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Can a birth certificate entry provide evidence of marriage?

Discussion in 'General Genealogical Queries' started by AndyK, Jun 23, 2020.

  1. AndyK

    AndyK New Member

    We are all used to taking the parents' information from birth records and expecting to find a marriage some time prior to the birth. Having spend few days transcribing birth records, it occurred to me that I was unclear as to what the legal intention of the registration process was in conveying evidence of a marriage and hence legitimacy.

    The various Registration Acts for England & Wales invoke penalties for the provision of false information and leave it at that. I have been unable to uncover any detailed statutory regulations earlier than 1968. The 1968 regulations go into some detail concerning legitimation where a subsequent marriage between the parents within a specified time allows for re-registration and the adjustment of the mother's surname in the entry, all of which hints at the intention to convey legitimacy.

    My question really lies with the wording in the father's and mother's name columns (e.g. John Brown ..., and Mary Brown formerly Smith). Can a person reading the certificate expect to understand those words in a legal context as meaning that the two people named are married?

    I'm sure this seems an obscure thing to consider, but I would be interested to know if any members have inside knowledge as to how registrars formally treat the information given. What happens if a registrar, for any reason, doubts the validity of what the informant tells them?
  2. Tim

    Tim Moderator Staff Member

    Hi Andy, personally if I don't see a marriage entry then I don't consider them to be married.
  3. AndyK

    AndyK New Member

    That's the way I've always thought too, Tim. It was just a 2am stray thought about what was intended to be conveyed that made me ask the question. Someone will know!
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 23, 2020
    • Agree Agree x 1
  4. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    Since there are many cases where the parents of a child weren't married, even though the birth certificate implied that they were, I don't think you can draw any conclusions from what it says on a birth certificate. Like Tim, I'd treat it as a hint, nothing more.
  5. AndyK

    AndyK New Member

    I quite agree, Peter, and that's the way I've always treated the information. Like Tim, I've always searched for a marriage based on the BC information rather than accept it as true. However, my question was about the legal intention of the registration process, which is a different matter. I imagine that when the original Act was drawn up, it was intended that the wording used by the intended process would convey a message (as is the wont of laws put in place by governments), and what I'm trying to get to is what that message was intended to be.
    In Scotland, the message intended to be conveyed is much clearer, the the date and place of the marriage were required of the informant, not that it made the information given necessarily any more reliable. For England, Wales and Ireland, the information was restricted to the formula contained in the mother's name column - usually Mary Brown formerly Smith - but somewhere in the wonderful world of statutory instruments I imagine there must have been guidelines for registrars from the outset. Certainly in Ireland, the registrars were already busy people, usually being the local doctor.
    The question is perhaps not as obscure as it seems. In the 19th century, a good few couples met and married abroad, returning to the UK to continue producing and raising their families. In some cases, it is not yet possible to easily retrieve marriage records, the only 'evidence' of the event being that given on the children's birth records. While I have and still do regard such evidence as inconclusive, I am trying to discover the legal intention embodied in that very information.
    Perhaps the same intention originates with the registration of baptisms back in the 16th century. Where an entry is made that gives the parents' names as John & Mary Brown, there seems to have been a justified assumption on the part of the local clergyman that they are married. If so, was the legal intention of the entry to convey that assumption as legal fact? We know the clergy were very keen to point out illegitimacy through the years, which leads me to believe that legitimacy was intended to be conveyed by the usual formula. Perhaps I need to look further back for the answer!
  6. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    If they married abroad the marriage probably wouldn't have been valid in England, although it depends when and where.

    But does it really matter whether a couple were legally married or not? The main reason I look for marriages is in the hope of finding out more details about the couple.

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