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Civil Registration, Marriage (England & Wales)

Nature of Source

Certificates and indexes of civil registered marriages introduced after the passing of the Marriage Act of 1836. Civil registration was introduced from 1 July 1837 which meant that all births, marriages and deaths had to be reported to the register office in the district where the event took place. Under the new arrangements, a couple could marry in a Church of England church, or at a nonconformist place of worship or at the local register office. The arrangements for Jewish and Quaker marriages continued as before as these groups were already licenced to conduct their own marriages ceremonies.

For a marriage in an Anglican church, it was not necessary for a registrar to be present as the vicar was licenced to conduct and register marriages. The vicar issued a marriage certificate to the married couple at the time of the ceremony. In addition, the church retained a register copy as well as sending quarterly returns a copy to the General Register Office in London. The banns system continued as before.

For marriages at a nonconformist or Roman Catholic place of worship, it was necessary for a civil registrar to be present to enter the details into the marriage register. However in 1898 the rules were relaxed and all such places could apply for a licence to conduct their own ceremonies without the need for a registrar to be in attendance.

Under the new legislation, marriages could also take place as a civil ceremony in a register office supervised by a registry official. For marriages in a register office or a nonconformist chapel, a notice of intention to marry was displayed in the register office three weeks before the event with the couple required to marry within three months of publication. These marriage notices and any objections were recorded in ‘marriage notice books’ which can now be found at the local register office or in the county record office. Unfortunately many of the notice books have been destroyed and have not survived in great numbers. In addition, one of the parties had to reside in the registration district for at least a week before the issue of the marriage notice which meant that some couples only lived temporarily at the address listed on the certificate.

The original registration districts were usually based on the poor law union area with a Superintendent Registrar officiating in each district. In later years, the registration districts tied in with local authority administrative area.

The national indexes were compiled from entries sent quarterly to the General Register Office in London. The indexed entries had been copied into national registers from those kept by the local registry office and others licenced to keep marriage registers. This process created scope for errors in copying from one source to another but also be aware that many civil registration certificates contain outright lies. The original indexes from 1837 were handwritten on velum which can be difficult to decipher but after 1866 printed indexes were introduced. In 1984 annual indexes replaced the quarterly indexes and digital indexes replaced paper indexes. For a an explanation of the area and volume codes used in the indexes and their corresponding registration districts see here. Please note that Roman numerals were used from 1837 to 1851 and Arabic numerals and letters from 1852 to 1946 for the index reference codes.

'Full age' as stated on a certificate meant the individual was 21 or over. Either the man's surname or the woman's maiden name can be searched in the indexes. Please note that after 1911, the indexes do not include the person’s full middle name but only the initial. The legal age of marriage without parental consent (full age) was 21. The legal age of marriage for boys with parental consent was 14 and 12 for girls up to 1929. Up to 1969 the legal age of marriage without consent was 21 and thereafter 18. Unlike the many unregistered early birth records, most marriages were registered. For a list of prohibited or forbidden marriages that remained in force up to 1907 see here and here.

If the bride to be was a widow, her first married name will be listed in the marriage index and not her maiden name unless she wrongly remarried under her maiden name. If the bride or groom were born illegitimate, the possibility exists that they might name a fictional father on the certificate to avoid the stigma associated with illegitimacy. If a mother was unmarried at the time of the birth of an illegitimate child and later married, problems would exist with finding her in the marriage indexes if she gave the father's name (e.g. Berry) to the illegitimate child and therefore named as herself as Berry and then later married using her maiden name (e.g. Hall).

Check the local superintendent registrar's office if an entry is missing from the national index as local registrars compiled their own indexes from their original records. Some of these registers have been deposited at the local record office and some are online. Check with UK BMD for links to local transcriptions. The site provides links to web sites that offer on-line transcriptions of UK births, marriages, deaths, parish registers and census returns. The links are mainly to local registrars that are offering on line access to their civil registration indexes. Users can also carry out a multi-region UKBMD search at which allows for searches across one or more county. Other miscellaneous indexes are also covered.

The Channel Islands began civil registration in the 1840s. In the Isle of Man, births and deaths from 1878 and marriages from 1884.

An online ordering service is available at

See Also
Civil Registration - Birth, Marriages & Deaths At Sea

Civil Registration, Birth
Civil Registration, Death
Consular and Overseas Records of Births/Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths/Burials
Divorce Records
Parish Registers-Marriages

Where Found

General Register Office for England and Wales (Full Certificates of birth marriage and death)

Complete set of indexes are available at the following sites:
British Library Social Sciences Reading Room (General Register Office indexes to Births, Marriages and Deaths in England and Wales, 1837 to present. The records are available on microfiche with additional free access to digitised GRO indexes via Ancestry and FindMyPast websites covering 1837 to 2005/6)
City of Westminster Archives Centre (The centre provides access to the General Register Office's published indexes of births, marriages and deaths on microfiche as well as indexes to adopted children 1927 to 2016 and overseas indexes. Free access is available to digitised GRO indexes via Ancestry and FindMyPast)
Manchester City Library (General Register Office indexes to Births, Marriages and Deaths in England and Wales, 1837 to present. The records are available on microfiche with additional free access to digitised GRO indexes via Ancestry and FindMyPast websites covering 1837 to 2005/6)
Birmingham Central Library (General Register Office indexes to Births, Marriages and Deaths in England and Wales, 1837 to present. The records are available on microfiche with additional free access to digitised GRO indexes via Ancestry and FindMyPast websites covering 1837 to 2005/6)
Bridgend Local and Family History Centre (General Register Office indexes to Births, Marriages and Deaths in England and Wales, 1837 to present. The records are available on microfiche with additional free access to digitised GRO indexes via Ancestry and FindMyPast websites covering 1837 to 2005/6)
Plymouth Central Library (General Register Office indexes to Births, Marriages and Deaths in England and Wales, 1837 to present. The records are available on microfiche with additional free access to digitised GRO indexes via Ancestry and FindMyPast websites covering 1837 to 2005/6)
Newcastle City Library (General Register Office indexes to Births, Marriages and Deaths in England and Wales, 1837 to present. The records are available on microfiche with additional free access to digitised GRO indexes via Ancestry and FindMyPast websites covering 1837 to 2005/6)

County Record Offices (Regional coverage)

Period Covered

1837 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Name and surname of spouse (from 1912), Registration District, Volume and Page.
Date and place of marriage; Names, ages, condition, occupation and addresses of each party. Both fathers' names and occupation and stated if deceased; Witnesses names (Witnesses were often family members and should be further investigated especially in the census returns).

Further References

Annal, David. Using Birth, Marriage and Death Records: Public Record Office, 2002  Buy Now on Amazon
Annal, David & Collins, Audrey. Birth, Marriage and Death Records: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword Books, 2012  
Blayney, Molly Dolan. Wedded Bliss: Victorian Courtship and Marriage: Abbeville Press, 1992 Buy Now on Amazon
Chapman, Colin. Marriage Laws, Rites, Records and Customs: Was Your Ancestor Really Married?: Lochin Publishing, 1996  
Cohen, Deborah, Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day: Viking, 2013  Buy Now on Amazon
Foster, Michael Whitfield. A Comedy of Errors, or, The Marriage Records of England and Wales, 1837-1899: Mike Foster, 1998  Buy Now on Amazon
Foster, Michael Whitfield. A Comedy of Errors. Act 2: Mike Foster, 2002  Buy Now on Amazon
General Register Office, Abstract of Arrangements Respecting Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths in the United Kingdom and other Countries of the British Commonwealth and in the Republic of Ireland: HMSO, 1952  
Gibson, Jeremy & Hampson, Elizabeth. Marriage, Census and Other Indexes for Family Historians. 5th ed: FFHS, 1994 Buy Now on Amazon
Gibson, Jeremy; Hampson, Elizabeth; Raymond, Stuart. Marriage Indexes for Family Historians. 9th rev. ed.: The Family History Partnership, 2007  Buy Now on Amazon
Higgs, Edward. Life, Death And Statistics: Civil Registration, Censuses And The Work Of The General Register Office, 1836-1952: Local Population Studies, 2004  Buy Now on Amazon
Langston, Brett. A Handbook to the Civil Registration Districts of England and Wales: Family History Partnership, 2003  Buy Now on Amazon
Lansdell, Avril. Wedding Fashions 1860-1980: Shire Publications, 1983  
Probert, Rebecca. Marriage Law for Genealogists: The Definitive Guide: Takeaway Publishing, 2012 Buy Now on Amazon
Probert, Rebecca. Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved? The Family Historian's Guide to Marital Breakdown, Separation, Widowhood, and Remarriage: from 1600 to the 1970s: Takeaway Publishing, 2015 Buy Now on Amazon
Raymond, Stuart. Births, Marriage & Deaths on the Web: Southern England, The Marches and Wales. Vol 1: Family History Partnership, 2005  
Raymond, Stuart. Births, Marriage & Deaths on the Web: Midlands, Northern England and East Anglia. Vol 2: Family History Partnership, 2005  
Wiggins, Ray. Registration Districts: An Alphabetical List of Over 650 Districts: Society of Genealogists, 2001  Buy Now on Amazon
Wood, Tom. An Introduction to British Civil Registration. 2nd ed: FFHS, 2001  

Websites (General Register Office: Discover your family history. This booklet tells you how to use the GRO when you research your family tree and family history (General Register Office guides to researching your family tree: guide to birth certificates; guide to marriage certificates; guide to death certificates) (Research your family history using the General Register Office) (GRO Guide: Most customers want to know) (The National Archives Media: Early civil registration) (LostCousins Newsletter: MASTERCLASS: Tracking female relatives who married between 1837-1911) (England and Wales Birth, Marriage, and Death Certificate Information) (England: Civil Registration guide) (GRO Indexes Registration Districts with codes for areas and volumes) (UKBMD: Registration Districts in England and Wales: Composition of the civil registration districts in England since 1837 to the present and in Wales between 1837 and 1996. The same districts were also used to compile the census for the years 1851 to 1911. See here for an alphabetical list of the registration districts) (UKBMD: Index of Places in England and Wales. For each place listed this index shows the county and registration district in which it was situated between 1837 and 1974 at which latter date the districts were considerably altered) (FreeBMD: Registration District Information. Information about Registration Districts with a list of official districts) (FreeBMD: Finding the spouse including guidance on searching FreeBMD for potential spouses) (Maps showing the administrative areas and units of England. For each place name the parish is shown and gives start date for parish registers and Bishop Transcripts. The name of the appropriate Probate Court, Diocese, Province, Poor Law Union and Hundred is shown. Contiguous parishes and parishes within a specified radius can be displayed. In addition map layers can be displayed showing boundaries for the Civil Registration District, the Parish, the County, the Diocese and other administrative areas) (Ancestry Solutions: Civil Registration: Content, commencement date, indexes and how to obtain civil birth, marriage and death certificates) (Keighley and District Family History Society: Research Guide: Birth Marriage and Death records in England & Wales - Key Dates) (Links to online genealogy records & other useful information) (GRO guide to family history including links to local resister offices) (Wishful Thinking: A Historical Account of the Development of Local Registration Offices in England and Wales, by Rosemary Lockie)
(DressFinder: A Brief History of the Wedding Dress in Britain, article and illustrations by Elizabeth Davies) (Period Approximation Chart, adapted from "Basic Course in Genealogy," Vol.II, by Derek Harland. Use to calculate the approximate date of a birth, marriage or death)

Online Databases

National GRO Coverage (FreeBMD: FreeBMD is an ongoing project, the aim of which is to transcribe the Civil Registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales, and to provide free Internet access to the transcribed records. Free access to the records is also available via covering 1837-1915) (GRO Birth, Marriage and Death indexes, including overseas BMD indexes. The civil birth and death registers are fully indexed by name covering 1837-2006. Marriage indexes are fully indexed from 1837-2005 and the MarriageFinder which will match up your ancestors' records providing you with one definite marriage match or a list of possible matches) (BMD Records 1837-2005: Complete Birth, Marriage & Death records index for England and Wales as published by the GRO. The indexes are searchable in database format from 1837-2005 for Marriages with the facility to match and cross-reference one name with another surname, 1837-2005 for Births and 1950-2005 for Deaths) (England & Wales, Birth and Marriage Indexes, 1916-2005; Death Index, 1916-2006. Searchable, digitized version of the indices of civil registrations in England and Wales reported quarterly to the General Register Office in London. Also free access to the FreeBMD Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes, 1837-1915) (General Register Office Civil Birth, Marriage and Death Registration Indexes 1837-2005. Records between 1866 to 1920 and 1984 to 2005 have been fully transcribed and are fully searchable. For the period between 1837 to 1865 and 1921 to 1983 the images are not fully transcribed but searchable on surname range and browseable with images of the GRO Index. Users also have free access to British overseas BMDs from 1761)
(England and Wales, Marriage Index, 1800-1920)
BMD Registers (BMDs at sea, 1854-1891)
Local Coverage (Tower Hamlets Indexes of Births, Deaths & Marriages)
(Derbyshire Registrar's Birth, Marriage and Death Index) (Gloucestershire BMD Indexes: The aim of the project is to index all the registers held by the Gloucestershire Registration Service. All births registered in the county between 1837 and at least 1912 have been indexed; All deaths registered in Gloucestershire between 1837 and at least 1900 have been indexed and all marriage registers stored by GRS at Gloucestershire Archives have been indexed. The indexing is carried out by volunteers from the Gloucestershire Family History Society in conjunction with the Gloucestershire Registration Service and Gloucestershire Archives) (Lancashire BMD. Online access to the birth, marriage and death indexes held by the local registration services developed in partnership with the county's Family History Societies. See website for date coverage and registration districts covered. Lancashire BMD is part of the UKBMD group of Family History and Genealogy web sites)
(CAMDEX: Index of Births, Marriages, Civil Partnerships and Deaths in Cambridgeshire since 1837 in association with the Cambridgeshire Family History Society and Cambridgeshire County Council. The index is available to review by members of the public free of charge: copies of BMD certificates can be ordered and paid for on-line from the CCC Registration Service) (Calderdale Council. Indexed birth, marriage and death notices for the entire period of the Halifax Guardian’s existence from December 1832 to April 1921) (Whereabouts of local registrar and links to online transcribed indexes) (Pickard's Pink Pages for Warwickshire: Warwickshire newspaper extracts covering births, marriages and deaths) (Family announcements from newspapers in the UK and Ireland covering obituaries, death, marriage, birth and other family announcements) (England, Andrews Newspaper Index Cards, 1790-1976. The index which is kept by the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies features a collection of notices from newspapers and various official sources including announcements of births, marriages, obituaries, and deaths abroad; notices of wills, unclaimed estates and advertisements for missing persons and people seeking next of kin)

CD Roms

S & N Genealogy Supplies (Indexes to Overseas BMDs, 1916-1940) (Lancashire Family History and Heraldry Society: Andrew Todd's map of Lancashire 1851 showing the Registration Districts of Births, Marriages & Deaths, Registration Sub-Districts, Parishes, Townships and all Anglican churches and dates of their earliest registers)
Kent Family History Society - Medway Branch (Index of Medway Marriages 1837-1938: The index is compiled from the original marriage registers held by Medway Register Office covering Church of England, non-conformist and register office marriages)