Common Law Marriage: Scotland & Quebec

As I had hoped,  some of our international correspondents checked in on this issue.  Kirsty says:

In Scotland, the situation was a bit different from England, or at least less clear. There seems to have been contradictory legislation and, I think, the more I read on the topic of Scottish Marriage Law the more confused I get!

In practice there were two main forms of marriage: “regular” (i.e. marriage by clergyman following the proclamation of banns) and “irregular”. The most common form of irregular marriage was a declaration of marriage in front of witnesses. I have relatives who were married this way in the 1930s.

Of particular relevance to this discussion though was marriage “by habit and repute” – where a co-habiting couple were regarded as husband and wife. This was abolished in Scotland as recently as 2006 by which time it had become very rare, probably because proving legally that such a marriage existed was a lot more trouble than simply going through a Civil Marriage Ceremony!

My original post mentioned the Marriage Act 1753.  Those who recall their history classes will take notice that the Act did not apply to Scotland, which after the Act of Union 1707, retained its own legislative authority

Thanks, Kirsty! By the way, Kirsty’s excellent blog is also one of the nominees (in the Heritage category) in the Family Tree Magazine Top 40 Best Blogs poll. Check it out at The Professional Descendant. She’s recently had a post on Scottish Catholic Registers and an interesting one about An Irregular Catholic Marriage.

I also received an email from Gilles Cayouette of Quebec, who referred me to  a post on his blog, Le chercheur nomade – The Nomadic Researcher.   The French reads:

La bénédiction d’un mariage déjà contracté à Natashquan

Les registres de la paroisse Notre-Dame de Natashquan font état pour le 28 juillet 1862 de l’acte de mariage suivant :

«M. 3 Antoine Marcoux et Elisabeth Hawkins

Le vingt huit juillet mil huit cent soixante te deux, vû le mariage déjà contracté le quatre juin de cette année, en présence de Edward Sheehyn, Michel Kanty et Guillaume Kanty, entre Antoine Marcoux, veuf de Angèle Célina Kenty de la Tête a la Baleine, d’une part; et Elisabeth Hawkins, fille mineure de Alexandre Hawkins et de défunte Archange Guilmet de la Baie des Moutons d’autre part, ne s’étant déclaré aucun empêchement au dit mariage, nous Prêtre, missionnaire soussigné, avons béni leur union en présence de Guillaume Kenty, Michel Kenty, père et Edward Sheehyn soussignés avec l’époux. L’épouse n’a su signer.
Benjamin Read Antoine Marcoux Edward Sheehyn William Canty Michel Canty F.M. Fournier Ptre

À l’évidence, cette union faisait l’objet d’un consensus social et en particulier de la part des proches de l’ancienne épouse. Dans les circonstances, le missionnaire en bénissant cette union a fait preuve de gros bon sens et a pris acte du contexte.

Using my flawless altar-boy Latin and legal French, I translated it thusly:

The blessing of a marriage already contracted  at Natashquan

The records of the parish of Notre-Dame de Natashquan report on July 28, 1862 of the following marriage :

3 Antoine Marcoux and Elizabeth Hawkins

The twenty-eight July, one thousand eight hundred and sixty. Concerning the marriage already contracted on June fourth of this year, in the presence of Edward Sheehyn, Michael Kanty and William Kanty, between Antoine Marcoux, widower of Angela Celina Kanty of Whaleshead on the one hand, and Elizabeth Hawkins, minor daughter of Alexander Hawkins and the late Archangel Guilmet of Sheeps Bay on the other hand, no impediment to the said marriage having been reported, we, the missionary Priest undersigned, have blessed their union in the presence of William Kanty, Michael Kanty, father, and Edward Sheehyn undersigned with the husband. The wife has been able to sign.

/s/ Benjamin Read
Antoine Marcoux
Edward Sheehyn
William Kanty
Michel Kanty
FM Fournier, Priest

Clearly, this union was the subject of a social consensus, in particular on the part of the relatives of the deceased wife. In the circumstances, the missionary took note of the context, and showed common sense in blessing this union.

[How’s my translation?]

Gilles added in his email:

You must note that, in Québec, the church records were historically (in fact until January 1st, 1994) kept by Catholic priests and they were recognised as legal by the civil authorities; a situation which arouses some some interesting legal questions…

Merci, M. Cayouette!


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