The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies’ database of marriages that took place from 1794-1895 in Gretna Green in Scotland, just over the border with England, has been made available online.
Ancestry.co.uk has added the database containing what has become known as the Lang Collection of Gretna Green Marriage Registers, named after David and Simon Lang, a father and son duo who were “priests” and performed many marriages in Gretna Green between 1794 and 1828.
Under the Marriage Act of 1753 (also known as Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act), clandestine or common-law marriages in England were made illegal. All marriages were required to have an official ceremony performed by a Church of England priest, unless the couple was Jewish or ‘Quaker’. The Act also required parental consent for parties under 21 years old and enforced the publication of Banns. This Act also applied in Wales and Ireland, but not in Scotland, however, which has its own legal system.
Couples wanting to get around these laws (for example because of no parental consent or personal objections to marrying in a church) often fled to Scottish border villages to get married where the English laws did not apply. Located just over the border, Gretna Green was one of the first villages encountered by elopers heading north. To this day, Gretna Green is still a very popular wedding destination (although not with elopers today!).
The entire collection covers the years 1794 to 1895, with a few earlier references. Since Gretna Green marriages were not exactly formal, the record keeping was not regulated, nor was it centralised. The Lang Registers cover around half of all Gretna Green marriages performed during the specified time period, and include over 10,000 records.
Sometimes marriages were recorded on scraps of pieces of paper, while at other times they were kept more formally and recorded in a book. The amount of information recorded could vary as well. However, Ancestry says that you’ll generally be able to find the following information:
- Names of bride and groom;
- Their counties of residence;
- Marriage date;
- Witnesses’ names.