At the top of the certificate will be information about where the marriage was solemnized - and should include the name of the church, chapel, register office or other building together with the parish, registration district and county.
This is the number which corresponds with the entry number in the original register.
Column 1 - When married
The date on which the marriage occurred. Could be any day of the week including Sundays and bank holidays.
Column 2 - Name and Surname
These are the names by which the groom and bride are known at the time of the marriage, not necessarily their birth names. This is/was significant to the calling of banns or displaying the notice of marriage in that the couple need to be identified by the names they were currently using, and until recently any previous name is not recorded on the marriage certificate and there was no requirement to show proof of the use of a name.
Column 3 - Age
Early certificates often just say 'Full age' which means 21 or over. The person may have been 21 or he/she may have been considerably older. If there was a biggish age gap between the couple it was not unusual for one or other of them to add or subtract a few of years.
The minimum age for marriage was 12 for girls and 14 for boys until 1829 when it was raised to 16 for both. For boys and girls under 21 (under 18 from 1st January 1970) consent of the parents, or legal guardian is/was required. In the past when ages were not so carefully checked it was not unknown for a minor to add a year or to and get away without parental consent.
Column 4 - Condition
This is the marital status of the bride and groom, usually bachelor/spinster or widow/widower. Divorce was rare and expensive in the ninteenth century, but a divorcee will be shown as 'previously the husband/wife of ......' or more recently 'previous marriage dissolved'. Because divorce was so difficult in the ninteenth century bigamy did occur - and almost always the already married partner would be described as bachelor or spinster. There is usually paperwork to confirm a previous marriage and the death of that spouse or a divorce, but nothing to show that someone has never been married before.
Column 5 - Rank or profession
The usual occupations of the bride and groom as they described it, though it was quite usual for this column to be blank for the bride even though she did work.
Column 6 - Address
Early certificates often only show a village name, but by mid ninteenth century the street address is usually given. The legal requirement was that one of the couple had to live in the parish for a CofE wedding, or in the district for a non-conformist or register office wedding. However, for all sorts of reasons people chose to marry in churches other than the one where they normally lived and had to establish residency in the parish or registration district for seven days. Staying with friends/relatives or even just leaving a suitcase with them, was sufficient, and once the banns or notice had been published they were free to move back again. Even in the ninteenth century it was quite common for both parties to have the same address - this does not necessarily mean that they were living together, just that one established residency (with the future in-laws) in order to avoid the costs of having two sets of banns read.
Column 7 - Father's name and Surname
The names entered here should be those of the natural/biological father and not a step-father, grand-father, god-father or anyone else, but the information is only as good as that supplied at the time. An illegitimate bride or groom who does not have a father's name on their birth certificate may well have known and named the father for their marriage registration. If it states 'deceased' after his name then he probably was dead, but the absence of that word does not necessarily indicate that he was still alive.
Column 8 - Father's occupation
Again this is what the couple said their fathers' occupations were. It might say 'retired' ....... or of independant means if he was reasonably comfortable financially, or it might be that although he'd had a specific trade or occupation when younger old age might have meant that he was only a labourer by the time his child married.
Rest of the certificate
Married in the ...name of church or building...
According to the Rites and Ceremonies of the ...denomination... (Established Church for CofE). Not necessarily the same as the church building denomination and will be blank for a register office ceremony.
By...certificate/licence... or after...Banns... (Banns only applicable to CofE)
This marriage was solomnized between us - followed by the signature, or mark, of both parties. The bride should sign in the name she was known by immediately prior to the marriage.
In the presence of us - followed by the signatures, or marks, of two (or more) witnesses. There is not, and never has been, any legal restriction on the age of a witness, he or she just had to be old enough to understand what they had witnessed. By the twentieth century it became common for parents to witness their child's marriage but in earlier times it was more usual for the witnesses to be close relatives from the younger generation and/or a church warden or someone of similar status. After all, the purpose of witnessing a marriage was to be able to confirm that the marriage had occurred should there have been any dispute in the future, so a younger witness was more likley to still be around 20, 30, 40 or more years later, and a churchwarden was generally respected member of the community.
Legally, it is only the original register, held by the church or register office, which bride, groom and witnesses are required to sign. Any copy registers and certificates issued as copies of the original register may have the signature names copied in a different hand. In practice, however, most church ministers do ask the people concerned to sign the copy registers and the certificate issued on the day. A Registrar told me once that if someone signs on a foreign script she asks "if they would mind" signing the certificate and copy register. Thus the only way you can be certain that you are looking at original signatures is if you have a copy of a church marriage register, or a locally issued photocopy certificate for a register office marriage.
An certificate issued by a Church minister or local register office will include the signature and status of the officiating minister or registrar, who signs to say that the certificate is a true copy of the register in his/her custody.
A GRO certificate is printed with the words "Certified to be a true copy of an entry in the certified copy of a register of Marriages in the Registration district of..Reg District name... Given at the General Register office, under the seal of the said office ...date....
Brenda's Family History§ Kent Family History