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Civil marriages proved popular in 1940

Published: 1 Jan 2016 00:01

Records show actor-turned soldier married his actress wife an hour after being divorced in a Scottish Court in 1940.

Records of births, marriages and deaths, to be published online (1 January 2016) by National Records of Scotland, reveal the start of civil marriages which ended Gretna Green-style marriages in 1940.

Among the marriages is the extraordinary story of a dashing Scottish actor–turned soldier who married an actress an hour after being divorced in a Scottish court on St Valentine's Day 1940.

Captain Bruce Seton, a well-known leading man in films, married his second wife, Antoinette Cellier, in a special ceremony in Edinburgh on 14 February 1940. Only an hour before, he had been granted a divorce in the Court of Session from his first wife Tamara Desni, a glamorous actress of Russian descent. This may be the shortest time ever between a divorce and remarriage in Scotland.

Seton's marriage was one of 53,522 that took place in Scotland in 1940, and all are being made available online through the official website ScotlandsPeople.

The year 1940 saw the introduction of civil marriages performed by registrars in Scottish register offices from 1 July onwards. Although only 4% of marriages from that date were performed by registrars, in 1941 over 11% of marriages were civil. This was the start of the trend that in 2014 saw 52% of all Scottish marriages being conducted as civil marriages.

Also released are 114,181 Scottish births in 1915 and 62,868 records for Scots who died in 1965.

Tim Ellis, Registrar General and Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said:

"I am pleased that we've been able to add a further almost quarter of a million records of births, deaths and marriages to the already substantial information available on ScotlandsPeople. This year's release, which includes civil marriages from 1940, the first time they were performed by registrars in Scottish registration offices, is an interesting reflection of a changing Scottish society at that time – and an opportune moment, too, to celebrate the important work of registrars across Scotland over many decades."

Notes to editors

The digital images are of entries in the official statutory registers of birth, marriages and deaths that were made more than 100, 75 and 50 years ago respectively. This reflects the restriction periods that prevent these records being seen online, but permit access to people seeking official extracts, or those visiting the ScotlandsPeople Centre or official family history centres in person.

In 1915 out of a total Scottish population of 4,785,598 there were 114,181 births, a decrease of about 11,000 on 1914.

In 1940 there were 53,522 marriages, which was almost 7,300 more than in 1939, and was the highest ever rate recorded for Scotland. Of the 1940 marriages, 3,809 were irregular marriages contracted before 1 July, and 2,531 were civil marriages conducted by registrars. The remaining 47,182 marriages were solemnised by religious officials. The number of religious marriages actually increased in 1940, because there were more marriages, but fewer irregular marriages and civil marriages combined than irregular marriages in 1914. Nevertheless, 1940 marked the start of a long trend. The total civil marriages in the six months from July to December 1940 represented about 4% of all marriages across Scotland, 5% of marriages in large burghs and 2% of county marriages. By comparison, civil marriages rose to 31% in 1971, and in 2014 there were 15,000 civil marriages, accounting for 52% of all marriages.

In 1965 there were 62,868 deaths in Scotland.

The new images are being made available on the ScotlandsPeople website

The Marriage (Scotland) Act 1939, which came into operation on 1 July 1940, introduced civil marriage by authorised registrars and abolished the old Scottish form of irregular marriage by declaration in the presence of witnesses – popularly known as 'Gretna Green marriages'.

A separate Marriage Act 1939 was also introduced to make easier those marriages in which one of the parties lived in Scotland and the other in England, by simplifying the public notice that had to be given of the marriage.

National Records of Scotland & ScotlandsPeople

National Records of Scotland is a Non-Ministerial Department of the Scottish Government. It holds and gives access to the nation's archives, oversees the registration of births, marriages and deaths, produces statistics on Scotland's population and conducts the Scottish Census. It is a centre of expertise on data handling, record keeping and archives., the official genealogy website for Scottish ancestry, is a partnership between National Records of Scotland and the Court of the Lord Lyon, enabled by Find My Past.