Marriage mining in the West Midlands

 

This article partly reprises that in The Midland Ancestor, March 2011, pages 38 to 42, in explaining how to find a marriage in a church register, but goes on to introduce the wider availability of a very useful set of tables for many churches in the West Midlands.  It relates to marriages in England and Wales under civil registration from 1 July 1837 onwards (hereinafter "1837" for brevity).  Churches recorded marriages in two "original" registers, one of which was retained by the church and the other of which was sent to the local registrar.  They also made a copy on loose pages, which was sent to the General Register Office (GRO).  Currently, a marriage certificate from the GRO by the standard service costs £11 including second class postage.  Although many birth and death register entries are available online from the GRO as .pdfs, the same facility does not apply to marriages.  The fee for providing a marriage certificate by standard service from a local Register Office is also £11, but some feel entitled to make an additional charge by requiring applicants to pay for a superior postal service.

 

There is a way around paying such fees.  Provided that the marriage took place in an Anglican church (Church of England or of Wales), it is possible to discover the church in a systematic way and since nearly all Anglican churches have deposited their marriage registers at the appropriate Archives, and many of the 19th century registers have been filmed, the marriage details can be extracted from the original church register (which is more authentic than the copy held by the General Register Office), without payment.  Key to this is understanding the ways of GRO clerks.

 

From 1852 onwards a typical entry in the GRO's quarterly index to marriages takes the form of, for example, "Birmingham 6d 63", Birmingham being the Registration District (RD), 6d being the GRO volume number and 63 the GRO page number.  While Birmingham, along with other Warwickshire Registration Districts, was always allotted volume 6d, the page numbers varied from quarter to quarter.  Staffordshire RDs such as West Bromwich were allotted volume 6b and Worcestershire ones such as Dudley and Kings Norton 6c.  Before 1852, the volume numbering differed: Warwickshire was in volume 16, Staffordshire except West Bromwich in 17 and the remainder of Staffordshire and all Worcestershire in 18.

 

The GRO clerks followed a set pattern.  Within each quarter of the year and within each RD, they arranged Anglican marriages before all others, followed by Register Office ones.  Up to the 1898 Marriage Act, which came into force on 1 April 1899, all non-Anglican, i.e. non-Conformist, including Roman Catholic, marriages, but excluding Quaker and Jewish, had to be conducted before a Registrar, so they were recorded in the Registrar's marriage books and filed by the GRO clerks after the Anglican.  UKBMD sites show such marriages as "Register Office", "Civil" etc. but they include non-Anglican ones.  Quaker and Jewish marriages followed.

 

The Anglican churches were arranged in alphabetical order, firstly by name of parish or town and then by name of church within that parish or town.  For example, in Aston RD, up to 1911 the first parish alphabetically is Ashted, so this took the lowest page numbers and Water Orton or, later, Wishaw the highest.  Occasionally, an ancient parish church took precedence over the other churches in the same town or city.  St. Martin's church in Birmingham was given precedence in the period 1891 to 1911, but thereafter reverted to an alphabetical position.  The same principles apply to all RDs.  An example of how this works is shown in the Table below for two early years in Birmingham RD.

As towns grew during the 19th century, more churches were built and consecrated to perform marriages.  Thus by 1911 there were 37 Anglican churches in Aston RD, for example.

 

From 1 April 1899, the non-Anglicans could keep their own registers if they applied to do so and so long as the officiating minister was an "authorised person", i.e. he had a permit.  These “authorised person” (AP) churches were filed after the Register Office and the Jewish and Quaker ones.  The AP churches were not grouped in alphabetical order, but added ad hoc as authorisations were implemented, whereby these churches kept their own registers in the prescribed form.

 

From 1852 onwards, within each quarter of the year, the GRO clerks normally arranged their register so that each Anglican church began on an odd-numbered page.  There were 2 marriages to every page, just as in the church registers, in the same order.  There were no blank pages other than, sometimes, the last even-numbered page for a particular church.  Before 1852, there were 4 marriages to the page.

 

The GRO page range for a particular church and particular quarter of a particular year, within a particular RD, can be discovered by looking up the first and last marriages of the quarter in the church register and then using the GRO index (nearly always accessible via "FreeBMD" or "Family Search") to determine the corresponding GRO page numbers.  The GRO page numbers for these first and last marriages have been termed by marriage miners the “cardinal points”.  Each set of cardinal points is unique to the quarter of the year and the church or other place of marriage.  Once the cardinal points are known, then anyone wishing to obtain the marriage details of an Anglican marriage without paying for a GRO certificate can usually do so by looking up the GRO page number in "FreeBMD" and then consulting the church register, at an Archives or Local Studies Centre, where older, completed registers have been deposited and films of many 19th century ones can be read.

 

Marriage mining only works for Anglican churches.  Very few non-Anglican churches kept their own register before 1st April 1899 and then seldom in the proper form.  After that date, churches took on AP status at different times and, as explained above, their order is non-alphabetical.  The Registrar's marriage books are unavailable to the public.  Normally, therefore, it is necessary to buy a certificate if the marriage is Non-Anglican.  This can be discovered by determining the final cardinal point for the last Anglican marriage in the quarter of the final church in the alphabetical sequence.  Any higher GRO page number indicates a Registrar, Jewish, Quaker or, after 1st April 1899, other non-Anglican AP marriage.  For example, the last church in Birmingham RD in 1845 was St. Thomas.  In the first quarter its final cardinal point was on GRO page 335, so a marriage at page 337 must be a Registrar one and so one has to obtain a certificate.  Similarly, in the "March" quarter of 1908 in Sheffield RD, the final Anglican church is Wincobank St Thomas and the last marriage was on GRO page 705, so a marriage on page 707 would be in the Registrar's book.  GRO page numbers bear no relation to church register page numbers and should not be confused with them.

 

Marriage mining in the West Midlands has been greatly facilitated by the creation by one of us, Peter Loach, of tables showing page ranges, i.e. the first and last cardinal points, for each quarter of the year and church for the 19th century and well beyond.  Typed pages have been deposited in the Record Office appropriate to the RD, except for Kidderminster which is not yet completed.  A recent advance is that they have been scanned as pdf files and sent to Midland Ancestors who will make them available in the society's Family History Centre in Birmingham when it re-opens after the current "lockdown".  They will also be sent to the local Record Offices.

TABLE:  Extract from the Loach tables, showing Birmingham churches and GRO page ranges for two early years:

 

     1844

   MAR

   JUN

   SEP

   DEC

All Saints

261-263

317-319

285-286

411-416

Bishop Ryder

     -

321

287-288

417

St George

265-268

323-329

289-293

419-425

St Luke

     -

331-332

295

427-429

St Martin

269-290

333-360

297-321

431-468

St Mary

     -

     -

323

469-470

St Paul

291

361-362

325

471-472

St Philip

293-314

363-389

327-354

473-507

St Stephen

     -

     -

     -

509

St Thomas

315-318

391-393

355-357

511-515

REGISTRAR

319-323

395-400

359-365

517-525

Quaker

     -

401

     -

     -

Jewish

     -

     -

367

     -

 

 

 

 

 

     1845

   MAR

   JUN

   SEP

   DEC

All Saints

259-263

297-302

281-285

449-454

Bishop Ryder

265

     -

     -

455-456

St George

267-271

303-306

287-295

457-465

St Luke

273-275

307-309

297-300

467-470

St Martin

277-304

311-342

301-323

471-511

St Mary

305-306

343

     s-

513-515

St Paul

307-308

345-346

325-327

517-518

St Philip

309-330

347-373

329-359

519-544

St Stephen

331

375

361

545-546

St Thomas

333-335

377-380

363-369

547-553

REGISTRAR

337-344

381-390

371-380

555-562

Quaker

345

391

381

     -

Jewish

347

     -

383

563

 

The following listing summarises the scope of the Loach tables:

Aston, 1837-1924, 46pp, 22 MB

Birmingham, 1837-1924, 48pp, 21 MB

Birmingham North, 1924-1932, 12pp, 5 MB

Birmingham South, 1924-1932, 23pp, 9 MB

Kidderminster, 1837-1898, 8 MB, 20pp, 8 MB

 

Kings Norton, 1837-1924, 44 pp, 21 MB

Walsall, 1837-1950, 62 pp, 26 MB

Wednesbury, 1932-1966, 33pp, 15 MB

Wolverhampton, 1837-1935, 74 pp, 34 MB,

Another great benefit of the Loach tables lies in the occasional gaps in them.  For example, following the fire at Darlaston All Saints church in the second World War, the only original marriage registers for that church before 1918 are those possessed by the Walsall Register Office, which has so far declined a request to make a copy for the Staffordshire Record Office.  The Loach tables showing GRO page ranges for the neighbouring churches of Darlaston St Lawrence (old Parish Church takes preference) and St George indicate that intervening pages must belong to All Saints, so one needs to buy a certificate.

 

While many Anglican church registers have been digitised, principally by "Ancestry" and "FindmyPast", the range of years covered is limited and they require a subscription or a visit to a public library that has one.  Another source is the Latter Day Saints' films and digital images.  They can be viewed at accredited LDS centres, including the Midland Ancestors' Family History Centre in Birmingham, but especially at the Society of Genealogists in London (search fee or membership required).

 

The Loach tables do not include churches that can be found in the West Midlands and Staffordshire BMD websites.  When consulting the West Midlands one, it must be kept in mind that the coverage of churches in West Bromwich RD is limited to those at present in Sandwell RD.  Some parishes in West Bromwich RD were transferred into the Birmingham diocese: they are Birchfield, Hamstead, Handsworth (4 churches), Perry Barr and Witton: for marriages in these churches, one has to visit Birmingham local studies or archives in the Library of Birmingham, or, in the case of the tiny parish of Hamstead, apply to the church.  The Moxley All Saints marriage registers date from 1851 and are at Staffordshire Record Office, but "FindmyPast" has filmed them from 1851 up to 1900.  Normal marriage mining rules apply, the church order in West Bromwich RD beginning with Birchfield Holy Trinity (filmed by "Ancestry" 1837 to 1911), followed by Handsworth St Mary (old parish church takes precedence), St, James from 1854 and St. Michael from 1861.  Probably (not investigated), the Handsworth order reverted to alphabetical after 1911 so that when Handsworth St Andrew was consecrated in 1914, it would come first. and Moxley All Saints (from 1851) preceded and Perry Barr St John (from 1894) followed Oldbury; Witton All Souls was the last Anglican church in the order.  Analogously, the West Midlands BMD coverage of Dudley RD extends only to present day Dudley RD.  Ettingshall and Hurst Hill, St Mary parishes were transferred to Wolverhampton RD and the registers for them are at Staffordshire Record Office and Dudley Archives, respectively.

 

Solihull RD is not covered by the Loach tables, but one of us, Keith Percy, has produced a draft church order for Solihull RD to 1911:

(1) Acocks Green St Mary the Virgin; (2) Baddesley Clinton St Michael; (3) Barston St Swithin; (4) Hay Mills St Cyprian; (5) Knowle St John the Baptist, St Lawrence & St Anne; (6) Lapworth St Mary the Virgin; (7) Hall Green Job Marston’s Church now known as the Church of the Ascension; (8) Moseley St Agnes; (9) Packwood St Giles; (10) Shirley St James; (11) Solihull St Alphege; (12) Sparkhill St John; (13) Springfield St Christopher (from 1907); (14) Tanworth-in-Arden St Mary Magdalene; (15) Temple Balsall St Mary the Virgin; (16) Yardley St Edburgha; (17) Yardley Wood Christ Church.

 

Draft church orders to 1911 for Basford, Nottingham and five South Yorkshire RDs (Barnsley, Ecclesall Bierlow, Sheffield, Rotherham & Wortley) are available on Keith's "Whitehouse Family History Centre" website at http://www.whitehousefhc.org/.  The Loach tables are also downloadable there as an Appendix to a copy of this article.

 

From the late 19th century onwards, a higher proportion of weddings took place at a Register Office.  The probability of that occurring can be estimated very roughly in this way.  Buried deep in the "Free BMD" website is a table of the GRO page ranges occupied by each RD.  It is entitled "Page Maps - Year Index" and is at https://www.freebmd.org.uk/district-page-reverse-map-index.html.  For the relevant RD, year and quarter, subtract the GRO start page from the final page number to obtain the total page span (TPS).  Find the GRO page number for the marriage of interest and subtract that from the final page number to obtain the page distance (PD) of the marriage of interest from the final page number.  Then divide PD/TPS and multiply by 100 to give a percentage.  If the marriage took place in the decade 1891 to 1900 a PD/TPS value of less than 15% indicates a marriage which is probably Register Office, Quaker, Jewish or Non-conformist.  Add 5% for ensuing decades, i.e. in 1901-1910, less than 20%, in 19i11-1920 less than 25% and in 1921-1930 less than 30%.  These rough estimates have been calculated by Keith using Peter's tables for Wolverhampton RD. 

 

Keith Percy & Peter Loach (MA members)

 

Appendix

Links to Loach Tables:

LT Aston RD 1837-1924 1-46.pdf

LT B'ham RD 1837-1924 1-48.pdf

LT B'ham Nth RD 1924-1932 1-12.pdf

LT B'ham Sth RD 1924-1932 1-23.pdf

LT Kiddmstr RD 1837-1898 1-20.pdf

LT Kings Norton RD 1837-1924 1-44.pdf

LT Walsall RD 1837-1950 1-58.pdf

LT Wednesbury RD 1932-1966 1-33.pdf

LT W'hampton RD 1837-1886 1-30.pdf

LT W'hampton RD 1887-1911 31-50.pdf

LT W'hampton RD 1912-1935 51-74.pdf