Because a marriage had legal and financial implications, these were among the earliest types of records created by newly-formed governments. Eventually, states took over this responsibility, but in many areas, you still look for historical marriage records on the county level. Marriage records were often maintained separately from birth and death records.
What makes a marriage record such a juicy genealogical carrot on a stick? Depending on the time and place, you may not only learn a spouse’s identity, but both spouses’ birth dates and places, parents’ names and birth information, prior marital status, occupations, citizenship status and more.
Marriage records kept by the government have taken different formats over time in the United States, like:
- Consent to marry affadavits. Where a bride or groom was underage, the signature of a parent or guardian was required for the wedding to take place. These documents may appear alongside other documents. In addition to being interesting, consent documents can also help identify parents and even whether a father was deceased (he usually signed if he was living).
- A marriage bond, or financial pledge, was posted by the groom and/or father/brother of the bride just before a wedding. The purpose was to offset any legal expenses if the marriage were nullified. A bond could be required along with a marriage license or in lieu of it. There may or may not be follow-up information confirming that the marriage took place. Bonds were especially common in the early South.
- Intentions. More common in New England, this practice involved the bride and groom registering their intention to wed at the town hall or courthouse prior to the event.
- License applications, licenses and returns. These are the most common record type you’ll encounter. The couple filled out an application that remained on file at the county office and was issued a license. The license was surrendered to the officiator and returned to the county along with the officiator’s signature certifying that the wedding took place. This last bit is known as the “return” and may be on the actual license or in a county register book: see more on that below. Applications and returns are what you’ll find in most county records today. They often provide a lot of genealogical information about both parties and their parents, as the example shown on the previous page.
- Registers. These are log books that record weddings that occurred in that jurisdiction, often chronologically, as in the example below. They may also be roughly indexed by the first letter of the bride or groom’s surname. A separate index to bride and groom’s names may exist.
Master court records
Let’s be honest—court records can be intimidating. From complex legal jargon to busy bustling clerks and inconsistent record sets from county to county, the courthouse is not always the most welcome research venue. In this four-week course, you’ll learn to become comfortable in the county courthouse and find what might be the only trace of your ancestors.
What You’ll Learn:
Different kinds of county governments and how to find the right historical county for your ancestors
What vital records you may find at the courthouse
What to look for in property and estate records, as well as an introduction to court records
How to find the records you want and what to do with them once you find them
Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to root out your ancestors in these complex records!
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