British Divorces in Palmer's Index to the Times 1788 to 1910

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“Separation of husband and wife a mensa et toro (from board and bed) could be granted by ecclesiastical courts, but from 1668 until 1857 full divorce a vinculo matrimonii (from the bands of matrimony) could only be affected by a Private Act of Parliament. It was therefore available only to those of ample means” (FitzHugh). One cost estimate is 1,000-1,500 pounds per divorce. Selling one’s wife was one way for a poor person to gain a separation. The practice is described in The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy.

In 1857 the Matrimonial Causes Act made divorce possible by use of the Civil Courts. (Saul and Markwell).

From 1669 onwards, the records of Divorce Bills are in the House of Lords Record Office. They may also include those of any prior relevant proceedings in an ecclesiastical or civil court. Petitions for divorce, once they are 100 years old, can be found in the Public Record Office, Chancery Lane. Later divorce records (post 1857) are housed at the Divorce Registry of the Family Division of the High Court, Somerset House.


A series of nine microfiche (6344779) contain the divorces listed in Palmer’s Indexes to “The Times” newspaper, London for 1788-1910. The microfiche contain several sections:

  1. alphabetical listing of divorces;
  2. alphabetical listing of co‑respondent(s);
  3. alphabetical listing of aliases;
  4. General – Chronological listing, which includes reference to reports, law reforms, statistics, etc., and 5) examples of reports.

Further Reading

Saul, Pauline and F.C. Markwell. The A-Z Guide to Tracing Ancestors in Britain. Fourth Edition. FHL Ref 942 D27mf 1991.

FitzHugh, Terrick V. H. Dictionary of Genealogy. Third Edition. FHL Ref 942 D26f 1991.

House of Lords staff. The Index to Local and Personal Acts. Part XIII contains a list of divorce records in the House of Lords Record Office.

Barber, Melanie. Records of Marriage and Divorce in Lambeth Palace Library, in The Genealogist’s Magazine, Volume 20 number 4 FHL Ref 942 B2gm.

Cole, Jean. Divorce and Separation in Rossendale Society for Genealogy and History Journal, Volume 4 number 2 (May 1983).