Errors in Marriage Registration

I’ve been reading Michael W Foster’s book “A Comedy of Errors” (ISBN 0473055813). It’s not a particularly riveting read, but it is a fascinating and detailed description of the marriage registration process and of the errors that can happen and have happened therein.

The process starts with the wedding. We always assume that the vicar or minister has correctly written the names of the happy couple and the names of their fathers and the names of the witnesses. But sometimes he didn’t (did you check at your wedding?) and wrote the wrong name or the right name in the wrong place. Sometimes, of course, the bride or groom may not have given him correct information (e.g. age or father’s name), whether meaning to deceive or just not knowing the right details. So even the entry on the original church (or similar) register may have errors.

Then the vicar or minister, or his clerk, copies that information to the local register office. A copy always gives opportunities for errors and Foster finds the evidence for them. The local office copies it to the General Register Office. Details are temporarily copied on to a card so the entries can be sorted for the index, then copied, eventually, on to the index. More copying errors ensue, and also duplication where the clerk in the GRO can’t read someone’s writing. Then the indices had type-written copies made where more errors could occur. Sometimes too, entries were missed during the copying process, even whole pages of entries.

Foster gives lots of examples of these errors and extrapolates to how many errors there might be, but it’s difficult to extract a round number for the likely error rate.

The moral of the tale: if something doesn’t seem right with a marriage registration, it’s very  possible that it isn’t right!

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