In a recent case I used a cluster of marriage records (church and civil). A close examination of the names of the recorded witnesses – the best man and the brides-maid – opened up the research. At first the witnesses appeared to be unrelated to the bride and groom. A closer examination proved that the male-witness, who I assumed was best-man for the groom, was in fact the bride’s ‘about-to-be’ stepfather.
I was fortunate in this case to have an unusual stand out name which allowed me to develop a most interesting line of enquiry for this family history. It makes me wonder how many actual family links we may be missing, not realizing that the Kelly or Murphy is in fact an in-law or cousin.
We might expect to see this phenomenon in a rural setting where families living in close knit communities would act as witnesses to each other’s marriages. I have also seen this in my own urban family history.
When Irish genealogy first launched the Dublin parish registers online, I searched for my own Wyse family members. Among my many discoveries, I found my great aunt Mary Wyse acting as witness to a marriage in the Pro-Cathedral in 1896.
Married 16 Aug. 1896, in the Pro-Cathedral Dublin,
Bernard Breslin, of 4 Northern Ireland (Terrace?), TO Mary Delaney of 70 Marlboro St.
The groom was the son of Michael Breslin & Julia Coffey, the bride was the daughter of Michael Delaney & Ellen Johnston.
Witnesses William Beechin and Mary Wise.
Initially I thought that great-aunt Mary must have acted as brides-maid for a friend. Further research proved Mary Wise was in fact a witness for the groom, her cousin! This meant that the information on the groom and his parents was highly pertinent to my own family history and allowed me to bring this branch of my family back to an earlier generation. I had known little or nothing of this family up to this point.
The fact that witnesses often prove to be family members has been replicated in a number of cases I have worked on for clients recently.
Witnesses to a marriage should never be ignored!
By Eneclann Research Expert, Carmel Gilbride