What strategy can I adopt to locate an English marriage record for two ancestors?

Of course, they may not have married at all, but Rebecca Probert points out in Marriage Law for Genealogists the definitive guide that the peak illegitimacy rate in the 19th century is about 7% so the vast majority of children were born within wedlock. As the couple had at least three children, it's most likely that they did marry.

What I know:

My ancestors John Charles Wright and Caroline Ellen Brown had the following known children:

  • Mary Agnes (or Agnes Mary) born 3 July 1859 in Hitchin, Hertfordshire (mother given as Ellen Wright formerly Brown)
  • Stanley Reynolds born 27 May 1861 in Plumstead, Kent (mother given as Caroline Ellen Wright formerly Brown)
  • George Wright born about 1864 -- no birth registration or certificate located yet; birth year from census records.

John Charles Wright was born between 1825 and 1835 in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, based on census records between 1851 and 1901 (he's not very consistent when reporting his age); in all sources in which I've found him (censuses, children's birth certificates, trade directories) he is named as John Charles/John Chas/J.C. Wright). His occupation from 1851 to 1871 is recorded as Painter and Glazier, Journeyman Grainer, Painter, and Photographer. In 1851 he is shown as Married (but his wife is not present) living in Marylebone. Thereafter, he is found in census in Kidderminster (1861, again without his wife), and Cheshunt (1871).

Ellen Brown was born around 1828 (from her age at death in 1871); no location is known as I have not found her definitively in any census. Her name is variously shown as Ellen (death, burial, birth of first child) and Caroline Ellen (birth of second child). She may also have appeared as Caroline Wright in the 1861 census, but I'm not confident enough that I've identified her correctly to use this data.

What I've assumed

Both partners would have been at least 18 at their marriage and most likely in their early-to-mid 20s (based on analysis in Marriage Law for Genealogists the definitive guide). This gives a time frame between 1844 and 1859 (allowing for a margin of error of 2 years on Ellen's birth).

As Ellen would both have been quite old to have their first child in 1859 (circa 30) either (1) there may have been other children born to the couple before 1859; or (2) this was a second marriage for her.

I'm making no assumption about where they married.

What I've tried

  1. A search in the marriage indices on FreeBMD for marriages between John Wright and Caroline Browne(e) or Ellen Brown(e). Result: no candidate marriage. (I've repeated the search on other transcriptions of the indices, and done it with just the surnames; I've also inspected the images of the relevant GRO index pages, all with no success).
  2. As we all know, errors and omissions crept in during the production of the GRO marriage indices, so I've also searched online parish registers for the same data, again with no success. Of course, not all parish registers are available online.
  3. In case this was Ellen's second marriage (in which case she would appear in the GRO indices with a surname other than Brown) I've searched for all marriages of Ellen or Caroline Brown(e) in the period, identified the possible surnames she might have acquired on her first marriage, and then search for marriages between her potential married names and John Wright. There were surprisingly few candidate marriages form this exercise, and most of those were easy to eliminate. Only two possibilities remain that I can't eliminate conclusively without buying the certificates: one in Wrexham, and one in Ormskirk. Both locations seem unlikely.
  4. Locating children of the couple born earlier than 1859 would narrow down the time window, but the common surname (Wright) and mother's maiden name (Brown) make this infeasible using the new GRO birth indices (that include mother's maiden name). I have still to search online baptismal records for children with the correct parents and a match on (one of) the father's occupations.

Are there any other searches I can make that would help directly or indirectly in locating the marriage I seek?

  • I do wonder how they calculated that illegitimacy rate, given the number of children born to couples who claimed to be married but weren't or couldn't for whatever reason...
    – nkjt
    Jan 6, 2018 at 16:33
  • Does Ellen's death certificate state that she was John's wife? You could also check her burial record - I think she's on DeceasedOnline (£ of course) for 18 Feb 1871 in Hertfordshire. If neither mentions her marital status I might entertain more seriously the idea that they never wed.
    – AndyW
    Jan 6, 2018 at 17:58
  • 1
    @AndyW Yes; -- the death certificate refers to her as his wife; ditto her burial record.
    – user6485
    Jan 6, 2018 at 18:02
  • @nkjt The book devotes 10 pages to the topic of whether/why people married, so it'a pretty thorough analysis, not only addressing illegitimacy rates but also cohabitation rates.
    – user6485
    Jan 6, 2018 at 18:05
  • You did not mention any older children living in the 1851 or 1861 households: perhaps death/burial records in the census locations should be included in your search, although the same difficulties as with birth/baptismal records apply.
    – bgwiehle
    Jan 6, 2018 at 18:32

1 Answer 1


I had a look through the the first page or so of searches on the Mormon "Family Search" site, just in case there was anything there. Here is the site https://www.familysearch.org/

This is what I have found so far - I hope it helps:-

  • Caroline Brown
  • England and Wales Marriage Registration Index Name Caroline Brown Event Type Marriage Registration Quarter Apr-May-Jun Registration Year 1860 Registration District Ware County Hertfordshire Event Place Ware, Hertfordshire, England Volume 3A Page 205 Affiliate Line Number 24

    No Spouse listed - BUT - as the first child was born in Hertfordshire, it looked possible

Citing this Record "England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005," database, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2DWN-BCB : 13 December 2014), Caroline Brown, 1860; from “England & Wales Marriages, 1837-2005,” database, findmypast(http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing 1860, quarter 2, vol. 3A, p. 205, Ware, Hertfordshire, England, General Register Office, Southport, England.

Vaguely Possible:

  • Name: Mary Ellen Brown

    • Type: Marriage

    Registration Quarter: Jul-Aug-Sep Registration Year: 1860 Registration District: Liverpool County: Lancashire Event Place: Liverpool, Lancashire, England Spouse Name (available after 1911): Volume: 8B Page: 327 Affiliate Line Number: 13 Mary Ellen Brown probably married one of the following people Name Thomas Bellis

    Name John Wright

Name: John Wright Event Type: Marriage Registration Quarter: Jul-Aug-Sep Registration Year: 1860 Registration District: Liverpool County: Lancashire Event Place: Liverpool, Lancashire, England Volume: 8B Page: 327 Affiliate Line Number: 6

-Caroline Brown England and Wales Marriage Registration Index Name Caroline Brown - List item - Event Type Marriage Registration Quarter Jan-Feb-Mar Registration Year 1850 Registration District Cambridge County Cambridgeshire Event Place Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England Volume 14 Page 8 Affiliate Line Number 18

Caroline Brown probably married one of the following people
Name William Alborn

Name John Chapman

Name Jonas Stocker

Name John Henry Wright

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