My parents marriage certificate in 1938 shows my father as a widower but I have been unable to find a previous marriage or any records showing him as being married before. Would proof of first wife's death been required in 1938?

2 Answers 2


This is an extract from a response from the WDYTYA forum from a chap who is a registrar:

"The question the registrar would ask is essentially "have you ever been married before" and to be shown as a bachelor he must have answered "no". You can't really prove a negative, so there is no evidence he could be asked to produce to support that, it would be taken on his word (much as it is today).

"Had he answered "yes", then he would have had to produce evidence of divorce/death of his first wife."

That would appear to imply that your father said that he'd been previously married, that his first wife was deceased and that he produced some proof of that death, such as a death certificate. That does not mean that he had legally married his first wife, simply that he had a DC in her name.

There are, of course, lots of possible reasons why you can't find any marriage index, such as the marriage taking place outside England and Wales (or wherever you are), perhaps if he was serving abroad in some capacity.

(Thanks to AntonyM for the original and if there are incorrect bits above, it'll be my fault for miscopying.)

  • 2
    The Matrimonial Cause Act 1937 introduced the ability to get a court decree of 'presumption of death and dissolution of marriage' if a spouse had gone missing for seven years and nobody who might be expected to have contact with them had had such contact. I suspect it was very rare but worth knowing about if all other avenues fail.
    – user6485
    Sep 10, 2020 at 9:14

My answer quoted is essentially correct - but you would need to check what guidance was given to registrars (assuming it was a civil marriage), or clergy (for a church Marriage) on whether such evidence had to be physically checked at that time (it would be now). You might find such instructions in the Registrar General files at the National Archives (RG Series).

  • Thanks for the additional bit about the physical check.
    – AdrianB38
    Sep 10, 2020 at 16:13
  • Thank you for your helpful comments- it seems unlikely I will get to the bottom of this mystery!
    – Val Finch
    Sep 25, 2020 at 20:06

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