Essex Record Office project to make marriage licence allegations more accessible

Detail from "The Comforts of Matrimony". Copyright Trustees of the British Museum

Marriage licence bonds and allegations have proved to be very useful in my research. Sometimes I might see that a marriage was performed by licence, and I ask the Essex Record Office if they have the marriage licence allegation (MLA) for it. Other times, if I’m struggling to find a marriage, I email them to ask if they could look up the names in their printed index, and it’s helped me to locate the marriage.

MLAs can give me loads of info – where each party resided, where they intended to marry, sometimes their ages, occupations, as well as parents and family members. To see the sort of information you can find in an MLA, have a look at the ones I’ve transcribed. But wouldn’t it be nice if they were more accessible?

Worry not, for the Essex Record Office have this in hand: they’re currently undertaking the mammoth task of going through every box of MLAs, indexing each and every one of them on Seax. So in future, you’ll be able to put your ancestor’s name into Seax and, if the MLA has survived, the catalogue record will appear. Some are already online – keep checking back as they’re adding more all the time. It’s a huge job so will take some time to do, but once it’s finished it really will be a fantastic resource and will make these documents all the more accessible. The actual MLA itself won’t be scanned in (so this isn’t the same sort of project as wills digitisation), but it means you’ll be able to send off for a digital image.

To give you an idea of what you can expect, I decided to look for some Cardinall MLAs.


I got the following results:



And when you go inside the record, it looks like this:


You’ll notice that it doesn’t give you the place where they married, or any of the other pieces of information on the MLA, but it gives you the important info you need so that you can send off for a copy of it.

You can also virtually leaf through the box. So I took D/ABL 1726 (leaving off /38, which identifies that particular MLA) and put it in the document reference search box in the top right-hand corner:


And look what happens:



This might be one way to get round the problem which might arise if the surname you’re looking for is spelt awkwardly, or has become illegible over time. The letters at the beginning differ depending on the type of licence it is. As well as D/ABL, you might see: D/ACL, D/AEL, D/ALL, D/AML, or even D/APs (the last will be followed by some numbers, eg. D/APsL154).

As you can see from the number of results,this approach might be rather time-consuming, but at least it’s an option if you get stuck.

I’m looking forward to finding lots more licences as this project goes on!