Researching Family History – Marriage Certificates (England & Wales)

Civil Registration – Marriages

Since 1st July 1837 it has been the duty of the Registrar-General to record all valid marriages in England and Wales, regardless of the form of ceremony involved. Since then, the state, represented by a Superintendent Registrar of Marriages, has been able to conduct marriages itself.

For civil ceremonies, the recording process is similar to that for births. There are 2 entries – one kept locally by the Superintendent Registrar, the other by the Registrar-General.

If the wedding takes place in church, the same often applies because a registrar is present and in both church and civil marriage certificates are completed immediately after the ceremony.

The latter is kept by the registrar and a copy sent to the General Register Office. However, registrars have not been present at Church of England, Jewish or Quaker marriages since 1837. In these cases an ‘Authorised Person’ (usually the priest or a member of the congregation) is the sole recorder and sends copies of each marriage to the Superintendent Registrar and the General Register Office.

The marriage certificate will tell you the:

  • Date of the marriage
  • Place of marriage
  • Names and signatures of the bride groom and witnesses.

And for both parties their:

  • Age
  • Condition, rank or profession
  • Residence
  • Father’s name and occupation

Up to the mid-twentieth century giving one’s correct age was not compulsory and is often given as ‘full’ (i.e. over 21). ‘Minor’ or ‘under age’ meant between twelve and twenty for the bride, between fourteen and twenty for the groom, until 1929 when the lower age limit was raised to sixteen for both parties.