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Void marriage? A tale of two sisters

Discussion in 'England & Wales BMD registers' started by Frankie66, Mar 6, 2022.

  1. Frankie66

    Frankie66 LostCousins Member

    Wondering if a marriage might be void if a widowed man married his late wife's sister? And if so, how could I find evidence of that?
    • Rebecca Midgley m. John Holmes Stubley in 1869. Rebecca died in 1889.
    • John Holmes Stubley remarried in 1900 to Ada King (a widow). He is shown on 1901 and 1911 censuses with Ada.
    • Rebecca Midgley's sister, Hannah Mary, married Joseph Cantral (Cantril, Cantrell) in 1864. Joseph Cantral died 1878. Hannah Mary Cantral is shown on the next two censuses 1881, 1891 as widow, Hannah Mary Cantral.
    • On the 1901 census I have found Hannah Mary Stubley, described as married. She also appears on 1911 census saying she is widowed. I can't find death of Hannah Mary Stubley only death of Hannah Mary Cantral in 1918.
    • Findmypast has a civil reg. record of Hannah Mary Cantrell marrying Q1 1892 in Bramley, Yorkshire. The Transcript does not state name of husband.
    • John Holmes Stubley is also shown as marrying Q1 1892 on a separate search. Free BMD also lists him on the same page as Hannah Mary Cantrell p. 438. (He is also named on p. 428 according to Free BMD.) (Cross checking other entries p. 438 shows Frank Bond Biddiscombe m. Charlotte Jones.)
    If Hannah Mary [Midgley] Cantral m. John Holmes Stubley in 1892 and he married Ada King in 1900 while HMC was still alive - could it have been because the JHS/HMC marriage was void?
  2. At home in NZ

    At home in NZ LostCousins Star

    I cam across an instance of this sort of thing while researching an ancestor who married his sister-in-law in 1871. I made this note:
    This marriage should have taken place abroad because it was illegal in England. However, it was made legal by the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907.

    I didn't look at the act but it might help you.
  3. Helen7

    Helen7 LostCousins Superstar

    A marriage between a widower and his late wife's sister was indeed void from 1835 to 1907. I have several examples of this in my family tree - though none where either of the parties had gone on to marry someone else during the lifetime of their 'spouse' (which would have been legal as the previous marriage was void). In the case you mention, that looks to have happened.

    The latest LC newsletter (under sections 'Was that marriage legal?' and 'Man marries three brothers') gives more information on this subject.

    A marriage between a widow and her late husband's brother was also void, and it wasn't until 1921 that such marriage was legalised, by the Deceased Brother's Widows Marriage Act 1921 (brought in after WW1 to enable a war widow to marry her former brother-in-law).
    Even if the couple had married abroad, the marriage would not have been valid on returning to England - as explained in Rebecca Probert's book Marriage Law for Genealogists (2nd edn), page 65.
    • Thanks! Thanks! x 1
  4. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    A reminder that LostCousins subscribers can hear Professor Probert's latest talk, which covers this topic, by following the link on the Subscribers Only page of the LostCousins site.
    • Thanks! Thanks! x 1
  5. Helen7

    Helen7 LostCousins Superstar

    Thanks for the reminder. I attended the first of Prof Probert's talks, but have just watched the recording of the second one, which was worth it as it covered different points and questions. Very interesting - I can recommend it.
    • Agree Agree x 2
  6. Frankie66

    Frankie66 LostCousins Member

    Thank you all! Glad that I am not going crazy and that what I was thinking seems feasible.

    On the 1911 census Hannah Cantral/Stubley states marriage duration 4 years. That could be taken as meaning she separated from John Stubley around 1896; he didn't marry Ada until 1900. I'll need to get hold of the marriage cert., see what that says. Question is would they have known at the time that a marriage between them would be void; did the priest marrying them know the relationship and if so, why did he marry them; did they discover only later on that the marriage was void and separate at that point? Some things we will never know.

    If Hannah and John's marriage was made legal by the 1907 Act, does that make his marriage to Ada bigamous? If he married her on the basis that his marriage to Hannah was void, that seems rather unjust.

    I will watch Prof. Probert's recordings, thanks for the tip. I think I have her book somewhere but am mid-house move so not everything I have is accessible.
  7. Heather

    Heather LostCousins Member

    My great grandfather married his brother's widow in 1891 in church in England , so I take it that was illegal, I have a copy of the marriage certificate. This was his second marriage and it does state on the certificate that they are both Widower and Widow. I do have Prof. Probert's book and I have now read the relevant section and am happy to learn that "after July 28th 1921, such marriages, whether celebrated before or after that date, were valid" . His second wife died in 1898 and he remarried in 1900, another widow.
  8. Helen7

    Helen7 LostCousins Superstar

    I would say his marriage to Ada would NOT be bigamous. Prof Probert says in her talk (28 minutes in) that the 1907 Act validated any existing marriages, as long as the parties haven't gone off and married somebody else on the assumption that the marriage wasn't valid.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  9. Helen7

    Helen7 LostCousins Superstar

    The marriage cert may or may not help. I have a relative who married her late husband's brother - at the same church as her first marriage but with a different vicar. At the second wedding, she gives her maiden name and states that she's a spinster, so she clearly knew she had something to hide. The vicar may not have known about the in-law relationship of bride and groom, but the witnesses certainly did, as they were close relatives of both husbands. I think a blind eye may have been turned for the sake of the children of the second marriage (one already born, one on the way and one yet to come).
    • Agree Agree x 1
  10. peter

    peter Administrator Staff Member

    I suggest listening to the recording - I have a feeling that marriages were only validated if both parties will still alive and married to each other at the time the Act came into force.
    • Thanks! Thanks! x 2
  11. Frankie66

    Frankie66 LostCousins Member

    Thanks everyone. I started listening to Prof Probert's recording late last night and she does cover these void marriages. Some of my questions were also answered. She said that the marriages that became legit following the 1907 Act would have been those where the parties had not married someone else subsequently. So that would mean John and Ada's marriage was valid but John and Hannah's I guess would have remained void. Thankfully they were too old for children so that wasn't an issue for John and Hannah.

    Prof Probert also discussed the question of vicars marrying couples they might have known they should not have. As Helen has said it appears they might or might not have known, depending on the situation.

    An interesting topic for sure. I feel sorry for poor Hannah!
  12. At home in NZ

    At home in NZ LostCousins Star

    I admit I have not read or listened to Professor Probert. Even if I do I don't think I can get my head around the concept of a marriage being 'void'.
    This is how I see it:
    Marriage has to be dissolved in order to leave the parties free to re-marry.
    A second marriage while a first marriage is not dissolved is bigamy. Surely the first marriage still stands until it is dissolved.

    In the case of death of either one of the parties, re-marriage should be in accordance with the law of the time.
  13. Helen7

    Helen7 LostCousins Superstar

    It wouldn't need to be dissolved if it wasn't a valid marriage in the first place.
    • Agree Agree x 2

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