A Match Made in Heaven – Did your ancestors marry for better or worse?
Marriage certificates are an essential tool for family historians, giving information on the
names, ages and occupations of those getting married and also vital details of the bride
and groom’s fathers. However, much like the happily ever after ending of a fairy tale,
what marriage certificates do not tell us is the next part of the story – how can we find
out what our ancestor’s marriages were really like?
As February is the month for romance and as part of the What’s Your Story project
sponsored by Appleby, Jersey Archive staff are asking you to delve a little deeper into
the past to try and discover - Did your ancestors marry for better or worse?
The registers of the newly established Church of England were first kept under a
mandate of 1538 devised by Thomas Cromwell. Jersey’s earliest registers date from this
period with the marriage registers of St Saviour starting in 1542.
Subsequent legislation in England introduced fees for registration of baptism, marriage
and burials – these fees, added to the high charges imposed by some clergymen made
marriage an expensive business. Rising costs led to many clandestine marriages being
performed in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Clandestine marriages were popular
because they allowed people to wed quickly, in secret and without parental consent. In
1754 Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was passed to put an end to clandestine marriages in
England - this then led to an number of English couples using Jersey as a type of Gretna
Green of the mid 18th century.
In 1842 civil registration began in Jersey allowing the Superintendent Registrar to issue
licences for marriage in a registry office or non-conformist church.
So, how can we tell what our ancestor’s felt about marriage? Did they marry for love,
property or position? Were they happy in their relationships? The records at the Jersey
Archive can give us some clues to help us answer these questions.
Pre-Nups & Advice
The world of Hollywood pre-nuptial agreements would not be unfamiliar to some of our
ancestors who also signed up to marriage settlements before tying the knot. The Jersey
Archive holds a marriage contract made between Jean de Carteret, Seigneur of
Vincheléz de Haut and Anne de Carteret, daughter of the late Anne de Carteret who was
the Dame of Vincheléz du Bas. The contract would appear to be an alliance between the
two de Carteret households and includes a number of clauses, for example; if Anne
outlives Jean without children she keeps the furniture she brings to the marriage and
also any furniture given to her, the detailed list of household goods includes; red
curtains, a grand press of mahogany, a mirror and a bed.
Marriage settlements were usually made, as they are now, between wealthy families.
Women of all classes, however, were often given advice before marriage by female
relatives. In 1817 Marie Dumaresq wrote to her future daughter-in-law Harriet Janvrin on
the occasion of Harriet’s engagement to her son John Le Couteur. Marie gives Harriet
lengthy advice on the suitability of the match ‘a man bred up in the same community with
yourself, with similar habits, way of living and equality of fortune.’ She also warns Harriet
that ‘You will not find the married state happier than the single.’ and that ‘there are men
who are fondest of argument [and] if they condescend to argue with a wife it is generally
with a predetermination not to yield to her opinion.’
Interestingly the same collection of documents at the Archive contains letters from
Marie’s Aunt giving her marital advice. She indicates that ‘Matrimony with all its horrors’
is better than a long courtship but then confesses that ‘I married for love if ever any one
did – but I have no reason to boast of happiness.’ Obviously married life did not live up
to her expectations.
Given these words of warning how can we tell if our ancestors had a happy marriage?
We can look at the number of children a couple had. The baptism registers from the 18th
and 19th centuries show many families with over 10 children, an example being the
Renouf family where, father Charles and Mother Mary Anne had 11 children between
1777 and 1798. The family consisted of 10 girls and only one boy – Jean who had to
cope with 6 elder and 4 younger sisters.
Baptism records can certainly give us examples of marriages with several children but
looking at inscriptions on gravestones might give us more of an idea of what the partners
in the marriage actually thought of each other. The following gravestone was erected by
John George Le Feuvre for his wife Winifred:
‘Winifred Norish Baker the beloved wife of John George Le Feuvre ….. She was a most
affectionate wife & mother and her irreparable loss is mourned by her disconsolate
husband & family….’
Unfortunately not all marriages are as successful as John and Winifred’s. On 25 January
1831 Christopher John Arrowsmith, a boat builder married Mary Dixon in St Helier’s
Parish Church. Over the next ten years Christopher and Mary had seven children and by
looking at marriage and baptism records you might imagine that they lived happily ever
after, fill them in on your family tree and think that this is where the story ends for this
However by looking through the records of the Royal Court we have found that
Christopher and Mary’s story is no fairytale. On 11 October 1845 Christopher found
himself in court, charged with leaving Mary and his children without offering them any aid
or support. It was reported that Christopher had been living with Emelia Johnson with
whom he had two children.
Christopher was sentenced to 15 days imprisonment with forced labour after which he
and his (presumably legal) family were to be banished, unless he could affirm that
neither he nor his family would be a burden on the island. Emelia was imprisoned in
solitary confinement for 15 days.
Christopher obviously committed adultery during his marriage to Mary but at least
stopped short of bigamy. In 1919 George Royston Herbert Jackson was presented to the
Royal Court in Jersey for that crime after marrying Ethel Henrietta Neale at St Andrew’s
Church when his first wife Daisy Maud Jennings, who he had married in 1910, was still
alive. It would appear that Jackson was a bit of an adventurer as he was also charged
with obtaining money from Ethel by false pretences.
Keeping it in the Family
There are close connections between many of Jersey’s old families. In marriage records
we often see families strengthening their links by multiple marriages – a good example
of a double wedding occurred on the 16 May 1747 when Philippe Le Boutillier and his
sister Rachel married Susanne de Caen and her brother Philippe. Family trees can get
complicated when individuals in Jersey took advantage of the fact that in Jersey, unlike
in England under Canon Law, you could marry your dead wife’s sister.
The following family complications occurred in St Ouen in the mid 18th century. Elie
Dumaresq and wife Marie had two daughters, Elizabeth and Marie. In 1734 Marie
married the Reverend Philippe Falle and five years later in 1739 Elizabeth married Jean
De Carteret. Unfortunately Marie died in 1745 and her husband, Reverend Philippe,
remarried six months later choosing Elizabeth Payn as his wife. Tragedy struck again
when the Reverend’s second wife died in 1756. The Reverend waited roughly a year
before marrying his original wife’s sister, Elizabeth Dumaresq, who had, by now, become
a widow. The marriage between Elizabeth Dumaresq and Reverend Falle ended when,
after only three weeks, Reverend Falle died.
Why Don’t You Try?
• Finding the details of your ancestor’s family tree in the census, baptism, marriage
and burial records at the Jersey Archive.
• Looking in the family archive for letters from relatives
• Looking through records of gravestone inscriptions at Jersey Archive
• Looking at Court Records at Jersey Archive for evidence of your ancestor’s
• Looking at wills and testaments at the Jersey Archive to see which ancestor’s