Skip to main content

Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved? New research makes it easier to understand family trees

Rebecca ProbertResearch from the University of Warwick is set to help genealogists better understand family history by providing a fresh insight into attitudes towards divorce, bigamy and bereavement through the ages.

The findings are published in a new book written by Professor Rebecca Probert from the School of Law – a leading expert on the history of marriage law in England and Wales – who has been painstakingly investigating centuries-old legal precedents, newspaper accounts, statistics and census data to shed new light on our ancestors’ behaviour.

It has not been known how common remarriage or bigamy was or how quickly weddings took place following bereavement and it is hoped the research will help both amateur and professional genealogists to interpret data that previously could have remained a mystery.

Professor Probert said:Having written about the legal and social aspects of how our ancestors married in Marriage Law for Genealogists and invited people to get in touch with any particularly puzzling marital relationships in their family trees, I was struck by the number who raised questions relating to the ending of marriages.

Book CoverCommon themes started to emerge such as queries about the scope for obtaining a divorce, the prevalence of bigamy, or the duration of marriages at different times and these inspired new directions in my own research.

“It led me to build up a picture of what was happening in practice and some of the most surprising findings relate to the average duration of the marriages in mid-Victorian England (well over 30 years), the speed with which bigamy was detected and the propensity of divorcees as well as bigamists to lie about their marital status when remarrying!

“I hope that Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved? will answer many of the questions family historians have on these topics and inspire new directions in their personal research as well – and I very much hope that they will continue to get in touch with new puzzles and examples!”

Professor Rebecca Probert will deliver a talk about her book Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved? at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live event at the NEC Birmingham on Friday (17 April).

Notes to Editors:

Contact Rebecca Probert on +44 (0)2476 524 484 or email rebecca dot probert at warwick dot ac dot uk.

Issued by Lee Page, Communications Manager, Press and Policy Office, The University of Warwick. Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255, Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221. Email:


Rebecca Probert

+44 (0)2476 524 484

Lee Page, Communications Manager

+44 (0)2476 574 255

+44 (0)7920 531 221