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Winston Churchill's marriage

How to spot and interpret the details on a marriage certificate - our war-time leader's is an ideal example


Marriages often took place at Christmas, because this was one of the very few times of the year - if not the only time -when poor families had enough time off work to come together. The parish was usually the home parish of the bride.

AGES: These can sometimes be inaccurate, or simply state 'full age', '21' or 'minor'.

PLACE OF RESIDENCE: The bride's is likely to have been her normal address, but grooms often took temporary residence in the parish (minimum four weeks) to be allowed to marry in the parish church. If bride and groom give the same address, he may have been her father's apprentice or lodger, and rented a room.

NAMES OF BRIDE AND GROOM: If the bride was a widow, she will be recorded under her last married name, not her maiden name. The maiden name should have been stated in the birth certificate of any children of the marriage.

OCCUPATIONS: Until the mid 20th century, even if she worked 18-hour days at a mine or scrubbing other peoples' doorsteps, the bride's occupation was very seldom deemed worthy of recording.

MARITAL CONDITION: Bachelor or spinster, widower or widow. If divorced, the name of the previous spouse may be recorded.

NAMES & OCCUPATIONS OF FATHERS: Mother's names were not recorded. If fathers were retired, they might be rather grandly entitled 'gentleman'. Dead fathers were very often given a posthumous promotion by their proud children, such as boatswain to captain. It was normal to state whether the fathers were alive or dead at the time. Generally, assume that the father was alive unless otherwise stated.

WHETHER THE MARRIAGE WAS BY BANNS OR LICENSE: These terms are explained in the main article text.


Witnesses were often siblings of the bride or groom, but don't assume that because a favoured sibling did not witness a marriage they cannot have been present at all.

Posthumous Marriage Widow
WINSTON AND CLEMENTINE: Taken a week before their wedding

MARITAL CONDITION: Bachelor or spinster, widower or widow. If divorced, the name of the previous spouse may be recorded.

Bachelor And Spinster Certificate

NAME OF CLERGYMAN: If the bride or groom were related to a clergyman, he might have come to their local church to perform the ceremony for them.

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NAME OF CLERGYMAN: If the bride or groom were related to a clergyman, he might have come to their local church to perform the ceremony for them.

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"When Hardwicke's Marriage Act came into force, the only marriages recognised by the state were those performed by an Anglican clergyman in an Anglican parish church. There were but two exceptions: those contracted in Quakers' meeting houses or Jewish synagogues"

they tell you the names and occupations of the fathers. They therefore tell you two names from the generation before the one you've already traced. Unlike their Scottish counterparts, they don't tell you the bride and groom's mothers' names, but that doesn't make them any less valuable.

Even when you are tracing an ancestor with a very unusual name, you cannot just plump for a birth in the right place and year and assume it is the right one. You need extra co-ordinates. Having the father's name and occupation from a marriage certificate means that, when you find the 'likely' birth record, you can see if the father's details tally.

Of course, errors could occur in recording fathers' names, especially if they were long-dead, but that was very unusual. Occupations really could change, though. You could be doing one job when your child was born, and a completely different one by the time your child walked down the aisle. This was particularly so for people in occupations where upward progression was possible (clerk to manager for example) or in which the Industrial Revolution changed working practises (framework knitter to factory hand; carter to engine driver). Men tended to serve in the armed forces early in life and then leave to take up civilian occupations (the police was a popular option). Sometimes, careers could take downward turns. However, if the occupations are radically different (sailor to surgeon, say), alarm bells should ring.

DETAILS: This pre-1754 marriage entry, from Seasalter, Kent, reads 'Little Oziah Oakham and Sarah Scater, both of Seasalt were married by License Septemb 27 1744. Sarah was his first wife's sister... and now very pregnant

You can look for marriages in the General Registration indexes. There is an index for each quarter of each year, which state the name of the person getting married, the registration district in which the event was recorded, and a reference number. Start searching in the quarter of the year in which the birth took place. The idea that couples waited until their wedding night to sleep with each other is a romantic one, with very little basis in reality. The first child was often born less than nine months after the wedding - often the bride didn't so much walk up their aisle, as waddle. Work back from the latest point when the couple could have married, looking for the more unusual surname and cross referencing possible entries with the other party's name.

From March 1912, the index reference for each person includes the other party's surname. So, if your ancestor's birth record gave the parents as 'Edward Smith and Mary Smith formerly Evans', then in the index reference to their marriage, Edward Smith will be followed by the spouse's name Evans, and Mary Evans's entry will be followed by 'Smith'. Of course, more than one Edward Smith married a Miss Evans: to make sure you have found the right entry, you

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