Trawling through an old marriage register is a fascinating excursion and one that is generally overlooked by the majority of researchers.  We are all familiar with referring to a Marriage Register to confirm information in relation to family research but few of us realise just how much more can be gleaned from this resource.

I found myself quite absorbed in the Westport Marriage Registers which recently arrived in the Archives.  Westport was a ‘frontier’ community attracting a cross section of population from around the world.  Some came to chase the gold discovered in 1865 and when that came to an end they turned to coal mining, forestry, fishing, and farming.  Others came for the challenge of a new life and established supporting businesses, manufacturing and networks for an emerging community.  

Westport became an independent preaching place for Presbyterians in early 1880 and its first marriage register, prior to the new Act 1880, contains 3 marriages; the second begins in 1881 and gives far more information and although a very, small sample the registers provide the traces of legitimate historical events.  The Registers also begin to provide a context to place the names found on the certificates by recognising the people concerned as members of an existing community and bearers of a cultural heritage.  It is intriguing to follow the movements of individuals and how their lives intertwine with people in the surrounding community through birth places, extended family, witnesses and occupations.   

”]The first marriage is between John Gilmer, a hotelkeeper, and Ellen Wooten, and it took place in the private home of William Nahr, a Brewer.  John Gilmer’s occupation is an hotelkeeper and Ellen appears not to have an occupation, so does that suggest she had independent means or was supported by family?   The witnesses, William and his wife Rachel Nahr, and Anne Figen (?) on the certificate raise the issues of connectivity.  Was John Gilmer employed in a hotel attached to the Brewery, did Ellen live with the Nahr family? Who was Ann Figen, the name is difficult to decipher?  She like Ellen does not indicate her occupation.

The second marriage between Thomas Mulligan, Miner, and Mary Jane McAllister, Servant, was in the home of Mrs Anne Draghicavich Victoria Hotel.  Her signature appears as a witness along with Kate Moriarty a servant.  Could this mean that both Mary and Kate were servants under Anne Draghicavich who owned the Hotel.  The third witness is James Alexander, Miner.

The third marriage between Charles Findt Farmer, and Maria Baumler a widow took place in the Emerald Island Hotel.  The witnesses suggest a strong European, possibly German link.  C. Sontgen, no occupation, Friedrick Kusi, Miner, and F.W. Sontgen a Tailor.

”]The certificates from 1881 with their additional information open up clues to where individuals came from and their birthplace.  People from Melbourne, Sydney, Geelong, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Nova Scotia, West Indies, Shetlands, Ireland and a few from England.  As the years move towards the end of the 19th century there are more New Zealand born.  Other patterns emerge such as a broader occupation base, age of marriage between the parties and place of marriage.  A large number of marriages take place in the Minister’s house.  Does this mean that there are not family members nearby where the marriages generally take place?   It is curious how few family members appear to participate in the wedding party compared with other districts especially in farming communities.

By dipping into other records such as cemetery records we can ascertain that many of couples in these first marriages remained on the West Coast which no doubt gives it its distinct character today.

by Yvonne


  1. Hello Yvonne,

    Interesting reading: John Gilmer & Ellen Wooten (not that I ever knew them) were my great grandparents.
    Their daughter married a ‘Skilton’ – another well known West Coast family.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s