England, Norfolk Marriage Bonds (FamilySearch Historical Records)

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FamilySearch Record Search This article describes a collection of historical records available at FamilySearch.org.
Access the records: England Norfolk Marriage Bonds, 1557-1915 .

Record description

This collection will include records from 1557 to 1915.

It contains bonds and other documents for those married by license in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk and a few parishes in Cambridgeshire.

Couples could decide to pay for a license if they wanted to marry in a hurry, thus bypassing the public calling of banns on three consecutive Sundays in their home parishes, or if they preferred to get married elsewhere. Other reasons are explained in Marriage Allegations, Bonds and Licences in England and Wales.

For a marriage by license, three types of document were created: an allegation, a bond (until 1823) and a license. A marriage allegation was an affidavit (a sworn statement) made typically by the groom, attesting that the couple could legally marry. A marriage bond was a contract entered into by a relative (often the father of the bride or groom) or friend and usually the groom himself. They promised to pay a large fine to the church officials in the event of any legal impediment to the marriage, such as consanguinity or affinity (close kinship by blood or marriage) or an existing pre-contract (betrothal to another partner). In 1823 the requirement for bonds was abolished, while allegations continued to be sworn. Licenses themselves were not normally retained for long after being handed to the officiating minister, but a few survive with parish records and a series from the Norwich Consistory Court (1903-1988) is described in Norfolk Record Office Information Leaflet 48: Marriage License Bonds.

The marriage license allegations and bonds in this collection are in broadly chronological order under four ecclesiastical courts:

Although most bonds and allegations have survived, some are in poor condition and difficult to read, especially when the microfilmed images are badly focused.

Until 1733, marriage bonds were written partly in Latin but the wording was standardized and is easier to decipher in the printed forms that were in use by the 1690s.

Many of the pages are not arranged in date order, so researchers should browse through the records if they do not find what they are seeking in the expected place.

The existence of a marriage bond or allegation does not prove that the couple actually married as planned. The wedding may have been called off, or the license may have been accepted at a different church from the one(s) specified.

If there is a second bondsman named John Doe with no stated occupation or address, he is likely to be fictitious (as also in certain types of court case, where a hypothetical plaintiff would be named John Doe and the respondent Richard Roe). Church officials who used this legal fiction presumably had sufficient faith in the credentials of the single real bondsman.

For a list of records by localities and dates currently published in this collection, select the Browse link from the collection landing page.

Citation for this Collection

The following citation refers to the original source of the information published in FamilySearch.org Historical Record collections. Sources include the author, custodian, publisher and archive for the original records.

"England, Norfolk Marriage Bonds, 1557-1915." Images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : accessed 2013. Citing Church of England. Record Office, Central Library, Norwich.

Digital images were created from the microfilm collection held at the Family History Library, as listed here:

Suggested citation format for a record in this collection.

Record content

Marriage records generally contain the following information:

  • Date of document
  • Name of the future groom
  • Age and marital status of the future groom
  • Residence of the future groom
  • Name of the future bride
  • Age and marital status of the future bride
  • Residence of the future bride
  • May include names of parents or guardians of minors

How to use this record

To begin your search, it would be helpful if you knew the following information:

  • Name of bride or groom or parents
  • Approximate year and place of marriage

Search the Collection

To search the collection image by image select "Browse through images" on the initial collection page:
⇒Select the appropriate "County"
⇒Select the appropriate "Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction"
⇒Select the appropriate "Year" which will take you to the images.

Look at the images one by one comparing the information with what you already know about your ancestors to determine if the image relates to them. You may need to look at several images and compare the information about the individuals listed in those images to your ancestors to make this determination.

Courts' Jurisdictions

Marriage licenses could be granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, bishops or archdeacons and their deputies or surrogates (designated local clergymen) within their respective jurisdictions. Rural surrogates often kept bonds and allegations for some time (usually less than three years but possibly up to ten) before submitting them to the court's registry, where they were customarily filed in bundles by year of receipt, not by date of creation. It may therefore be necessary to look in several later bundles to find relevant documents.

The Norwich Consistory Court (NCC) was the diocesan court, headed by the Bishop of Norwich and managed by his Chancellor. It had jurisdiction over almost the entire counties of Norfolk and (until the 19th century) Suffolk, plus a small number of parishes in Cambridgeshire. The other three courts in this collection covered various parts of Norfolk. For more information about these courts and their jurisdictions, see the Norfolk Record Office's leaflet and GenUKI's Church Administration Areas Directory for Norfolk. Alternatively, select a parish at England Jurisdictions 1851 and then click on the "Jurisdictions" tab in the white box, where the name of the "Probate Court" will be the same as the lowest court for marriage licensing.

In practice, jurisdiction rules were not always followed. Couples living within a single archdeaconry had no need to obtain a license from a higher court like the NCC, but they often did so (perhaps because they lived close to a surrogate). Officially, couples living in separate dioceses came under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury (see Marriage Allegations, Bonds and Licences in England and Wales), particularly if one partner was in the Province of York. But they too can sometimes be found in the records of the NCC and even the archdeaconry courts in the Diocese of Norwich.

Indexes and Hints

For a 1986 listing of marriage bonds and indexes, see Jeremy Gibson’s "Bishops Transcripts and Marriage Licences, Bonds and Allegations: A Guide to their Location and Indexes," available at the Family History Library.

The Family History Library also has indexes to some of these marriage bonds:

Additional unpublished indexes are held at the Norfolk Record Office, as described in its leaflet.

The Society of Genealogists has an extensive collection of indexed abstracts from "Norfolk and Suffolk Marriage Licenses" (1549-1799) relating to bonds and allegations of the Norwich Consistory Court and many other authorities, including East Anglican archdeaconry courts and the Archbishop of Canterbury's Vicar General and Faculty Office. This may be the most comprehensive index of its kind but it is not available online. Originally compiled by Arthur Bertram Campling (1871-1947), it was typed in 1975 and is now bound in five volumes on the Marriage License shelves at the Society's premises in London (shelf mark ML/GEN).

Many marriage license bonds and allegations are indexed at FamilySearch.org. Unfortunately, the results do not show the online image numbers or the bundles in which they can be found, and the name of the issuing court is seldom clear. Without checking the film number (see below), it may not even be apparent that the source is a marriage license record, unless the user is aware of clues such as these:

  • Birth Date or Age: If ages are shown before 1837, they are almost certainly from a marriage license allegation or bond, as earlier marriage registers did not normally record them. (Most brides and grooms were 21 years "and upwards" so their calculated birth dates are not necessarily accurate.)
  • Marriage Date: If this is a little earlier than the date in the parish register, it is probably the date of the license documents. (These dates are more likely to be the same if the minister who performed the wedding ceremony was the person who had supplied the license.)
  • Marriage Place: Sometimes the full name of the court is stated here (such as "Norwich Consistory Court, Norfolk, England"). Occasionally an authorized parish church (or more than one) is given. If no parish is specified, then:
    • "Norwich, Norfolk, England" can indicate the Norwich Consistory Court
    • "Norfolk, England" can indicate the Norwich Consistory Court or the Norfolk Archdeaconry Court
  • Indexing Project (Batch) Number: This begins with the letter "I" for marriage license records but also for many bishop's or archdeacon's transcripts and other records; check the film number (see below) to differentiate between them. (The standard prefix for marriages extracted from parish registers is "M".)
  • Reference Number: This can be very useful if it gives the folio number of the bond or allegation, which is sometimes written at the top of the page and may be indicated in an alpha-numerical list of grooms (surnames arranged alphabetically by initial letter only, notably at the beginning of most NCC bundles between 1695 and 1751). An item number (for example "item 4, p78") can help to identify one of several bundles on the same film. Less usefully, the Reference Number field often displays nothing, or just a year (such as "1825" or "1826" for NCC documents dated 1825 in the 1820-1826 bundle).

Indexing at FamilySearch.org is not complete. Some bundles have not been indexed at all. In at least one of the NCC bundles (1783-1784), half of the images are indexed but the other half (484 to 956) are not.

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Citation Example for a Record Found in This Collection

Citations for individual image records are available for this collection. Browse through images in this collection and click on the “Show Citation” box: England, Norfolk Marriage Bonds, 1557-1915