Marriage Records are a key component of genealogical research. However, when it comes to those marriage records, are you sure of what you’re actually looking at?
Types of Marriage and Related Records
Are you viewing a marriage:
–a license application?
–a record book?
Depending on the locality’s laws, the documents necessary to legalize a marriage will be one or more of the above types.
However, there are differences between them that are important to recognize and understand.
Most genealogy books, such as Evidence Explained, will discuss them.
By the late 19th century, many localities used pre-printed forms such as the one shown above from Hardin County, Tennessee.
This page is from a Marriage Records book. That phrase is sort of a catchall term whose contents can vary greatly. The prudent researcher who examines the above page will notice that it has several different sections:
–the posting of a bond that requires a surety
–a section requiring consent if underage
–the actual license to marry, and
–a space for the minister to “return” the actual date of marriage.
Understand What You View
Ministers were required to have a license granting him permission to perform the marriage. Sometimes, the county court clerk tracked marriage license applicants in a register; it may be called an index.
In some places the marriage register survives, but the actual licenses which may contain more information such as parents names, do not.
Maybe the court clerk’s marriage books don’t survive, but dusty boxes full of the actual licenses do.
The minister was supposed to “return” the information regarding the actual marriage date and place. Some locales had entire records books of nothing but those “minister’s returns.”
Maybe none of the official documents survive and you’re left with the newspaper’s marriage announcements. Many papers published marriages weekly.
Perhaps you were lucky enough that your ancestor saved their marriage certificate, and you found it gently pressed in the middle of the family bible.
Be careful: you may find a marriage license that is missing the actual date of marriage. That means you cannot use that document as direct evidence of the marriage.
Take a look at all the marriage documents you’ve gathered thus far in your research. Ask yourself: what exactly are you looking at?
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.