Marriage Law - Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved & Breach of Promise - A Full-day course on 29 Feb

It’s Leap Year. You know what that means? Yes, a whole extra day! Spend it with us, on our full-day course, with three expert speakers, and find out more about the laws surrounding marriage.

We’re holding our full-day course on Leap Day so it’s appropriate that we explore marriage. The words ‘birth, marriage and death’ are used all the time as though they are just one concept. Family historians often just refer to these three events as ‘BMD’.  We look for a birth, then we look for a marriage and later we look for a death. Sometimes, we work backwards, looking for the three events in the opposite order. Yet, all three are not really the same. People are born and later die – that’s life. But people don’t necessarily marry.

Some people appear to be married but actually there’s no legal evidence to show that the event happened. Other people stop being married. They may divorce or their partner may die. In fact, researching our ancestors’ marriages is complicated. Not to mention the way Britain’s marriage laws have changed over the centuries and the rights of women have expanded. That’s why a whole day devoted to learning more about how to research marriage is an excellent way to spend Leap Day.


The day is organised into four sessions:

Session 1 History of the Wedding Dress 1800-1960 with Ann Wise

Find out how the wedding dress evolved over time. Learn when it became the convention to wear white and the different fabrics that have been used in the dresses. Ann also covers how men’s fashions changed over time, especially the groom and the best man.

Session 2 Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved with Professor Rebecca Probert

Every family tree has individuals whose lives did not fit the regular pattern of just one marriage. Rebecca Probert explains divorce, bigamy, bereavement and remarriage from the 1600s through to the late 20th century. She examines law and social custom from every angle.

Session 3 Marriage Law for Genealogists with Professor Rebecca Probert

Do you suspect that your ancestors weren’t really married? Maybe their marriage was bigamous, or within the prohibited degrees, or otherwise invalid because of non-compliance with certain formal requirements. Or have you found a marriage in a parish, where your ancestors had no known connection, and you think it may have been clandestine? Rebecca explains the circumstances in which a marriage would not be lawful and the consequences for those involved. She also looks at the extent of bigamy and invalidity in past centuries, to help you interpret your findings.

Session 4 Breach of Promise to Marry with Denise Bates

Denise Bates investigates the social and cultural history of broken engagements between 1780 -1970 and why the law allowed the person who had been jilted to claim damages from the person who had broken the engagement. Based on original research in contemporary newspapers and literature to discover who were the real Miss Havisham’s, why they found different endings to their fictional counterpart and what their experiences reveal about social attitudes towards broken engagements.

There are no special entry requirements for this day and you do not need to be a Member of the Society of Genealogists to attend. Expect a friendly atmosphere, expert speakers and lots of detail. Tea and coffee are provided during breaks in the day. There is, of course, a lunch break and there are many restaurants and coffee bars in the area.

Saturday, 29 February (10:30-17:00) cost £40.00/£32.00, places should be pre-booked through our website or by telephone: 020 7251 8799 (Tue-Thu & Sat). Do you have a question? email the events department.

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