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

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

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