British County Marriage Indexes
by Richard W. Price, MA, AG® and Nathan W. Murphy, MA, AG®
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Historically, English men often married outside their parishes of residence. Marriages generally took place in the bride’s place of residence. Because there are over 11,000 Church of England parishes in England alone, it is often difficult to track down these records. To help alleviate this problem, genealogists and family history societies have created county-wide marriage indexes.
Percival Boyd, an avid genealogist in the early twentieth-century, is credited with devising this method to solve English family history conundrums. He made a serious dent in making a nation-wide index for England through what is known as Boyd’s Marriage Index. Next, the International Genealogical Index, and it’s holding-tank, the British Vital Records Index (CD-ROM), furthered these efforts. While each of these databases are valuable, they are incomplete when parish coverage is analyzed county-by-county, making them inferior to the indexes discussed in this article.
Maps displaying indexing coverage have been broken up into three time frames. The years were not arbitrarily chosen, but have significance in Church of England record-keeping practices. Figure 1, which covers 1538-1812, begins with the act in 1538 requiring clerks to keep registers of parishioners’ baptisms, marriages, and burials and ends with an act in 1813, which introduced new pre-printed marriage forms. Figure 2, covering 1754-1812, reveals that many additional counties have indexes that begin with the first pre-printed marriage forms implemented by Hardwick’s Act of 1754. Lastly, figure 3 demonstrates that the majority of English and Welsh counties have complete indexes beginning in 1813 and ending with the advent of civil registration in 1837. Published nationwide marriage indexes are available for England and Wales from 1837 onward (see “Top 20 English Genealogical Web Sites – 2005”).
There is no need to create county-wide marriage indexes in Scotland, as nationwide indexes exist and are available at the Scotland’s People web site.
It is not possible to create complete county-wide marriages indexes in Ireland because of a general lack of records; however, nationwide indexes to marriages exist from 1864 onward.
It is often necessary to write to England and Wales to search county-wide marriage indexes. Price & Associates, Inc. has maintained an up-to-date listing of who to write to in order to search these indexes. Nominal fees are usually required to have an index searched.
For assistance in accessing these indexes, call us at 1-800-288-0920.
Figure 1. Marriages from all parishes with extant registers or transcripts have been indexed in shaded counties from 1538 through 1812. Striped counties have well-developed indexes covering the same period; however, they are incomplete. Map created using GenMap UK software.
Figure 2. Marriages from all parishes with extant registers or transcripts have been indexed in shaded counties from 1754 through 1812. Striped counties have well-developed indexes covering the same period; however, they are incomplete. Map created using GenMap UK software.
Figure 3. Marriages from all parishes with extant registers or transcripts have been indexed in shaded counties from 1813 through 1837. Striped counties have well-developed indexes covering the same period; however, they are incomplete. Map created using GenMap UK software.
- Jeremy Gibson and Elizabeth Hampson, Marriage and Census Indexes for Family Historians (Bury, Lancashire: Federation of Family History Societies (Publications) Ltd., 2000).
- David Hey, The Oxford Dictionary of Local and Family History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). Available online by subscription at Oxford Reference.
- Richard W. Price, MA, AG®, President of Price and Associates, Inc. Knowledge accumulated over 30-year career as a professional English genealogist.