18th-cen­tury an­ces­tors

Laura Berry finds out how you can build on the de­tails from wills and parish reg­is­ters in a cen­tury re­mem­bered for wars with France, the found­ing of Aus­tralia and the mad­ness of King Ge­orge III

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - FOCUS ON -

Be­fore Hard­wicke’s Mar­riage Act of 1753, it was much eas­ier for peo­ple to marry un­der­age with­out

par­ents’ con­sent, or even marry big­a­mously

Our first Hanove­rian king, Ge­orge I, suc­ceeded to the throne in 1714, jump­ing ahead in a queue of over 50 Catholic re­la­tions ex­cluded by the 1701 Act of Set­tle­ment. The Ger­man king, and his suc­ces­sors Ge­orge II (r.1727-1760) and Ge­orge III (r.17601820), brought rel­a­tive political sta­bil­ity to the newly cre­ated King­dom of Great Bri­tain.

Though Eng­land, Wales and Scot­land were united in 1707, the lat­ter main­tained its own ad­min­is­tra­tive sys­tem. Many of its records, held by Na­tional Records Scot­land, will be found on scot­land­speo­ple.gov.uk, in­clud­ing old parish reg­is­ters, wills and tes­ta­ments, and at scot­land­splaces.co.uk where there are 18th-cen­tury rolls record­ing tax pay­ments for win­dows, car­riages, carts, ser­vants and even dogs (see also nrscot­land.gov.uk/re­search/ guides/tax­a­tion-records and nls.uk/fam­ily-his­tory for di­rec­to­ries and news­pa­pers).

In Eng­land and Wales, the bare bones of an 18th-cen­tury fam­ily tree can be built us­ing parish reg­is­ters and wills, but re­mem­ber that even be­fore the ad­vent of the rail­ways our an­ces­tors could travel great dis­tances. An ex­pan­sive net­work of turn­pikes and canals spread across the coun­try, and the pub­li­ca­tion of the first reg­u­lar news­pa­pers im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tion, cre­at­ing busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Though most peo­ple went through their rites at the lo­cal parish church sur­rounded by fam­ily, prior to the mid-18th cen­tury, it was much eas­ier to marry un­der­age with­out par­ents’ con­sent, or even risk mar­ry­ing big­a­mously. Cler­gy­men who were im­pris­oned for debt started a tidy trade in ‘ir­reg­u­lar mar­riages’, of­fer­ing a cheap, quick ser­vice with­out banns. Th­ese were of­ten dis­graced cler­ics, un­likely to be found among the names hon­oured in the­cler­gy­database. org.uk. Ances­try has reg­is­ters of clan­des­tine mar­riages per­formed around Fleet Prison, the King’s Bench Prison, the Mint and May Fair Chapel, and also Gretna Green, just north of the An­glo-Scot­tish bor­der, which be­came a pop­u­lar wed­ding venue af­ter Hard­wicke’s Mar­riage Act of 1753 brought an end to ir­reg­u­lar nup­tials in Eng­land.

The tower of St John dom­i­nates this il­lus­tra­tion of Mare Street, Hack­ney, Lon­don in 1731

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