum marriageable age. Only marriages conducted by the Church of England, Quakers, or under Jewish law, were recognised in England and Wales 1836 Marriage Act re-introduced civil marriage, and allowed ministers of other faiths (Nonconformists and Roman Catholics) to act as registrars. Forbade marriage between the hours of six in the evening and eight in the morning 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act made divorce slightly easier by making marriage more a civil than sacramental event. 1923 Matrimonial Causes Act Made adultery by either party a grounds for divorce. Previously, it had only been allowed by the man. The Age of Marriage Act 1929 increased the age of marriage to sixteen with consent of parents or guardians and 21 without that consent. 1937 Matrimonial Causes Act Added cruelty, desertion or permanent insanity to the reasons allowed for divorce. 1949 Marriage Act 1969 Divorce Reform Act Divorce on the grounds that the marriage had irretrievably broken down. 1973 Matrimonial Causes Act Divorce providing marriage was at least 3 years. (Proving fault) 1984 Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act Reduced time to one year. (Proving fault). 1987 The Family Law Reform Act Reduced age of marriage without parents' consent to 18 years. 1994 Marriage Act Allowed marriage in registered venues, which were not churches. 2013 Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2020 Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act to streamline divorce proceedings, and allow divorce on a marriage that had irretrievably broken down without proving fault on either side. 2022 Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act Age of marriage raised to 18 years for all. Angela Weatherill - January 2024