Family History Class Notes – Marriage Certificates, Australia -101

In our last class, we looked at Birth Certificates in Australia. We looked at our own full birth certificate and made note of the information it gave to step back another generation.

Remember when researching your family history, you start with yourself and move back generation by generation with documentation.

We learned that on modern full birth certificates the parent’s names, age, and place of birth are recorded. Also on the certificate, you will usually find the date and place of marriage of the parents. Due to the cost of the certificates and with the actual date and place stated on your birth certificate you might be tempted to assume the information is correct and you can skip getting your parent’s marriage certificate.

My answer to that is ‘maybe’, but only if you can find other records which all lead you to the same conclusion.

The parent or the informant on a birth certificate is not required to offer proof of marriage when they register a birth. The information is taken in good faith, but it may not be correct.

In the last class, I said that the parents were responsible to register a birth. However, they are not, nor ever have been responsible for the registration of a marriage.

In Australia, you can only be married by a licensed celebrant. These are ordained ministers or priests, court magistrates, and state celebrants. They obtain their ‘license to marry’ from the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages in the state where they reside, not the church authority. It is the licensed celebrant’s duty to register the marriage with the Registrar of Births, Death and Marriages offices.

However, just as there is a ‘hundred years rule’ for births, there is a fifty-year rule for marriage. That means you cannot get a marriage certificate unless the marriage is more than fifty years ago.

In Australia, there is no central place for births, marriages, and deaths. Each state has its own Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriage in its capital city.

In recent years each Registrar’s office has built a website where you can search for free the indexes to their historical documents.  These indexes are free to consult. The large subscription sites use ways to link and use these free sites. They do not have access to any more information than is on the free government websites.

Be aware each of these indexes is a little different. For example- In the Queensland Index for marriages, which took place over fifty years ago, it actually gives the date of marriage, while on the NSW Index it only gives the year of registration.

Here are the websites for these indexes.

Just as you might not be able to find a reference in the index for birth, you may not be able to find a marriage in these indexes, even if the date and place are stated on a birth certificate.

Sometimes this is because you are not using the spelling of the names as given on the registration, but more often or not it is because for various reasons the marriage did not actually take place.

Remember you are looking for information concerning an ‘event’ in the person’s life. There are many records that give information on a person’s marriage or leading up to the event. Some of these you may be able to get even if the marriage is not fifty years ago.

Remember one document is not ‘definite proof’ of an event. You can only get a reasonable proof by a range of documents all pointing to the same conclusion.

Here is a list of records you may use to build a reasonable case for the marriage information for an ancestor:- Certified Civil Marriage Certificate; Marriage Transcription; Church Register Entry for Marriage; Church certificate of Marriage; Banns Register Entry for Intended Marriage; Banns Notice in a Church Newspaper; Statement of Intention to Marry Register; Newspaper Engagement Notice/Kitchen Tea; Newspaper Notice/ Report of Marriage; Photographs of Marriage Ceremony/Reception; Family Register in Bible/Prayer Book; Memorabilia-bucks and/or Hen’s Party/Wedding; Newspaper Report of Tin-kettling/House Party; Official Divorce Papers/Report in Newspaper; Letters and diaries and Oral Stories-Personal Recollections of marriage by family and/or friends.

This list is not definitive and you could possibly think of more. You will not be able to get all these records for each marriage. They are just a guide.

I have used this list to make myself a Data Sheet to put in my files on an individual person.

MALHN029177 003

[A pdf download of this Data Sheet can be found on this website under the Resources and Examples tab.]

Many of these records you may find in family papers and memorabilia. If someone shares these with you please record them as the source of the document with their name, date, and address on your copy of the document. Back or front depending on your skills and preference. Just because you now have a copy, please remember this is not your document to scan and put up on the Internet.

It is good family history manners even if you create your own document, such as a transcription, which is quite legal, you should get permission from the original owner to share the information and give them credit for originally sharing with you. Later down the track, they are then likely to share more with you, and you will feel comfortable sharing with them, as you will expect the same courtesy.

If you have been one of my students in the fifty years I have been teaching family history you know I actually practice what I preach when it comes to records. Here is the Evidence of Marriage Data Form for my mother.


Now just a word of warning about using indexes. They do not have the full information a certificate has. If you only use an index make sure it is the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages website. Transcription errors often creep into copies, which can put your research away off track.

For example- My Maternal Grandmother Harriet May Bell only had one brother, Henry William Bell. According to the index on the website, he married Hilda Annie Peck at Broken Hill in 1915. If you check the index on the website of the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages for New South Wales, the marriage was registered at Bulli in 1915. These two places are approximately 1100 kilometres apart. Which is correct? By making a search in Trove Historical Newspapers on the National Library of Australia website you will find an account in the local newspapers for 1915, which states the marriage took place in the Methodist Church at Thirroul on 21st April. Thirroul and Bulli are less than three kilometres apart. Be very careful and diligent in your research.


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