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Proof of Name in Victorian Times

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Proof of Name in Victorian Times

Postby Norfolk Nan » Thu Nov 21, 2019 12:26 pm

Does anyone know for certain if prospective couples had to provide documentary evidence when arranging marriages in church during the late 1800s, early 1900s? I've got a pair of siblings born Wetton but calling themselves Lee (their stepfather's name) when they married and I wondered if they had needed to explain themselves. Just a thought...

Actually, I ask because their mother married again in 1899 and I'm struggling to find anything for her husband. If he had to prove his identity I can forget an alias or a previous name as it would have been mentioned on the marriage certificate, wouldn't it?
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Re: Proof of Name in Victorian Times

Postby brunes08 » Thu Nov 21, 2019 12:48 pm

There doesn’t seem to have been any checks on information provided by individuals for births, marriages, deaths, census etc. I have lots of certificates where the information is either deliberately false or unintentional. The most common that I have is where families have broken up, the father is described as deceased when he has not been seen for years. I have three cases where they are still very much alive. I have also one where an illegitimate birth has been covered up because the couple pretended to be married when they were not. I could provide several other examples of ‘irregularities’ - probably could write a book on them! So the answer to your question is that all information was generally taken in good faith.


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Re: Proof of Name in Victorian Times

Postby Norfolk Nan » Thu Nov 21, 2019 1:05 pm

Thanks BrunesO8, that's my experience too. Plenty of 'blended' families who seemed to slip from one family name to the next without any effort. It makes you wonder what incentive there was to register a birth if a) it costs money you didn't have, and b) you had to explain or reveal a complicated family set up.
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Re: Proof of Name in Victorian Times

Postby AdrianB38 » Thu Nov 21, 2019 2:10 pm

Norfolk Nan wrote:Does anyone know for certain if prospective couples had to provide documentary evidence when arranging marriages in church during the late 1800s, early 1900s? ...

My understanding is that British practice has always been to believe someone if they tell you something along these lines. No demands for papers, etc. (Obviously there were and are certain exceptions - getting your passport, for instance, and the Civil Service Evidence of age process, also disputed inheritance of estates and titles might require explicit proof, but generally....)

As I recollect, the "incentive" to tell the truth is that if you are found to have told untruths, then you can be hit with fines, etc. (Not sure what the specific offence is, if that means anything...)

Quite apart from anything, there is no such thing as a "legal name" in the UK, so I can call myself Theophilus P Wildebeeste quite happily (unless Lenny Henry trademarked it :) ) - an offence only exists if I try to commit fraud using that name.

Remember also that demanding a birth certificate would be pointless if the chap concerned was born before 1837 in England & Wales and even later if they were an incomer from outside.
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Re: Proof of Name in Victorian Times

Postby Norfolk Nan » Thu Nov 21, 2019 2:40 pm

That confirms what I knew but why doesn't it make me any happier :?

I've got a chap who doesn't exist anywhere prior to 1894 (when he'd be about 30) when he appears on his child's birth certificate. Then there's a marriage cert in 1899 and all the rest. But he doesn't exist before 1894. It's so frustrating. I was hoping that if he did have to prove who he was that would be one confirmed fact. I chased through an army record yesterday thinking 'he could be mind' only to find a nice little document right at the end that said he'd signed on using an alias and his real name was something else. No explanation, no help to me! Grrrr!

Thanks Theo, erm, Adrian...
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Re: Proof of Name in Victorian Times

Postby Guy » Thu Nov 21, 2019 3:47 pm

Norfolk Nan wrote:Does anyone know for certain if prospective couples had to provide documentary evidence when arranging marriages in church during the late 1800s, early 1900s? I've got a pair of siblings born Wetton but calling themselves Lee (their stepfather's name) when they married and I wondered if they had needed to explain themselves. Just a thought...


If they called themselves Lee then Lee was their legal name not Wetton. In UK law the only, repeat only way to change ones name is to use a different name, anything else is simply proof the change of name occurred. ;)

Norfolk Nan wrote:Actually, I ask because their mother married again in 1899 and I'm struggling to find anything for her husband. If he had to prove his identity I can forget an alias or a previous name as it would have been mentioned on the marriage certificate, wouldn't it?


If they married they would have had to declare any former name they may have had, but that does not mean that all people who used a different name before their marriage declared the fact..

What documents would you think could be used as evidence, a birth or even a baptism certificate that only proves a person registered an event that occurred some 20 or even 70 years earlier?
Perhaps a statement from someone who knew the person for five or ten years confirming the he or she was the person who wished to marry, that was tried not very successfully for couples who wished to marry by licence.
The mainstay was the vicar who was supposed to know his flock and the fact that society expects people to be honest. It would be expected in a church wedding that anyone in the congregation who thought a person was known by another name would raise that objection.

Even as late as the 1980s people did not have to prove who they were, when I married in 1981 I was not required to prove who I was, the fact I had to pay more than it cost me to licence my dog was enough for the registrar.
I still mention to my wife Kay it was a difficult decision 7/6 for a dog licence for Sam my dog or £8.50 for her licence.

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Re: Proof of Name in Victorian Times

Postby Norfolk Nan » Thu Nov 21, 2019 4:38 pm

You were lucky Guy, I had to show divorce papers and prove my address when I remarried in 2004. Can't remember back to the first time but I did have to go to church for a while to be considered suitable. Ha! A matter of opinion...

As for the vicar knowing the flock, well, when this couple married in 1899 they married in Tottenham, away from their actual home in Islington. I've no idea how they organised those alternative addresses - I've looked at Electoral records and the census either side of 1899 and can't find a clear link. Perhaps it was friends. Only the bride's family appeared as witnesses. He names a father but doesn't say 'deceased' so who knows! Fact or fiction?

The bride had been through a bigamous marriage before, had three children then discovered the truth and the guilty party found himself in prison. That probably explains why the couple, living together already and trying to put appear 'proper', opted to marry away from knowing eyes. They stayed together until her death in 1937 so I like to think that he wasn't hiding any shameful past but his first thirty years are a mystery.
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Re: Proof of Name in Victorian Times

Postby AdrianB38 » Thu Nov 21, 2019 7:13 pm

I think I remember seeing that if you wish to marry and you claim to be divorced, that divorce is one of the things that you do need to summon up the paperwork for.

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