Ask our experts :: The case of the deceptive marriage certificate

7 Posted by - 20 October 2015 - Ask our experts

Our resident experts are on hand to answer your queries. Here, Shauna Hicks gives tips to help a reader solve the puzzling dilemma of a marriage certificate riddled with inaccuracies.

Question: Would it have been a mandatory requirement for people to provide birth certificates to marry in 1942? My parents were married in Victoria in 1942 and almost none of the details on their certificate of marriage are correct.

For instance, the bridegroom’s name should be Reginald James Banks (according to his birth certificate) and his birthplace should be Carlton. His father’s name should be Alfred John Conquest while his mother’s name should be Mary Aileen Banks.

The bridegroom was born out of wedlock, a ward of the state. When a job was found for him at the age of 15 he went to live with his father’s sister. In the end, he was never adopted or fostered.

The bride’s name, place of birth and date of birth are unknown. She was born out of wedlock and given away to a couple who split up a couple of years later. That woman and her de facto husband signed the certificate as her parents.

It took me three years to find my father’s true identity. I am still searching for my mother’s family. I would have thought that by 1942 you would have had to provide some type of identification to marry. It all seems very odd to me, or was this not unusual for the time? 

Shauna Hicks says:

This is an interesting question and like most government functions the answer will lie in the appropriate legislation or regulations. In this instance it would be the Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 and Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages Regulations 2008 and its predecessor legislation and regulations. Current legislation is online but to find a copy of the legislation and regulations in place in 1942 you will need to visit a library holding back copies of Victorian legislation.

State Library of Victoria would be the place to visit if you live in Melbourne. If you are outside Melbourne, they participate in the Ask a Librarian service which might be able to assist you in getting a copy of the relevant section of the Act. Your local library may also be able to assist via interlibrary loan.

However, as we know, even today some people do not always comply with government legislation and regulations and this was also probably true in 1942.

Plus it was in the middle of the Second World War and perhaps rules and regulations were not strictly enforced during those turbulent years. The fact that both parents were present may have also given credence to the wedding and the minister may not have questioned it closely. The true situation of both parties would not have been easy to explain and they may have simply opted for the least complicated explanation.

With regard to the bridegroom, perhaps he has given his aunt and uncle as his parents because he may have regarded them as his parents, rather than his biological parents. That may have been why he was also using their surname of Muir at the time.

With regard to the bride, if she did not know her true identity then it would be reasonable to take the name of the people who brought her up.

It is hard to know at this stage what really happened and it is quite amazing that you have discovered as much as you have of their real identities. I assume that your clues have come from personal information within the families, in which case it may be hard to substantiate with
other sources of information. Best of luck with your search!

Shauna Hicks is the director of Shauna Hicks History Enterprises and has more than 35 years’ experience in Australian, English, Scottish, Irish and Norwegian research. Visit shaunahicks.com.au

5 Comments

  • avatar
    Pam 23 August 2016 - 12:18 am Reply

    I believe that my grandmother was Mary Aileen Bank’s sister. I have a couple of photographs of Mary that I would love to share with “The case of the deceptive marriage certificate” if they are interested.

    • avatar
      Sarah Trevor 28 September 2016 - 5:23 pm Reply

      Wonderful, Pam, thanks for letting us know. I’m sure she’ll be delighted – we’ll put you two in touch.

  • avatar
    TM 21 June 2017 - 1:19 pm Reply

    I think there was a bit of it going on in those days. People getting married were only required to give their age at their last birthday, not birthdate (and even then, they only had to give their age if they knew it), so that implies birth certificates weren’t required. I think the function of Witnesses to the marriage was partially to ensure that the parties getting married were who they said they were.

    My grandparents were married in 1941 and my grandmother’s details are wrong: she was illegitimate, she put her father down with the right first name but her mother’s last name (to match her own), and put her mother down with the right first name, but with her maternal grandmother’s maiden name.

    Here is a link to the old Victorian Acts that start with M: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/hist_act/toc-M.html

    The relevant one is this:
    http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/hist_act/ma192885/

    There is no mention of proof of identity, birth certificate etc. that I can find.

  • avatar
    Jan 12 August 2017 - 10:49 am Reply

    In my experience, before birth certificates had to be sighted in order to marry, most people who were ‘adopted’ put down the people who actually brought them up as their parents on their marriage record, rather than their biological parents. I have also seen many examples of people who were adopted or fostered out at a young age not being told the truth about who their biological parents were. Also be wary of records that are actually transcriptions rather than original documents – it’s amazing how often they are transcribed incorrectly.

    • avatar
      Sarah Trevor 16 August 2017 - 9:59 pm Reply

      Very good points — thanks for sharing, Jan. Incorrect transcriptions can throw a real spanner in the works.

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