Albert Adolph and Emily Watson
Married, not only in the eyes of God - but also in the eyes of the Law...
Until 1837, Catholics wanting their marriages to be recognised on both Heaven and Earth had to go to a Catholic priest for God (and the Pope), and then to an Anglican parish church for the King and State.
From 1837, marriages in a Catholic church were valid if a registrar was present, and from 1898, Catholic priests themselves were licensed to perform legally-recognised marriages without a registrar being there. Between 1837 and 1898, though, registrars were not always welcomed into Catholic churches, so many Catholics continued to have double marriages, one in a Catholic church, and one in a registrar's office.
My great-great-grandfather Albert Joseph Adolph married Emily Lydia Watson twice on 3 July 1877. First, he was married at St Dominic's Priory, Haverstock Hill by Fr J Proctor OP before witnesses Joseph Albert Watson and Eliza Hawke. He and his bride then went to Marylebone where they married again. This time, with a witness Jabez Watson. It turns out this was not another Watson - it was Joseph Albert Watson, mis-recorded.
"The authorities have always been anxious to prevent bigamy, or marriages between people who were too closely related... People wanting to get married had to use either banns or licenses"
For most family trees, though, you will only need to start using church marriage registers once you have got back to July 1837. From that point back to 25 March 1754, 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, and available only to couples where both parties were Quakers or Jews. Otherwise, regardless of denomination your Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic or agnostic ancestors had no choice but to roll up to the parish church and go through the motions. The Church of England, for its part, paid lip-service to the supposedly religious aspects of the marriage service, but acted effectively as a state registry for weddings.
From 1754, each parish had a separate, printed marriage register, recording a prescribed amount of information. Before that date, marriages were recorded on the non-printed pages of old parish registers. Some priests kept separate registers: others used the back of the baptism and burial register. Some entered all their baptisms, marriages and burials in one register sequentially, or jumbled together. Generally, priests simply recorded the date and the parties' names, '3 May 1696, Edward Smith and Mary Evans'.
Pre-1754 marriage registers don't give you much to go on, but at least they give you an idea of the minimum age the parties would have been at the time, and where they were, but more usefully you can look through the register and see what other people of their surname were marrying at about the same time, who could have been relations. Often, however, priests added extra pieces of information -where the parties lived, what the groom did for a living, and occasionally they even recorded a father's name, or an age, or whether either party had been married before, or even make comments on them.
Before 1754, there was great confusion over where a legally-valid marriage could take place (hence Hardwicke's Marriage Act). Catholicism was still technically outlawed, so Catholics who wanted a legally-recognised marriage still went to the Church of England, but many Protestant non-conformists practised their own marriages and expected them to be legally recognised. Some records survive. There were also many
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