Friday, September 11, 2015

Got a Marriage Certificate for your Great-Great-Grandparents?

I do! 

I received the marriage record for my great-great-grandparents, John Williams and Mary Richards. They were married in Wales and later emigrated to the US. The process of ordering British documents from the General Register Office, or GRO, was surprisingly easy. It can all be done online, and you can pay for the documents with a credit card.

There are quite a few companies out there that will order the certificate for you, but they all add a hefty surcharge which more than doubles the cost. Ordering directly from the GRO, I saved enough to pay for two more marriage records!

Before you can place an order, you first have to do a little legwork and provide specific information.  This can be easily done by using the FreeBMD website and following the instructions. When you're finished, click on the link that says "Click here to learn what to do now." This page explains what information is on each type of certificate (birth, marriage or death), and ways to order. I clicked on the link for ordering a record from the GRO and that took me directly to the Home Office Identity and Passport Service webpage.

After clicking the link to Order a certificate online now, the rest of the process was very simple and straightforward. The only thing that wasn't explained was the exchange rate. Just how much is £9.25 in US Dollars? I did a Google search for a currency converter and picked one.  The converter showed that "£9.25" equates to "$14.02." I completed my transaction, printed a copy of my receipt and then just had to wait for the mail.

The certificate arrived about 3 weeks from the date of my order. Not too bad, considering that my last batch of death certificates from Pennsylvania took 6 months! There's also something exciting about getting a letter from "Royal Mail." Below is an image of the actual certificate. The document is slightly longer than the standard US 8.5"x 11" sheet, so it doesn't fit neatly into standard document protectors without folding.

Did this document tell me anything I didn't already know? Yes, quite a bit. I now have the actual date of marriage, rather than just an approximate year. It's also nice to get confirmation that both parties lived in Aberdare and that John Williams was a coal miner in Wales, just as he was later in Pennsylvania.

Two new names can be added to my family tree: John Williams, father of the groom, and David Richards, father of the bride. I'm not sure why only the fathers' names were listed on the document. I had hoped the get the maiden names of the mothers as well.

One of the witnesses to the marriage was David Richards. Did Mary's father sign as a witness, or was it her brother of the same name? The second witness, William Griffiths, doesn't appear to be related, but he could be a brother-in-law, a cousin or a neighbor. All the parties who signed made their mark, "X."

John and Mary's marriage took place at Siloa Chapel "according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Independents." I had no idea what that meant, but when in doubt, just Google it. 

The so-called "Independents" were non-conformists. An early leader in the 1600's, Robert Browne, and his followers were called "Separatists," "Brownists," "Independents" and "Congregationalists." The Independents believed "a Christian had no need of a Bishop's consent to preach the gospel." They formed small groups led by a minister, and the highest office holders were deacons or elders. Each church congregation was slightly different, striking  a balance between the beliefs of the minister and the beliefs of the congregation.

            Siloa Chapel, Aberdare, Wales

The laws changed frequently over the next 200 years. When  civil registration of marriages began in 1837, the law allowed Congregational marriages, but only if there was a civil Registrar present as well. This law lasted until 1898.

Thus we see that on 10 February 1868, at the marriage of John Williams and Mary Richards, the certificate was signed by the David Price, Minister, and also by Morgan Williams, Registrar.

Siloa Chapel is still standing, though in a more urban setting. Today it has become a Welsh language chapel.

As a bachelor, John Williams had been living at Cynon Row, and Mary Richards had been living with her parents and siblings on Mill Street. After their marriage they set up housekeeping just one block away from Mary's parents' residence, in a typical Welsh row cottage at number 12 Primrose Hill. John and Mary's first three children were born in Wales. Their youngest son, my great-grandfather, Thomas, was born in Pennsylvania.

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