Taking Back What Was Once Lost

Marriage Records: What Exactly Are You Looking At?

SamCHolt Marriage Records are a key component of everyone’s genealogical research. However, when it comes to those marriage records, are you sure of what you’re actually looking at? Are you viewing:

a marriage register/index?
a marriage certificate?
a marriage bann?
a marriage bond?
a marriage license?
a marriage license application?
a marriage announcement?
a marriage record book?
a marriage intent?
a minister’s return?

Depending on your locality’s laws and customs, the types of documents necessary to legalize a marriage will likely be one or more of the above types, but there are subtle differences between them all and it will help you in all of your research to scrutinize and understand the differences between them. Most professional genealogy books, such as Evidence Explained, will discuss them, in addition to all the good genealogy articles and training available online.

Many localities had pre-printed forms such as the one shown above from Hardin County, Tennessee. This page is from the “Marriage Records” book–sort of a catchall term whose contents can vary greatly from location to location. A prudent researcher who examines the above page closely 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.

This represents a common scenario. Most ministers were required to have a license from the couplegiving him permission to perform the marriage. Sometimes, the county court clerk tracked marriage license applicants in a register–or it may be called an index. I’ve seen places where the register survives, but the actual licenses do not that may contain more information, such as parents names.  The minister was supposed to “return” the information regarding the actual marriage date and place; you’ll find some places had entire books of nothing but those “minister’s returns“. Maybe the court clerk’s marriage books don’t survive, but dusty boxes full of the actual licenses do. Maybe none of the official documents survive and you’re left with those marriage announcements in the newspapers–in Hardin County, they were published almost every week. Perhaps you were lucky enough that your ancestor saved their marriage certificate gently pressed in the middle of the family bible, containing all the details of their nuptials.

So go back and take a look at all your marriage documents, and ask yourself: what exactly are you looking at?

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About Me

I blog, teach, write and lecture about family history research and it's just as rewarding today as it was when I began 18 years ago. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my past and I've taken back--reclaimed- my kin and some of that lost memory.  

Post History

What I Talk About

Locations and Surnames

Hardin, Chester and Lawrence Counties, TN
Holt, Barnes, Harbour, Bradley Springer and Fendricks
Lawrence County, AL
Springer and Fendricks
Montgomery County, MD
Prather, Simpson
Somerset County, MD
Waters, Fountain, Curtis
Duval and Madison County, FL
Smith, Harris, Garner

Favorite Family History Quotes

"The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."
-William Faulkner

"Call it a clan, call it a network, all it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one"
- Jane Howard

"Friends are God's apologies for relations."
-Hugh Kingsmill

"No matter what you've done for yourself or for humanity, if you can't look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?"
-Elbert Hubbard

"Families are like fudge; mostly sweet with a few nuts."

"If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you might as well make it dance!"

"Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city;)"
-George Burns

"Where does the family start? It starts with a young man falling in love with a girl. No superior alternative has yet been found."
-Winston Churchill

"The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never ever introduce yourself to had life not done it for you."
-Kendall Hailey

"If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all the generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people."
-Thich Nhat Hanh