Marriage certificates: Everything you need to know
How to find and order marriage certificates for your British and UK ancestors and what the records will tell you
Marriage certificates are key documents and provide a wealth of information on two strands of your family history. They will help take you back to the next generation by providing the father's name for the bride and groom as well as their occupations and may lead to surprising discoveries, for instance the witnesses may be family members. Scottish marriage certificates provide even more information and are easy to access online as long as the marriage happened more than 75 years ago. More recent Scottish marriage certificates can be ordered online and will be sent as a certified paper copy.
Top tip: The church record of a marriage will give you the same information as the civil registration certificate. If you know the church your ancestor married in and the parish records are online, you may be able to get the same information without having to pay for a certificate.
Marriage certificates for England and Wales, how much do they cost?
The General Register Office (GRO) in Southport holds records of all marriages recorded in England and Wales from 1837 onwards as well as records for some British Nationals married overseas dating back to 1761. It costs £11 to order a marriage certificate for England and Wales and there is an additional non-refundable administration fee of £3 if you do not supply the GRO index reference number. There is an additional £3.50 fee if the GRO cannot find a record using the information you supply so be sure that you copy the GRO index reference number down carefully. You can also order marriage certificates by phone or post at a cost of £15 per certificate.
How to find a GRO index reference
The GRO provides a public index that lists basic details of every marriage recorded in England and Wales. The index is divided into four quarters for each year and can be searched online on free website FreeBMD, as well as all family history websites if you are a subscriber. Once you have found the right marriage record, you will need to note the following:
- Full name of at least one of the people on the certificate
- The year and quarter in which the marriage was registered
- The registration district
- The volume and page number of the entry
How to order a marriage certificate for England and Wales
How to order online
It's quick and easy to order a marriage certificate online, just follow these three steps:
- Visit the General Register Office website and select 'Order certificates online'. You will need to register for an account if you have not registered before (you will need an email address).
- Select 'Order a certificate or PDF' and then select 'Marriage' and provide the year of the marriage you are looking for (if you don't know the precise year, the GRO will search a year either side of the year you provide).
- Next you will have the option to supply the GRO index reference if known, or ask the GRO to search for the marriage with other details supplied by you. If you supply the GRO index details, then you will be charged £11. If you don't have this, then you will need to supply the name of either the bride or groom, the year of marriage (the GRO will search one year either side if necessary) and place of marriage. There are options to add names of fathers which may help to narrow down results and save you the cost of ordering a certificate that does not relate to your family. This option costs £14.
How to order by phone
If you don't wish to order online you can order a marriage certificate by telephone with a credit/debit card on 0300 123 1837. Lines are open 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. Certificates ordered over the phone are subject to an additional £4 fee, costing £15 in total.
How to order by post
Application for marriage certificates can also be made by post and forms can be obtained from the GRO or downloaded here.
Marriage certificates for Scotland, how much do they cost?
Civil registration didn't start in Scotland until 1855 but, although they don't go back as far as those in England and Wales, Scottish marriage certificates include the names of the mothers of the bride and groom, including maiden name. The records for Scottish vital events have been digitised making them easier and cheaper to access. Marriage certificates are official records and can be ordered online for £12 plus postage which starts at £1.22. However, you can order an uncertified digital marriage record, which will provide exactly the same information, for just £1.50 (for marriages that happened at least 75 years ago).
How to order a marriage certificate for Scotland
The only way to order Scottish marriage certificates online is via ScotlandsPeople. You will need to set up an account and purchase credits to buy marriage records. Credits are available in packages, starting at 30 credits for £7.50. All records on ScotlandsPeople have been digitised and are available instantly. Select 'People search' and then 'Statutory registers' followed by 'Marriages'. The records are free to search.
For paper copy certificates, you must order between 9am and 4.30pm Monday to Friday.
It is also possible to order copy certificates from local council registration services. You can find details on who to contact here. Some services offer telephone, postal and in-person ordering.
Marriage certificates for Northern Ireland
If you family came from what is now Northern Ireland, then you can order marriage certificates from the General Register Office Northern Ireland (GRONI). Marriage certificates are available for non Roman Catholic marriages after 1845 and all marriages from 1864. Certificates cost £15 with free postage to UK addresses (postage various outside of UK). To order online go here.
You can also order a certificate by phone by calling 0300 200 7890 (+44 300 200 7890 from outside the UK) or by post by completing a Marriage certificate application form and sending it, along with payment to: The General Register Office NISRA, Colby House, Stranmillis Court, Belfast, BT9 5RR.
What information is included on a marriage certificate?
Information found on an English, Welsh or Northern Irish marriage certificate:
- When married - the date the marriage took place
- Name and Surname - the names given by the bride and groom at the time of the marriage
- Age - the age given by the bride and groom is only as accurate as they believed it to be (or chose). If it says 'Of full age' it just means that the bride or groom was over 21.
- Condition - this shows the marital state of the parties. Bachelor or spinster for those who had not married before, or widower/widow, divorced or marriage dissolved.
- Rank or profession - don't assume a woman did nothing to earn money if there is no entry next to her name. It is common to find only the groom's occupation.
- Residence at the time of marriage - the address given here can be misleading as some couples used a temporary address to qualify for marriage in the parish. Some just name the parish.
- Father's name and rank or profession - these details are vital for checking you have the right certificate. No name would suggest illegitimacy.
- Married in - this is normally the parish church, but you may find a nonconformist chapel here and indication of whether your ancestors were married by licence.
- Signatures - the certificate you receive from the GRO is a copy of the register. Although it doesn't show actual signatures, it will show if your ancestors could sign their name. Those that couldn't marked an 'X' here.
- Witnesses - always check the witnesses on a marriage certificate as they may reveal family connections and add to your tree.
Information found on a Scottish marriage record:
- When, where and how married - date and place of marriage is given here. Scottish weddings were often celebrated in a place other than a church. Note the denomination of the church where banns were read.
- Rank or profession, single or widowed - the marital status of the parties is included here along with occupation. Women's occupations are sometimes not included. The original signatures are not included on the certificate.
- Age - the stated ages are not always reliable, especially if the parties were not certain or a bride was older than her husband.
- Usual residence - township or village may be named or street and town.
- Parents of bride and groom - name and rank or profession of fathers is given as well as the name and maiden name of the mothers
- Officiating minister and witnesses - if the marriage is irregular but confirmed by Sheriff's Warrant, this is noted. Otherwise the officiating minister's name is given. Witnesses my be related to bride or bridegroom.