Saturday, 22 December 2012

Marriage in the not too distant past (UK)

The choice of spouse was limited in the days before mass transport and communication. Prospective partners were your neighbours in the community you lived in or relations. I have lots of examples of cousins marrying and pairs of brothers marrying sisters. This was and still is perfectly legal.

Matthew Rolinson married his cousin Mary Ann Price in Cumnock in 1871.

George Stewart Anderson married his cousin Garden Walker in 1902 in Aberdeen.

Muncie sisters married McMurdo brothers in Muirkirk, Ayrshire
Christina Muncie married James McMurdo in November 1846
Margaret Muncie married George McMurdo in 31 Dec 1849

Hugh Blue married Elizabeth Wilson in West Kilbride, Ayrshire in 1835. His younger brother Daniel Blue married her younger sister Janet Wilson in 1839.

More recently Penrose brothers John and David married Herbertson sisters Lettie and Georgina respectively in Ayrshire in the 1920s.

Second marriages in the past were very common. 

Many women died young from childbirth or diseases like tuberculosis, typhus and smallpox. I have seen comments on family history forums along the lines of "his wife died in July and he married again in October with indecent haste." We should not be too quick to judge.   Put yourself in the place of the bereaved. You are a man with a job and 5 children including a baby and a toddler. Your family can help out but they probably have a houseful as well. The long term solution is clearly to get another wife. But where to find one? Often the second wife is much younger or else a widow maybe with some children of her own. In a few cases I've seen a man marrying his late wife's sister and one of  a widow marrying her brother-in-law.  In many ways it seems an ideal situation. The children know their aunt or uncle and vice versa.  However marriage to a wife's sister was illegal until 1907 (The Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907)! ( As far as I can make out, it was legal for a woman to marry her deceased husband's brother.) To marry they may have gone temporarily to another parish where their history wasn't known.

Elizabeth Hunn Lander married Chynoweth brothers in Cornwall/Devon
First she married Joseph Chynoweth in Cornwall in 1822. Joseph died in 1838 leaving her with 5 children. She married his younger brother William Chynoweth who was 7 years her junior across the county border in Devon in 1840. 

Joseph Lockhart Wilson married sisters Margaret McCrae in about 1844 in Ayrshire and Jane McCrae 1855 in Glasgow although they continued to live in Ayrshire. He had five children with each of them.

In Kirkcudbrightshire Grace Gibson married Samuel Coltart in 1874: her mother had married his father in 1866 so he was her stepbrother.  Marriage to your stepbrother was and still is illegal!

I am not condemning or criticising any of these unions, just saying they happened! If anyone knows more about the legal situation please leave a comment.

Where groups of people moved from one part of the country to another in seek of work, they tended to marry within their community for the first generation at least. I have followed my miner ancestors who moved from the Midlands (Wolverhampton area) to Ayrshire and Cornish miners who also moved to Ayrshire.  The first few marriages were to other English or Cornish compatriots.  Gradually they married the locals. And within a couple of generations they thought of themselves as Scottish, as indeed they were.

No comments:

Post a Comment