Marriages in the Parish Registers 

Learning about the history of marriages and the parish registers of England and Wales will help you find out what information will be available to you when you are researching prior to 1837.

When a couple wanted to get married they had two alternatives when it came to the administrative and legal side of things.

They could get married by banns or by obtaining a license.

Marriage Banns

Banns were instigated in 1215 by the Church of England in England and Wales. The "reading of the banns" was an announcement in the Sunday church service of the couple's intention to marry.

The banns had to be read for three consecutive Sundays prior to the wedding in the parish church of the couple.

Anyone who knew of a legal (or other) reason why the couple should not be married was able to voice their reason after hearing the reading of the banns.

Marriage License

The license was used as a substitute for the banns, especially if the couple didn't want to wait the three weeks of the banns.

It was also a display of the family's wealth as there was a fee to pay.

The application for the license was completed at the local Bishop's office or at the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Hardwicke's Marriage Act - 1753

In1753, Hardwicke's Marriage Act was passed and demanded that everyone in England and Wales (except Quakers and Jews) had to get married in an Anglican (Church of England) church. This law didn't apply in Scotland.

The act also helped standardise what information was recorded.

Before 1753, not all unions occurred in churches so you may not be able to find any records of your ancestor's marriage. Even if they were married in the chirch, you may only find the couple's name and the date of the wedding.

After 1753

After 1753, you will find in the parish registers the following information:-

  • groom's name and possibly his status
  • groom's occupation
  • bride's name and possibly her status
  • whether the marriage was by banns or license
  • date of marriage
  • signature of the person who officiated
  • signature of the couple
  • signature of the witnesses

A person's status meant whether they were a bachelor or spinster, widow or widower.

Pallot's Marriage Index - 1780 to 1837

This index covers 101 of the 103 parishes of the City of London during this time. It also covers 38 counties outside of London.

There are more than 1.5 million marriage entries for London and Middlesex alone in this index. 

This index will help narrow down the county where your ancestors' marriage occurred. Once you know this information you can search the relevant counties records.

Return from Parish Marriages to Parish Records