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Archives and Special Collections: Family History Sources: Marriage Licences

About the Records

Records of marriage licences are created when a couple chose to be married by licence, rather than by the calling of banns. Almost all marriages before 1837 were carried out within Church of England parish churches, and most of these were solemnised after the calling of banns within the church (repeated announcements within their parish churches of the couple's intention to marry, during the weeks preceding the actual marriage). However, couples could choose to marry after obtaining a licence from the bishop, either as a status symbol (because it required payment of the licence fee), or to avoid the delay caused by repeated calling of banns.  The licence was usually issued not by the bishop in person, but by a senior clergyman acting as the bishop's surrogate within a particular part of the diocese.

Before a marriage licence could be granted, an affidavit (called the allegation) had to be sworn (usually by the groom), and until 1823 a bond was also required. These are the main records included within this series.

The Marriage Licence Bonds and Allegations relate to the whole diocese of Durham (County Durham and Northumberland until 1882, County Durham only thereafter).  More information about the diocese of Durham is available under Church of England Records.  But to summarise, records of Marriage Licences are available for the following areas:

  • County Durham north of the Tees, including Darlington, Hartlepool, Stockton, Gateshead and South Tyneside boroughs and the city of Sunderland
  • Crayke in North Yorkshire (until 1837*)
  • Allertonshire in North Yorkshire (until 1830**):  Birkby, Cowesby, Hutton Bonville, Leake, Nether Silton, North Otterington, Osmotherley and Thornton-le-Street
  • Alston and Garrigill in Cumbria (until 1882*)
  • Thockrington in Northumberland (from 1846 until 1882*)
  • Hexhamshire in Northumberland (from 1837 until 1882*):  Allendale St Cuthbert, Allendale St Peter, Allenheads chapelry, Bingfield St Mary, Carrshields (or High West Allen), Hexham, Ninebanks (or Low West Allen), St John Lee, St Oswald in Lee and Whitley chapel
  • Northumberland - the rest, including the city of Newcastle upon Tyne and North Tyneside borough (until 1882*)

*For later Marriage Licence allegations from Crayke, or earlier bonds and allegations from  Hexhamshire and Thockrington, consult the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York.  Later marriage licence allegations from all the Northumberland parishes and from Alston and Garrigill are at Northumberland Archives, Woodhorn.

**Post -1845 marriage licence allegations for these townships in Allertonshire (subject to the Bishop of Durham's jurisdiction) are within the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York (allegations for 1831-1845 have not been found).  All bonds and allegations for the other townships in Allertonshire are at the Borthwick Institute for Archives (Brompton, Deighton, High Worsall, Kirby Sigston, Northallerton, Romanby and West Rounton: these townships were subject in other matters to the Dean and Chapter's jurisdiction).

The records of Marriage Licences date chiefly from 1664 (with some surviving from 1592) until 1882 (County Durham and Northumberland) or 1995 (County Durham only).

Background information on marriage licence applications within Durham is within our Administrative Histories guide to the Durham Diocesan Records. See also guide to marriage bonds and allegations from the Borthwick Institute for Archives, for general examples and guidance on marriage licence bonds and allegations.

Family History Information

For those aged 21 or over, the marriage licence allegation (sworn statement or affidavit) merely states the information about the bride and groom that should be recorded within the parish register or Bishop's Transcripts (BTs) marriage entry after 1812. For earlier marriages, the parishes of both parties are included within the allegation, but may not be recorded within the register/BTs. The allegations are mainly useful for those who are under 21, in which case parental consent is required and names of parents will be recorded on the allegation. For the family historian, the groom's signature may also be of interest.

Bonds (committing the signatories to pay a penalty if the allegation proves to be false) record slightly less information about the marriage itself, though they name an additional surety who took part in the bond, and who may be a close family member or acquaintance.

Note that the date of the marriage licence allegation is not the date of the marriage (it is usually a few days or week(s) before the actual marriage), and is not evidence that the marriage actually took place.

The lists of Marriage Licence records include details of the parties and (at most dates) other family history information held within the records.

Different lists or finding aids are available, according to date:

  • For 1594-1815, printed calendars list the marriage licences granted within a specific span of years, with details of both parties, the surety for the bond and (where stated) parents giving consent. Each calendar is separately indexed by both name and place. Digital images of these calendars are available on the familysearch website. For each calendar (span of years), the calendar is divided into four sections: a page of abbreviations, indexes of names and places, and the list of marriage licence records (called 'marriage abstracts'). See note under Availability Online below about access to these images on familysearch.
  • For 1816-1820, there is no printed or online catalogue. A card index is kept within the search room at Palace Green Library, enabling you to locate the entry for any specific bride or groom.
  • For 1821-1837, the online catalogue of records includes full details from the marriage licence bonds and allegations, and can be most easily browsed online. If preferred, annual lists with indexes (similar to the printed calendars) can be downloaded as PDF files, for 1821, 1822, 1823, 1824, 1825, 1826, 1827, 1828, 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832, 1833, 1834, 1835, 1836, 1837.
  • After 1837, there are no catalogues. Information about marriages can be most easily obtained from civil registration records rather than from church records of marriage licences.

Availability online (digital images)

Digital images of almost all the Marriage Licence bonds and allegations for the period before 1900 are available at the familysearch website.

When using the images on familysearch, note:

  • The images have not been indexed, so will not be found by carrying out a surname search on familysearch. They are only available for browsing on that site.
  • You will have to sign in to access the images. If you do not have an account on familysearch, you will first need to set one up. This is free of charge.
  • familysearch is an external site and is the responsibility of the Genealogical Society of Utah, not of Durham University.

Access to original sources

The collections mentioned above are located at Palace Green Library.  Our current opening hours are as follows, but see also below.

  • Monday to Friday: 10am to 4:30pm
  • Saturday: closed
  • Sunday: closed

For further information on visiting to use the collections, please use our enquiry form.

See separate Libraries and Site Information guide for further information on Palace Green Library.

Appointments are strongly recommended for all visits, please use the enquiry form to book.  Please give three working days notice when possible and include a full list of document references or shelfmarks so that we can best enable your research access.