You’ve heard the story before. Girl meets boy. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl proposes. And soon the couple finds themselves standing in a county clerk’s office asking about marriage licenses. Marriage records are an incredibly valuable resource for genealogists. Marriage records can give information about family members, dates, places, and more. FamilySearch.org has a large collection of records relating to marriage records. In this class, we will discuss the history of marriage records, learn about marriage records from different localities, and then talk about the resources of FamilySearch.org relating to marriage.
Love Had Little to
Do with It
Historically, marriage was a social contract representing an alliance between two families or social groups and usually represented an alliance between these entities. More recently, marriage was considered a legal contract between two individuals guaranteeing legitimacy and inheritance to heirs produced by the marriage. It is only within the last hundred years or so that marriage and love have become synonymous.
Facts about Marriages
•Because marriages represent a public contract, records of marriage were kept much earlier than other vital events.
•Historically, marriages were usually recorded by churches. More recently, civil governments have taken on the responsibility of keeping marriage records.
•Marriage is one of three vital events (birth, marriage, and death) that genealogists often group together. For most localities, this group of records is referred to as Civil Registration. In the United States and Canada, this group of records is referred to as Vital Records.
•The age at which individuals can legally marry (with or without parent’s permission) varies based on time period and locality. (For example, in the United States, women could traditionally marry at age 18 without a parent’s permission while men had to wait until they reached 21.)
•The laws and rules governing marriages, marriages contracts, and the recording of marriages vary by location. Learn the rules and laws of the country in which you are researching.
•In most localities, couples married at the place of the bride’s residence.
•In most localities, early marriages were kept by churches until a time in which the civil government chose to take on the responsibility though individual churches would continue to keep records of those marrying within their religion.
•Depending on locality, marriage records may be protected under privacy with access given only to direct line descendants.
Types of Marriage
Marriages were recorded in ledgers (early), registers (middle to late nineteenth century), and certificates (twentieth century) and can be divided whether they were created before or after the marriage took place. The following is a list of records created by marriage events.
Records of Intention
•Banns and Intentions: public notice that a couple intended to marry which gave the community the opportunity to raise objections. Banns are a religious custom and were announced before a congregation usually three times prior to the wedding
•Intentions were written notices presented to a local civil authority and posted in a public place (also called Proclamations).
•Marriage Bonds: written guarantees or promises of payment made by the groom or another person (often a relative of the bride) to ensure that a forthcoming marriage would be legal. The person who posted the bond was known as surety or bondsman. The bond was presented to the minister or official who would perform the ceremony.
•Engagement Records: Local priests may have recorded the contract representing a couple’s intention to marry as well as all subsequent actions occurring prior to the marriage. This may include banns, dowry and will name which of the bride’s relatives (usually her father or older brother) will represent her in legal matters. Engagement Registers are more common in Scandinavian countries.
•Applications, Licenses, and Permission Papers: Starting as early as the 1800s, a couple had to apply or gain permission to marry. In many localities, the license or other papers were presented to the official performing the marriage and were later returned to the civil authority.
Records of Marriages:
•Certificates: a document indicating that a marriage was performed. In some localities, certificates are decorated documents with little genealogical information that were presented to the couple after the marriage. In other localities, the certificate is the official document kept by the civil authority as a record the marriage took place.
•Returns: in localities where bonds or licenses were issued by a civil authority, the official performing the marriage was required to report the marriage either in person or by recording the marriage below the license which was then returned to the civil authority.
•Registers: Most marriages were recorded in a marriage register. Information from the banns, bond, engagement, application, license, or return may have been included in the register entry.