Registrar marriages

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The Church in Madras, Chapter 4 , Bishop Spencer and his Episcopate 1838-1847, page 61 by Rev Frank Penny sets out the background to the establishment in 1842 of civil registrars in every District with the power to conduct civil marriages. One section of the new Act validated all marriages hitherto performed by laymen if not otherwise invalid. This was followed in 1851 by another Act. It is not known whether this applied only in Madras, or in the other Presidencies.

Registrar marriages took place in British India and as far away as the Straits Settlements and Peking from 1852. A common misconception regarding these marriages is that they equate to today's 'registry office marriages' and were a secular ceremony. The vast majority of Registrar marriages took place according to non-conformist Christian rites and were often in places of Christian worship.

Examples of such might include:

  • London Missionary Society Chapel by an LMS missionary
  • Presbyterian minister conducted marriage in a private home
  • Wesleyan Methodist place of worship and minister
  • Episcopal Methodist minister & chapel

Rather than being non-religious affairs, what sets such marriages apart is that the Ministers of Religion who conducted the ceremonies were not licensed by the State as Marriage Registrars. This meant that the Civil Registrar would need to be present to Register the marriage and make it legal.

They were introduced so that many who did not recognise the standing of the Church of England in India could be married elsewhere within a certificated marriage. In other cases doubts had been expressed that many marriages carried out by dissenting ministers, judges, magistrates and military officers might not be valid for both legitimacy and inheritance issues back home in England.

Note however that the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872 [Act No.15 of 1872 dated 18th July, 1872] provided for "Marriages Solemnized By,…, A Marriage Registrar", in addition to ""Marriages Solemnized...In the Presence Of, A Marriage Registrar"


Marriages conducted by Registrar commenced in 1852 and are included in the India Office ‘N’ series under reference IOR/N/11- 'Returns of Registrar Marriages in Bengal, Madras, Bombay and Burma' Copies of these registers are held in the British Library. (Digitised copies of the records are also available in the British India collection on the commercial website FindMyPast).

It will be noted that after 1910 when all parties to marriage were shown in the usual 'N' indexes in Alphabetical order, the maintenance of the Registrars' Marriages Index was deemed unnecessary and all marriages thereafter appeared within the usual indexes.

FIBIS resources

  • "Registry Marriages in India" by Lawrie Butler, FIBIS Journal Number 13 (Spring 2005)

See also

External links