The UK’s civil divorce records from 1858-1911 have been made available online.
Ancestry, which has put online a database of digitised images of the divorce papers, says: “The database contains records from civil divorce proceedings that followed the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act.
“Divorce in the UK changed in 1858 when the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act took effect. Among other things, this law removed divorce from the jurisdiction of the church and made it a civil matter. Though divorce still remained primarily a privilege of the wealthy, it no longer required the intervention of Parliament as it had in days past.
“Women were also given more access to divorce if they could prove both adultery and an accompanying cause such as cruelty, desertion, or bigamy. Later reforms would give women more control over property they brought into a marriage and more custody rights.
“The National Archives describes them as: files of papers arising from petitions for divorce, judicial separation, declarations of legitimacy, applications for protection of a wife’s earnings, etc, in the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes and Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice. Some later files also relate to appeals from decisions of magistrates’ courts in matrimonial causes….
“In most cases, the files have been weeded and contain only minutes, pleadings and decrees, but in certain selected suits, illustrating particular kinds of proceedings, papers have been preserved in their entirety. The end date for records in this database is determined by privacy laws. These records also include petitions for separation or to have a marriage nullified.
Contents of the records
“The records contained in each file will vary, but they may provide the following details:
- spouse’s gender;
- type of record;
- petition year;
- date and place of marriage;
- names and birth details of children;
- copy of marriage certificate.
“Records will indicate who filed the petition and who the respondent was. They may also provide a short history of the marriage (including addresses), the grounds for the divorce petition with some details (such as names, times, and places associated with adultery or desertion), terms of judgment, and other details. These details can make these records both informative and very personal.”