Guide to Marriage Records in Parish Registers 

Marriages before 1754

In very early marriage records, it is not uncommon to find little information, such as John Jones married his wife.

Limited information was entered in the record only a few years before Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753 came into force on 25th March 1754.

It still listed only the bride and groom’s name and the marriage date. This makes it more difficult especially if you are searching for someone with a common name or in a parish where the surname you are searching for is frequently mentioned.

Sometimes more information was added to marriage records. If either party came from a different place to that in which the event occurred, their home parish was stated in some instances. The residences of both parties were sometimes recorded when a couple married away from their home parish.

In some cases, the parties' parents were also entered in marriage records, but this was more uncommon.  it must be borne in mind that their residences at the time of their marriage were not necessarily their birthplaces.

Marriage Records 1754-1837

After Hardwicke's Act 1753, marriage records changed dramatically, with a lot more detail being entered as follows:

  • Groom’s name and sometimes his status and occupation
  • Bride’s name and sometimes her status
  • Whether it was by banns or licence
  • Date
  • The officiant's signature
  • Bride and groom's signatures
  • The witnesses' signatures

Couples had to marry after banns had been heard or a marriage licence had been applied for.

Banns of Marriage

Banns of Marriage can be read out for three separate Sundays before the date of a marriage unless a marriage licence is applied for. They give the opportunity for any objections or legal impediments to be heard, such as the bride or groom not having annulled or dissolved any pre-existing marriage. Elopers had to leave England and Wales after Hardwicke's Marriage Act came into force and a popular destination for such weddings was Gretna Green in Scotland.

Banns can have their own use to the family historian. If the groom and bride come from different parishes and you are unable to find the entry in the groom’s home parish, looking at the banns could reveal that the bride came from a different parish.

It can therefore give you a clue as to where it actually took place, as any marriage often took place in the bride's parish rather than the groom's. This is often the case today.

You will note parents names are still not recorded in marriage records, but they could sometimes be witnesses as could another family member.

A churchwarden or friend often acted as a witness.  Many people were illiterate so it was not unusual for the people involved to simply leave their mark rather than sign their name.

It is important to note even if it stated the bride or groom are 'of this parish' it does not necessarily mean they were born there as they might have moved into the parish.

You can also find out more about the reading of banns today.

Marriage Licence

Introduced in the 14th Century, a marriage licence made it possible for a couple to marry immediately rather than having to wait for the three week period required by the reading of banns. When a couple applied for a licence, it could have been because they wanted to marry quickly, wanted to marry away from their home parish or just wanted it known they could afford to apply for it.

The usual kind of licence was a ‘common licence’ and listed one or two parishes where the marriage could take place or a ‘special licence’ was issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury or his officials which meant the marriage could take place in any church.

The allegation was a sworn statement made by the applicant there was no lawful impediment why they should not marry. This statement also often included details of both parties’ marital status, their ages – if either or both of the party was under 21, a written statement of approval had to be made - the groom’s occupation and their places of residence.

The marriage bond was another statement stating there was no reason why the couple should not marry and this involved paying a sum of money if it turned out not to be true. Two people had to sign the statement – one was usually the groom, and the other was very often a relative of the bride.

The bishop was given the allegation and the bond. He then gave the marriage licence to the groom, him then giving it to the vicar of the church the marriage would take place in. Few of them survive today because the vicar was under no obligation to keep it, but the paperwork – the allegation and bonds - issued is usually kept and is frequently available in Record Offices, although there is a chance earlier bonds and allegations have not survived either.

Marriages after 1837

When civil registration began in England and Wales in 1837, marriage records changed again. A new marriage register was used, and this book had room for two marriages on each page, and they contained much more information.

The heading of the entry in the marriage register stated the venue the event occurred in, such as the church, register office or chapel, and the parish's name, along with the county.


The number written in this column is that in the venue's marriage register.

When Married

This is the date the event occurred.  Do not be surprised to see many marriages occurred on 25th December.  Marrying on Christmas Day was very popular, especially in Victorian times.

Name and Surname

The name and surname of the couple is recorded in this column.  Please bear in mind that the names a couple had when they married were not necessarily those they were born with.  Sometimes, if a person had two names, they could switch them, such as Richard Benjamin became Benjamin Richard.  The bride may have been married before, so her surname may not be her maiden name.


The ages of the bride or groom may not be stated fully, it merely stating that they were of full age or a minor.  If a person was classed as a minor, this meant they had not yet reached the age of 21, and had the consent of their parents to marry.  A lady under the age of 21 could lie about her age so that she did not have to seek her parent's consent.  No proof of age was required before a marriage could take place unless it was obvious they were younger than the age they claimed to be.

The bride or groom may not have known how old they were, so made a rough guess, the marriage record stating the wrong age.


The bride and groom's marital status is also mentioned.  It very often stated, especially in earlier centuries, whether they were spinster, bachelor, widower or widow.

A groom or bride was not always truthful when they declared their marital status because they did not wish to disclose the fact they had been married before.  A divorce in earlier centuries was treated as being a sin and the price of dissolution was high.

Rank and Profession

The groom's occupation was always stated in earlier marriage records, but the women's occupation was not mentioned even if she was in employment.

Residence at time of Marriage

The couple's residence at the time of their marriage may not be where they actually lived, or their original birthplace.  They could have moved to the area so they could marry in that venue, and then returned to their usual place of residence following their marriage.

Father's Name and Surname

The groom's father and bride's father are also mentioned.  If the groom's father or bride's father had died, this information could be incorporated into the record.  This may make it easier to track down their death date.

If the groom or bride was illegitimate, their father may not be recorded or they could have misrepresented the truth by either falsifying a name or by claiming another family member was their male parent.  This means you may need to conduct more research in order to establish their identity.

If the lady was a widow, the father's name being mentioned could help you to discover her maiden name.  This may help you to find her birth registration.

It does not necessarily mean that the father was still alive because he is not listed as deceased on the certificate.

Rank and Profession of Father

The occupation of the father is stated in this column.  If the date of the marriage is close to a census year, it is possible to locate the family in the census, and the occupation of the father may help you to discover if you are researching the correct family.

Other items

The marriage record was signed by the bride and groom, but if they could not read and write, the letter X was entered, signifying their approval.  The information supplied must be verified using other sources in this case because if the bride and groom could not read and write, they did not know if the information written in the document was correct.

Witnesses are also mentioned, but these persons could have a connection to either party.  They may not be blood related, but just be the couple's friends.

The following details are provided in the Marriage Register:

  • Year
  • Place, the Parish and County
  • Number of entry in the register
  • Marriage Date
  • Christian names and surnames of the couple
  • Both parties' ages
  • Both parties' condition
  • Rank or Profession of both parties - the lady’s occupation was often not recorded in marriages in earlier years
  • The couple's residences
  • Christian names and surnames of the couple's fathers
  • Occupations of the couple's fathers
  • The Officiant's Signature
  • Signature or mark of groom and bride
  • Signature or mark of witnesses

If you know where marriages took place, it is often cheaper to take copies of marriage records at the appropriate Record Office rather than obtain copies from Southport.

Please also view my guides to parish registers in general, baptism records and burial records.  You may also find much information is included on memorial inscriptions.