England Research Guidance: Marriage, 1538-1837

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England | Marriage | 1538-1837

Search Strategy

Search the following records in the order listed, if applicable to your research problem.

1. Church Records: Church records

Church records are parish, chapel, or congregation registers created by church authorities. They contain baptisms or christenings, marriages, and burials. In these records you may find names and dates and places of births or christenings, marriages, and burials. In the absence of a birth date, use a christening or baptism date.

2. Probate Records, Pre-1858: Probate records

Probate records are court records dealing with the distribution of a person's estate after death. Before January 1858, Church of England courts had the responsibility to prove wills and other probate records. In these records you may find names and relationships. Probate records include wills, testaments, administrations (admons), inventories, codicils, act books, and bonds.

3. Monumental Inscriptions/Church Monuments: Cemeteries

Monumental inscriptions and church monuments are memorials to persons who have died. Monumental inscriptions are engraved on stones placed at the graves of deceased persons. They are commonly found on headstones, tombstones, gravestones, or plaques, depending on the area. Inscriptions may include the deceased's name and age, dates, and names of spouse and other relatives.

Church monuments are memorials to wealthy, noble, royal, or other distinguished persons. They are often a brass plaque or a stone statue or effigy placed inside the church or on church grounds. Information on church memorials may include only names and dates.

You can access the information on monumental inscriptions and church monuments through printed transcriptions or by visiting the church. Verify information from monumental inscriptions and church monuments.

4. Poor Law Records: Poorhouses, poor law, etc.

Poor law records deal with the care of the poor. In these records you may find names, birth dates and places, marriage information, name of spouse, parents' names, death or burial information, and the parish where the family lived. Poor law records include churchwarden accounts, rate books, settlement certificates, removal orders, examinations, bastardy bonds, guardianship, and apprenticeship records. These records were created on a parish level before 1834 and on county and poor law union levels beginning in 1834.

5. Quarter Sessions: Court records

Quarter sessions are records of a county criminal court held quarterly and presided over by a justice of the peace. In these records you may find the names, ages, names of spouses, dates and places of marriages, residences, and more. Records of the quarter sessions may include apprenticeship indentures, settlement examinations, removal orders, and criminal proceedings.

6. Occupational Records: Occupations

Occupational records provide information on a person's employment or training for a craft, trade, or profession. Knowing a person's occupation can distinguish him or her from other individuals with the same name. Occupational records may include name, age, residence, sometimes father's or widow's name, and other information about a person's life and family. Some types of occupational records are apprenticeship and freemen records; trade, guild, or livery records; and histories of occupations.

7. Military Records: Military records

Military records identify individuals who served in the army and navy. Other branches of the armed forces, which include militia, coast guard, and royal marines, also kept records. In these records you may find a name, age, regiment name or number, name of ship, date and place of birth, names of parents, and marriage information. The records may provide information not found in any other source.

Military records include description books, soldiers' documents, regimental registers, returns of service, muster rolls and pay lists, continuous service engagement books, and chaplains' returns. You must know the regiment that your ancestor belonged to or the ship on which he served to find most military records.

8. Newspapers: Newspapers

Newspapers are published accounts of current events in a given area. Newspaper articles, notices, and community news items may provide information about births, marriages, and deaths. In these records you may find ages; dates and places of births, marriages, or deaths; and names of relatives. Large public or university libraries or libraries specializing in newspapers may help you locate the newspaper from your ancestor's area. 

9. Family History: Genealogy

The term family history describes a variety of records containing personal and family information gathered by researchers, societies, or archives. These records can include published family histories, pedigree charts, family group records, research notes on families, correspondence, ancestor lists, research exchange files, record abstracts, and collections of original or copied documents. Family histories can be excellent sources of information that can save you valuable research time. Because these records are compiled from a variety of sources, the information must be carefully evaluated and verified for accuracy. Internet genealogy sites can be helpful in researching a specific family name. If your ancestor emigrated from another country, look for more information in his or her country of birth.

10. Biography: Biography 

A biography is a history of a person's life. A biography may provide an individual's date and place of marriage and spouse's name, as well as other details. Look for biographies in biographical dictionaries and encyclopedias, society journals, periodicals, and in local histories. Verify information in biographical sources.

11. Chancery Court Records: Court records

Court records are government documents concerning civil matters. Most court records name people who were defendants, plaintiffs, jurors, or witnesses. In these records you may find a person's residence, occupation, physical description, family relationships, name of spouse, and some death and marriage information. Court records seldom provide birth information but may give ages.

Use court records after you have searched other records. Court records tend to be difficult to use because the handwriting is hard to read and they include unfamiliar legal terms.

12. Manorial Record: Manors

Manorial records are private records of an estate held by a lord of the manor. They include court minutes listing tenants, leases, land transfers, manorial appointments, rental fees, and petty crimes. In these records you may find names and relationships of tenants. Sometimes you can trace a family back several generations. 

13. Land Records: Land and property

Land and property records are records of land ownership and transfers. Use land records to learn when and where an individual lived. In these records you may find names, dates, addresses, occupations, a description of the property, terms of land transfers, and names of heirs, relatives, and neighbors. Land records usually do not provide birth, marriage, or death information but may give clues that can help you find records that do. Land records include surveys, grants, deeds, registers, and plat maps.

14. Visitations: Visitations, Heraldic

The government commissioned men called heralds to periodically visit all areas throughout the country to grant and regulate the use of coats of arms. Heralds granted coats of arms to knights, gentlemen, landed gentry, and others entitled to bear them. In these records you may find names, dates, places, and relationships. Sometimes these records may help you trace the descent of a family. These records include coats of arms and visitation pedigrees. Verify heraldic information.

15. Inquisitions Postmortem: Land and property

An inquisition post mortem is a record of the estate of a deceased person who held land directly from the King. A summoned jury determined the extent of his or her possessions and who was entitled to inherit them. In these records you may find the name and birth date or age of the heir and a description of the property. Names of tenants and jurors are also given.

16. Tax Records: Taxation

Tax records are accounts of taxes levied by the government. In these records you may find names and residences. Tax records do not give birth dates or parentage but identify an individual's residence in a certain place and time. Knowing where a person or family was at a certain time can give clues to birth, marriage, and death information. These records include lay subsidies, apprenticeship taxes, land tax assessments, valuations, hearth taxes, poll taxes, window taxes, and others.

17. School and Alumni Records: Schools

School and alumni records are lists of individuals attending a school, college, or university. In these records you may find name, age, date and place of birth, residence, father's name and occupation, marriage information, and other biographical details. School records list teachers, students, and graduates.

18. Cemetery Records: Cemeteries

Cemetery records are kept by sextons, administrators, or trustees of a private or municipal cemetery. In these records you may find the name and age of the deceased, dates, name of spouse, and marriage information. The information may lead you to a marriage record.

Types of cemetery records include burial and cremation registers, monumental inscriptions, and burial plot maps. These records may help you identify family members buried nearby. They may provide clues to lead you to other records. Verify the information found in cemetery records.

19. Birth Certificate: Civil registration

Civil registration is the government registration of births, marriages, and deaths, beginning 1 July 1837. In these records you may find a child's name, birth date and place, names of parents (including mother's maiden name), father's occupation, and the name, address, and sometimes the relationship of a person present at the birth. Civil registration birth records cover most of the population and are indexed countrywide. Use the national index to identify and obtain a copy of a birth certificate.

20. Death Certificate: Civil registration

Civil registration is the government registration of births, marriages, and deaths, beginning 1 July 1837. In these records you may find the name of the deceased, death date and place, age at death (which you can use to determine the year of birth), occupation (or in the case of a child, a parent's name), cause of death, and the name, address, and sometimes relationship of a person present at the death. Civil registration death records cover most of the population and are indexed countrywide. Use the national index to identify and obtain a copy of a death certificate.

21. Marriage Certificate: Civil registration

Civil registration is the government registration of births, marriages, and deaths, beginning 1 July 1837. In these records you may find names, ages (which you can use to determine a year of birth), marital status, fathers' names and occupations, the occupations and residences of the bride and groom, and names of witnesses. You must purchase a copy of a marriage certificate to see the information in the original record. Civil registration marriage records cover most of the population and are indexed countrywide. Use the national index to identify and obtain a copy of a marriage certificate.

22. City and Regional Directories: Directories

Directories are alphabetical lists of names and addresses. Annual directories are published by large cities, businesses, professional associations, churches, and organizations. They usually list only the head of a household and may give his or her occupation. If a person is listed in directories for successive years, that may indicate when he or she came to or left a city or died. Knowing an individual's address can help you search the census and other records of a large city. Some directories begin in the mid-1700s. City and county directories begin in the early to mid-1800s. 

23. Obituary: Obituaries

An obituary is a brief summary of the life of a deceased person. In these records you may find the date and place of marriage and name of the spouse. Obituaries are found in newspapers, magazines, and newsletters. Use obituaries for clues to help you locate information in other records, such as birth, marriage, and death certificates or church records. Verify the information you find in obituaries.

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