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The 1844 Marriage Act: Politico-Religious Agitation and its Consequences for Ulster Genealogy

by Familia Ulster Genealogical Review: No. 02, 1986


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By Brian T. McClintock

"' ... If my successor or the ministers of a coming generation could know as I personally did the strong feelings which moved the heart of the Presbyterian body at the announcement of that disastrous decision against what we thought were our own privileges in the performance of marriages and the unwonted exertions which were made in order to have that decision remedied, he would also feel thankful for this law which is thus transmitted and those privileges which are now secured'.

This view of the Rev. John Radcliffe represents the intensity of feeling with which the new marriage law, commencing on 1 April 1845, was received by the Presbyterians of Ulster.

1845 is widely recognised as a significant date for genealogists concerned with Ireland, being the year of commencement of the Great Famine and its attendant widespread emigration.

However, the very magnitude of this phenomenon has tended to obscure the other feature of that year which, in its own way, was no less important to researchers of family history, namely the beginning of civil registration of Protestant marriages."

This article examines the 1844 Marriage Act, and looks at the context of the 'marriage controversy', and the practical value of the 1844 Act to Ulster genealogy.