Marriage certificates

A typical marriage certificate

A marriage certificate and what to look for. You'll find:

  • Full names (hopefully) of the bride and bridegroom and their ages
  • Occupation of the bridegroom — sometimes a bride’s occupation will be given
  • Addresses — but sometimes these are just to provide an address in the parish of marriage
  • Names and occupations of the fathers of the bride and the bridegroom. Sometimes this will say ‘deceased’;
  • The type of service and also sometimes includes whether it was by licence or after banns
  • Witness names —these are often members of the families and can give more clues to identifying siblings and cousins; the place and date of marriage


Tracking down records of marriage is all part of the game when you become a family historian.

In the early days you will deal with marriage certificates and, although they look similar, these will come in two different types.

Original certificates were given to the couple at the time of the wedding. But these often get lost and in the main family historians have to send off for copies.

Both certificates are forms, filled in either at the time of marriage from the details in the register or, as in the case of copies, from register entries.
The details should be the same but copies from the General Register Office can have errors.

Local newspaper reports

Storey-Berry — November 22,
on Monday last at Palgrave Mr John Storey butcher to Sophie eldest daughter of Mr William Berry cattle jobber of Diss. Norwich Mercury November 25 1830

Galer-Bull — January 2,
at Norton subcourse church by Rev Dr Emington, Robert, third son of James Galer, Loddon, to Mary Ellen, eldest daughter of Mr Samuel Bull, Ditchingham. Norfolk People’s Weekly Journal, January 1866

Clarke-Fowler — December 29
at Great Yarmouth by Rev E M Sanderson Alfred Dudley Clark of Sundorne, Shrewsbury, to Emily, third daughter of R R Fowler of Great Yarmouth.

Robertson-Payne — December 25
at Heigham Old Church Norwich by Rev J G Dixon, George William, second son of Mr F Robertson to Mary Anne second daughter of Mr Williams James Payne, all of Heigham, Norwich. Eastern Daily Press 1875, January 2

Wrench-Frohawk — December 24,
at St John Sepulchre, Norwich, Mr P E Wrench of Hindringham to Mrs R Frohawk, East Dereham. Norwich Mercury 1868 January 1

Turnour-Hodgson — January 3,
at St Mary’s Gateshead by the Rev Josiah Thompson, brother-in-law of the bride, Edward Winterton Turnour, Captain RN, third son of the late Hon and Rev A A Turnour, rector of Tatterford in this county, to Emma Elizabeth youngest daughter of R W Hodgson esq of North Dene, Gateshead. Norwich Mercury, 1868, January 11

These also come in two types, those with an original entry photocopied on to them and those copied by hand from the original entry (normally typed).
Depending on handwriting the photocopied entries can be difficult to read but you normally manage to make them out after a careful study.

The problem lies with those copied over by a clerk, often overworked and short of time. This, as many of us know, is when mistakes can occur.
My copy of my great great grandfather’s certificate described him as a timekeeper — but he did not work in a factory.

His will described him as a publican — an overworked clerk had written time instead of inn. The original parish register confirmed this.

A good place to track down marriages is in old newspapers. If you know the approximate year of marriage it can be easier to check newspaper files at the local library than to try and track down names in the national index for marriages.

Some of the very old marriage announcements offer an insight into what attracted some of the men to their women.

In the Norwich Mercury of January 13, 1753, we learn that: “On Tuesday last Mr Ralph Smyth, an eminent Dyer in this city, was married to Miss Bale of Toft-Trees in Norfolk, an agreeable young lady with a handsome fortune.”
Agreeable may not mean beautiful but there is no doubt what is meant by “a handsome fortune.”

One final point — sometimes our ancestors did not stick to the truth. A reference to “of full age” did not necessarily mean the bride or bridegroom was really 21 or over. Coupled with a lack of a father’s name (just deceased) can sometimes mean an under-age marriage.

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