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Marriage marks a crucial turning point in a person’s life. This was even more true for our ancestors than it is today, as it used to be far less common for unmarried couples to live together. You can discover details of husbands and wives in your family – and their lives together – through our marriage records.
Your starting point for uncovering your ancestors’ nuptials should be our two official civil registration indexes: England & Wales, FreeBMD Marriage Index: 1837-1915; and England & Wales, Marriage Index: 1916-2005. These fully-searchable collections include the vast majority of couples who married in these countries across almost 200 years.
Searching the indexes is easy. Simply choose which period you want to look in and enter a relative’s name plus ideally your best guess of a marriage date and place. Click ‘Search’ to see your results, then select ‘View Record’ to see further details of any entry.
As its name suggests, the transcribed details from the FreeBMD 1837-1915 index are free for anyone to view. You need to be a full member to see scanned images of the index, but in this rare case they don’t give you any extra information, so you don’t need to view them.
Rather than being entered together, each husband and wife are recorded in the indexes separately. The key to spotting your ancestor’s correct entry is identifying their spouse.
Our more recent index includes the spouse’s surname. So, if you know this you can simply use it in your search – you’ll find that you have far fewer results to wade through to find the correct one.
With the earlier indexes just search as normal, click on a result and look for the ‘Click to see others on page’ option. This will show you a short list of people recorded alongside the person you suspect to be your ancestor. If you’re right, one of the other people on this list will often be your forebear’s partner.
The indexes themselves aren’t hugely detailed. However, they include crucial details that let you buy one of the key documents of your relatives’ lives – their marriage certificate. You can actually order these certificates direct from our site.
When you’re viewing an index record, look for an ‘Order marriage certificate’ link on the left. This takes you to an order form, where you’ll find many of the fields have been automatically filled in for you, using the information from the entry you’ve found. Follow the instructions to choose your preferred delivery and payment options – prices start at £22.99.
Your certificate will take up to 16 working days to arrive in the post. However, when you receive it, you’ll find it provides a wealth of information about your family. You can see where and when the wedding took place; both spouses’ names, occupations and ages; their father’s names and occupations; and even the names of two witnesses – look closely at these, as they’re often further relatives.
The official indexes go back as far as 1837. For marriages before this, your best resource is parish registers. These are lists of nuptials kept by individual churches all over the land, dating right back to the 16th century in many cases.
The information in parish registers is usually more detailed than the later indexes, with precise dates and often addresses. However, there are no certificates to order. The main difficulty with these records is that they’ve never been collated into a national database. We’re constantly adding to our parish collections, and we already have millions of records from London, Liverpool, Yorkshire and many other areas – but when searching you should bear in mind that this isn’t a complete national collection. Find out more about parish records
We have more collections you can use to fill in gaps and track down any missing ancestors, both before and after 1837. For example, Gretna Green Marriage Registers, 1794-1895, includes over 10,000 romantics who eloped to Scotland to escape disapproving families or religious law; while Crisps Marriage Licence Index, 1708-1892, helps you trace couples who kept their weddings quiet by gaining a licence.