Sources of Marriage Records

There are many different sources you can use to find records of a marriage, from obvious ones like a marriage register, to rarer ones such as manorial records.

Parish registers / marriage registers

Parish registers are an absolute necessity when searching for a marriage record between the sixteenth century and 1837, when central record keeping began. You can search them in your county record office or at several genealogy websites.

Marriage licences

Marriage licences were issued for a fee, enabling a couple to marry quicker than by banns. It was customary for people who wanted to display their wealth to be married by licence, and it is estimated that 2-3% of marriages in England were by licence between 1694 and 1850. These licences only show that a couple were given permission to get married, they are not proof of an actual marriage taking place. As such, a small proportion of issued marriage licences will not have resulted in a marriage.

You can search indexes of marriage licences at all the major genealogy websites, and original records at your county record office and Lambeth Palace Library, which holds records of couples who were married under the Archbishop of Canterbury. The information in them can provide extra detail to the entry in the parish register, and they are also a useful way of finding out about a marriage if you cannot find the relevant parish register.

Banns books

From 1754 there are banns books, which record the announcement of a proposed marriage.

Census returns

Censuses have been completed in the United Kingdom every ten years since 1801, with the exceptions of 1941 because of the Second World War, and 1921 in Northern Ireland only. You can search them online, but there is a 100 year gap before they are released, so the latest records you can search are from 1911. The first censuses to show marriage status were in 1851, and from this year on they are an excellent source for tracing marriages. Before this date you can still check whether a couple were living together, but you will have to guess whether they were married, or confirm it from other sources.

Bishop’s transcripts

These are copies of church registers that were sent to every bishop who had jurisdiction over a parish. They make a useful backup to parish registers and should be checked if you cannot find anything in those. As with parish registers, some are missing, with none at all from the Commonwealth period between 1649 and 1660. They can be found in your county record office, some universities and the occasional church library.

Boyd’s Marriage Index

Millions of marriage records from parish registers between 1538 and 1837. Well worth a look if you can’t find anything.

Mormons’ International Genealogical Index

This is a database with millions of birth, marriage and burial records from around the world.

Fleet Prison

Thousands of clandestine marriages took place in chapels in and around Fleet Prison during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century.

Non-conformist / Dissenter records

Non-conformist or Dissenters’ records are those of people who were not of the Church of England, Anglican or Roman Catholic persuasion. These records only exist between certain periods, because marriages had to take place within the Church of England during much of the early modern era, regardless of whether that was the couples actual faith. Non-conformist and Dissenter records exist for the below periods:

  • 1653-1660 during the Interregnum period
  • From 1754 for Quakers and Jews

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