Users' Guide to the Marriage Indexes
- What areas are covered by the indexes?
- What information is contained in the indexes?
- How do I order a marriage certificate?
- Can I see the original records?
- Why are the reference numbers different from the national marriage indexes?
- Why can't I find a marriage in the indexes?
- What should I do if I find a mistake in the indexes?
1. What areas are covered by the indexes?
Our aim is to eventually cover all marriages which took place in West Midlands between 1837 and 1950 and beyond.
These records are now held at many separate register offices:
The registration districts in West Midlands have changed considerably since 1837, and very few records are now held at the offices where they were initially registered.
For full details of all the churches, chapels and register offices included in the database so far, see the Coverage of the Marriage Indexes page, which also shows the years for which the records have been indexed. Because there are separate sets of records for each place of marriage, the dates covered will vary, although eventually all the indexes should be complete for the years 1837 to 1950. More information will be continually added to the database, and the latest additions will be noted on the Updates page.
2. What information is contained in the indexes?
From the indexes, you can find out:
(a) The Names of the bride and groom, as shown in the registers. Sometimes a name may be spelled two or more different ways on the same register entry, in which case each variant is separately indexed. This same also applies to double-barrelled names, so that 'Jeffrey Johnson Smith' would normally appear as 'Smith, Jeffrey J.' and 'Johnson Smith, Jeffrey'.
(b) The Year in which the marriage took place. In some cases only a range of up to five years is indicated at present because of the way in which the indexes were originally compiled, but exact years will be provided wherever possible.
(c) The Church, Chapel or Registrar's District where the marriage was solemnised. Until 1898 only Church of England, Jewish and Quaker places of worship were entitled to maintain their own marriage registers. All other non-conformist and Roman Catholic marriages had to be conducted in the presence of a registrar, and are therefore listed as 'Civil Marriages', together with all those conducted at the local register office. After 1898 non-conformist and Roman Catholic churches were allowed to keep their own registers and celebrate their own marriages, and so from that date the records for marriage are much more fragmented.
(d) The Register Office in West Midlands which now holds the records. There have been a large number of boundary changes between districts since the start of registration in 1837, and as a result many records have been moved around.
(e) The Reference Number for the marriage entry, which can be used to order the marriage certificate, and which should be identical for the bride and groom. Please note that this is only applicable at the register office which holds the records, and is of no use anywhere else.
Please bear in mind that until recently the main purpose of these indexes was to supply certified copies of entries in registers. They were therefore written to help the registrar find an entry on information supplied by the applicant for the certificate. Consequently, they do not always provide information in an ideal form for family historians.
3. How do I order a marriage certificate?
If you find an entry you are interested in, it is possible to order a marriage certificate, which is a copy of the full entry from the original register. This normally contains the following information for both bride and groom:
- Date and place of marriage
- Marital condition (e.g. bachelor, spinster, widow)
- Rank, profession or occupation
- Residence at the time of marriage
- Father's name and occupation
- The names of two (or occasionally more) witnesses to the marriage
Applications for certified copies of the marriage entries should be made to:
|Address||Payments to:||Credit Cards|
Superintendent Registrar Stourbridge Branch Office,
Dudley District Register Office
Sandwell Register Office
The Register Office
Family historians are requested to apply for certificates by post and not call casually at the Register Office. Whilst staff will always try to help, they do have other statutory duties to carry out every day and are often very busy with current births, deaths and marriages. Postal applications are normally dealt with promptly as they are received.
An application should include:
- the reference number supplied in the index - this is most important;
- the name of the church, chapel or register office where the marriage took place;
- the names of one or both of the parties who were married;
- the date of their marriage (to within five years is sufficient)
Do not forget to include all the information asked for in the application - the better the information supplied, the greater the chance of being supplied with the certificates required. And a stamped addressed envelope will help get the certificate back to you more quickly. Applications sent from outside the UK should enclose two International Reply Coupons with their self-addressed envelope instead of stamps.
The fee for each certificate is £10.00 and should be sent with the application. Cheques should be crossed "/&Co/". Do Not Send Cash.
Applicants wishing to pay by credit card should include in their applications the relevant
details, i.e. type of card, name of cardholder, card number and date of expiry.
Please note that only the offices noted above can accept credit card payments
4. Can I see the original records?
Original records of births, marriages and deaths held at register offices in England and Wales are not open to the public, and information can only be released in the form of certificates issued by the registrars.
However, for marriages in the Church of England, a duplicate set of records exists, to which the public does have free access. These registers were normally retained by the church, and those for West Midlands have often found their way into the West Midlands Record Office, and may also be found on microfilm at local libraries or family history centres.
5. Why are the reference numbers different from the national marriage indexes?
The national indexes of marriages in England and Wales at Myddleton Place (formerly at St. Catherine's House or Somerset House) list all persons married in each quarter year from 1837. They show the name of the bride or groom, the surname of the spouse (from 1912 only), the name of the registration district (as it existed at the time of the marriage), and a volume and page number which is unique to the General Register Office and of no use to local registrars.
Every three months since July 1837, local registrars and Church of England ministers have been required to send copies of their marriage register entries to the General Register Office. For various reasons, sometimes marriages were missed, or details were copied incorrectly from the register; this can usually explain differences between certificates ordered by the GRO and those obtained from local register offices. Generally speaking, registers and indexes held by the local offices are less prone to error, and should therefore be more accurate than those at the GRO.
6. Why can't I find a marriage in the indexes?
A quick glance through the indexes reveals some unusual spellings of common names, and this often explains why a marriage can be hard to find. In the early days of registration, and because of the high level of illiteracy, the bride and groom told their name to the vicar or registrar, who would spell it as he heard it. If the couple could not read or write, they would not know whether the names were being spelled consistently. For example, people looking for the Muir family may not think to look under 'Mewr', or 'Raleigh' under 'Rolli', and a degree of lateral thinking may be required.
To help overcome this problem the search pages have the ability to try to list names that sound similar but are spelled differently. Hint and tips about getting the best from the search of the indexes on this web site are available here.
If you are satisfied that a name does not appear in the indexes, then your ancestor may have travelled outside the area to be married. It was not unusual for a couple to travel several miles from their usual home to marry at a church used by their parents or other relations. The GRO indexes may be helpful in locating where they married, but please remember that a lot of records have moved around due to boundary changes between districts.
7. What should I do if I find a mistake in the indexes?
Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of these indexes, it is possible that an occasional mistake or omission can occur. If you think you have found an error then please send an e-mail to: West Midlands BMD Webmaster, giving as many details as possible.