Ancestor’s Marriage Certificate Throws Up Questions.

Copy wedding certificate arrives in postI have been looking more closely at an ancestor’s marriage certificate and have notice some interesting anomalies. When I had first come across the marriage of  my 2x great-grandparents, Henry Thorn and Ellen Malser, on the website I had noted that the marriage was recorded in the register of St.Mary’s Portsea, a parish in Portsmouth, on the south coast of England. The wedding took place on the 5th of February 1859 while Henry was employed in the Naval Dockyard as a ropemaker.

I had assumed that the church, in which they married, was St.Marys and so this is what I recorded in my family tree at the time, but now I am not so sure. As you know, good practice for family historians teaches us to always seek out the original document. Looking at the online indexes I found the information that I would need to order their marriage certificate from the General Register Office.

When I had it in my possession I noticed that it did not say the Parish Church in St Marys Portsea. Instead it reads: Marriage solemnized at “the church” in the Parish of… followed by an indecipherable set of scratches!

The first resembles a “P” and then follows some strong up and down strokes which do not give us the whole picture of the letters. I tried to match them with legible letters in the rest of the certificate but I can not make them spell St.Marys! It is possible, I think, that the word may have been Portsea, but even of that I can not be sure.

Using the map search tool on ( I researched other churches in Portsea. A tip here is to use the town name and not the church, or parish – if I had entered “St Marys Portsea” it would not have worked. The result returned was a number of C of E churches in the area, all carved out of the ancient parish of Portsea.

From the marriage certificate I could see that both the bride and the groom gave their address as Raglan Street, Portsea. Returning to the map tool I was able to see that this road fell into two parishes, the further along its length you traveled. St Marys Portsea was the Parish Church for those living in the west and St Jude’s Southsea in the east.

The trouble is that neither of these fall happily into the pattern of strokes, that are all that can be seen in this particular wedding certificate. Can I assume that as St Marys was the mother church of Portsea that convention dictated it was the Parish of Portsea?

Wedding in the Parish of...There are more questions about this particular certificate which I will deal with in my next post.

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One Reply to “Ancestor’s Marriage Certificate Throws Up Questions.”

  1. Nick,

    This is an interesting and not unfamiliar problem. In fact, it’s something that you still see to this day in St Helier in Jersey – because there is one church (St Paul’s) which has never had parish status, and consequently all the records of baptism, marriage and burial continue to be made in the register of the Town Church.

    However, there are a couple of tricks that are worth trying:

    – If you can get a look at the original church registers (or at least a transcript of them), you may find that they are “batched” – that is, that you will find a run of successive dates, then the dates will jump because one of the daughter churches has submitted a set of records. The other pointer to this is that you may find that the name of the incumbent who carried out the baptism marriage or burial changes at the same time. If you see, you may find other certificates in your batch give more information.
    – You may be able to tie the event to a church by the name of the incumbent. Crockford’s Clerical Directory has suggestions on how to do that here – or if you can access a paper or scanned copy of Crockford for the relevant period (post 1858) you may be able to trace it that way. Ancestry have a searchable copy of the 1868 Crockford and it is quite possible that a name search will indicate which church in Portsea your incumbent was serving.



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