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
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