Cousins and a Golden Wedding Anniversary

This episode of the 50 Marriage Mondays series features a golden wedding anniversary.  The couple were:

Bride: Ethel Simms Wilson, aged 28
Groom: George Herbert Simms, aged 26, a marine engineer
Date: 3 August 1904
Location: St Asaph’s Church, Birmingham
Father of Bride: Thomas Wilson
Father of Groom: George Frederick Simms

Wedding of George Frederick Simms & Ethel Simms Wilson

Wedding of George Frederick Simms & Ethel Simms Wilson

This is a photocopy of the wedding photograph.  Apart from the couple, seated in the centre, I am sure about the identity of a few of the guests.  Seated on the far right is Mary Louisa Wilson, Ethel’s eldest sister.  The tiny woman standing behind Ethel is her mother, Emma Louis Wilson, nee Simms.

I think the slightly disreputable chap standing behind George is Ethel’s father, Thomas Wilson.  As George was a marine engineer, the uniformed man might be a colleague, perhaps in the merchant navy.  The four men to the right of the uniformed man resemble other photos labelled by various relatives as Ethel’s brothers, but I am not sure which brother is which.

Although the marriage certificate does not indicate George’s father was deceased, George Frederick Simms’ death was registered in the January-March quarter of 1897 (Wandsworth district, Vol. 1d, p. 370), and the 1901 census records Emily Simms (nee Armstrong) as a widow.

The couple were first cousins:

Simms - Wilson cousin chart

Simms – Wilson cousin chart

In 1911, George’s two cousins, George Harry Wilson and Matthew Lancelot Wilson, who were also Ethel’s brothers, lived in the couple’s household.  On 3 August 1954, George and Ethel celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary which is commemorated by this photo:

50th wedding anniversary - Ethel Simms Wilson & George Frederick Simms

50th wedding anniversary – Ethel Simms Wilson & George Frederick Simms

Again, apart from George and Ethel seated centrally, only some party guests have been identified with confidence.  Seated either side of George and Ethel are the wives of the two cousins/brothers that who were part of the household in 1911.  On the left is Emily Olive Pee, wife of Matthew Lancelot Wilson, and on the right is Elizabeth Johnson, wife of George Harry Wilson.

Standing behind Elizabeth is Muriel Thompson (nee Simms), daughter of George and Ethel, and behind Emily is Muriel’s daughter, Patricia Muriel Thompson, aged 16.  Muriel’s other daughter, aged 9, is the laughing girl seated on the ground.  The boy next to her looks about the same age, so he might be John Simms, son of John Frederick Simms.

The men are more problematic, not least because the general lack of hair makes it difficult to judge ages.  I think the man of the left is Gordon Shirley Wilson, son of Emily Pee.  It has been suggested that the men either side of Muriel are her brothers, Herbert (aged 43) on the left and John Frederick (aged 30) on the right.  However, the man on the right looks older than 30 to me, so I think he may be Muriel’s husband, William Ross Thompson, aged 46.  The man directly behind George looks older than the other standing men, so possible candidates include Ethel’s brothers George Harry Wilson, aged 63 and Matthew Lancelot Wilson, aged 58.

If you can confirm my tentative identifications or know who the other people were, please leave a comment.

© Sue Adams 2013

A Boxing Day Marriage by Licence

This festive week’s 50 Marriage Mondays entry is a Boxing Day marriage by licence:

Bride: Emma Simms, aged 47, spinster, resident in Bromsgrove
Groom: William Hooper Attree, aged 50, batchelor, Medical Officer, resident in East Grinstead, Sussex
Date: 26 December 1867
Location: St John the Baptist church, Bromsgrove
Bride’s father: James Simms, Professor of Music
Groom’s father: William Attree, surgeon

Speed, convenience, privacy and social status are widely given as reasons for a couple to choose to marry by licence rather than after the reading of banns.


At the date of this marriage, 1867, marriage licences could be issued by the Ecclesiastical Courts or Registrars of Birth, Deaths and Marriages.  The authority of Church of England courts were represented by archbishops, bishops and persons appointed by them.  The issue of a licence avoided the calling of banns three times, which took 3 weeks, and enabled the couple to marry immediately in the parish stipulated on the licence.

Certain conditions were to be met before the issue of a licence:

  • at least one of the couple to have been resident in the parish for 15 days

Emma had a clear connection with Bromsgrove as she was the daughter of James Simms and Hebe Shaw, the subjects of an earlier post and long established Bromsgrove residents (Of this parish – Residence requirements for marriage)

  • one of the parties gave an oath that there were no impediments to the marriage

Either Emma or William could have obtained the licence, although it was traditional for the groom to make such arrangements.

  • parental consent was required for people under 21

Both parties were well past the age of consent.


Traditionally, the church prohibited the solemnisation of marriage during particularly holy times of the year, especially Easter and Christmas.  One of the prohibited seasons was from the beginning of Advent (1 December 1867) to 13 January (1868).  A licence provided a means of circumventing the church’s prohibited seasons.  If the prohibited seasons were strictly observed in Bromsgrove in 1867, obtaining a licence may have been necessary for a couple wanting the convenience of marrying on Boxing Day.

Privacy and Social Status

Although no banns or other public notice was necessary, the marriage occurred in church before the congregation.  The only way William and Emma could have married in a truly private venue such as a private chapel or home was by obtaining a ‘special licence’, granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Such licences were issued only to the upper echelons of society e.g. peerage, senior judges, baronets, Knights and members of Parliament, or people who had ‘very strong and weighty reasons’.  William Hooper Attree had been surgeon to the former king of Portugal, Don Miguel de Braganza, and came from a prominent Brighton family, but even these connections probably did not qualify him for a special licence.


© Sue Adams 2012

Of this parish – Residence requirements for marriage

Back in 2001 a relative and fellow researcher sent me a copy of an entry in a parish register in response to my questions about the marriage of James Simms, a music teacher and organist at Bromsgrove, Worcestershire to Phoebe or Hebe.

Marriage of James Simms and Hebe Shaw.

Marriage of James Simms and Hebe Shaw. St Martin, Birmingham parish (Warwickshire, England). Parish registers, Marriages, 1808-1817. Family History Library microfilm 919781. Original register DRO 34/37, Birmingham Central Library.

Bride: Hebe Shaw
Groom: James Simms
Date: 5 November 1813
Location: St Martin, Birmingham

Both bride and groom claimed to be ‘of this parish’.  However, neither seems to have any connection to the parish as they were born in neighbouring counties and lived in Bromsgrove.  James’ birthplace recorded on the 1851 census appears to be Swinston, Staffs.  However there is no place of that name, but small village in Staffordshire named Swindon is likely to be the correct place.  Hebe’s birthplace recorded on the 1851 census is Wolverley, Worcestershire.  All the locations are within about 10 miles of St Martin’s church in the centre of Birmingham city.

Although the 1753 Marriage Act (also known as Hardwick’s Act) directed that marriages should take place in the parish of residence of one of the parties, this requirement was not mandatory as the validity of a marriage could not be challenged on the grounds of non-residence[1].  Evidence suggests the couple were not resident in the parish.  The Bromsgrove burial register notes that James had been the organist at Bromsgrove for 43 years on his death in 1854, placing him in Bromsgrove from about 1811, two years prior to the marriage.  The reasons why the couple chose St Martin’s may become apparent with further research.  As a prominent church in a growing city, St Martin’s could have been a popular marriage location, and there may be as yet undiscovered family connections.

So, is this the right couple?  At present they think they probably are.  I should check there are no other possible marriages in the parish registers for Wolverley and Swindon and surrounding areas.  An important thing to note is that FamilySearch does not cover all parishes.  Wolverley is included, but Swindon is not.  Although checking the index on FamilySearch yields just this marriage in a search for James Simms and Hebe between 1790 and 1841, changing the bride’s forename to Phoebe yields another three possibilities.  As they are from Wiltshire, London and Derbyshire, they are not more likely.

Now that we have reached the 10th in the 50 Marriage Mondays series, I have noticed that the need for further research keeps recurring!

[1] Probert, Rebecca (2012) Marriage Laws for Genealogists. Takeaway: Kenilworth. p. 145.