Welcome to Scottish Genealogy Tips And Tidbits

A wee bit of info to help you in your journey to discover your Scottish Ancestors and maybe even crack a brick wall or two!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Scottish Marriages

Traditionally, in Scotland, a man and woman over the age of sixteen could be married by declaring themselves husband and wife in front of witnesses. Laws in England were much more strict following an Act of Parliament in 1745. This then resulted in many young couples fleeing north of the border to Scotland in order to get married. Gretna Green was the first stagecoach changing post north of the Scottish Border on the main route between London and Edinburgh. This then became a very popular spot to marry. The marriage ceremonies were carried out over the Smithy’s anvil with the "Blacksmith Priest" officiating. In fact, this was a marriage of declaration and not a civil marriage, but legal nonetheless.  

Another Act of Parliament in 1857 (100 years later) imposed residential qualifications for those who married. They needed, by the new law, to live 21 days in the area before they could marry. This, too, became popular and couples would happily take up residence in Gretna or another Scottish Border town for the necessary 3 weeks and then would be married, as planned, at Gretna Green by the "Blacksmith Priest". In 1940, Parliament outlawed the "Blacksmiths Priests" and their anvil marriages. Marriages could only be conducted by a member of the clergy or a civil registrar. Today, there are no residency requirements and no parental consent is required in Scotland for people over the age of 16 who wish to marry. All that is required is for the couple to serve notice to the Registrar. Many continue to marry at Gretna Green even today. They are not running away so much as enjoying the rich history of Gretna Green as a place to marry. Gretna Green marriages “over the anvil” are as popular today as castle weddings. Scotland attracts visitors from all over the world as a place to be married. 

If you can’t find your ancestor anywhere in the marriage registers or parish registers for the “calling of the banns” they may have had an “irregular” marriage. Naturally, the church disliked irregular marriages for a variety of reasons (morality and finances being the major two). Often, the church would “catch up” with the couple, who would then be summoned before the Kirk session to take their penance, pay their fine, marry legally and be on their merry way. Kirk session records have been digitized but at the moment they are only available at Scotland's People Centre in Edinburgh.

Here is an interesting website for Stray Marriages:


Scroll down. The stray marriages are about half way down on the page. The records are in PDF format, showing surname, first name, birth date, birth place, parents, spouse, marriage place/county, marriage date and source number. Wonderful information! 

You will also find that a lot of marriages took place on December 31 or January 1. This was not for tax-break purposes, but rather because for 400 years, the Church of Scotland forbid the celebration of Christmas. Instead, “Hogmanay” or New Year’s Eve was the holiday to be celebrated and New Year’s Day was a holiday from work. Knowing this, couples often planned their weddings accordingly so that family could attend without worry of having to work. 




1 comment:

  1. Lots of great details here Christine! Thanks for posting.