News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 2, 2010

GENEALOGY: Marriage records among most sought documents

By Tamie Dehler

TERRE HAUTE — Marriage records are among the most common of documents sought after by a genealogist. A marriage record is simply evidence or proof that a marriage took place. There are several different kinds of documents that can constitute a marriage record.

Marriage Certificates: This is a document, often fancy or suitable for framing, that is given to a couple at the time they are married. It records the date of the ceremony, the names of the bride and groom, and is often signed by the person who performed the ceremony. The place may be noted. This is not a public record and would be found in the home, among the couple’s papers and mementos. It is absolute proof that the couple was married.

Marriage Bonds: Marriage bonds aren’t used any more in this country, but they were common in previous centuries. A marriage bond is a legal agreement between the prospective groom and a male member of the bride’s family. The groom states his intention to marry the bride and posts a bond, in the form of money, to back up that intention. If the groom backs out of the wedding, the bond money is owed to the bride’s family. A bond is not in itself absolute proof that a wedding took place. However, if the couple is later found living together on a census, you can pretty safely assume that the marriage took place. The date on the bond is not the actual date of the marriage, but most researchers use this date if there is no other clue to when the marriage took place. Sometimes the marriage bond is the only existing evidence of the marriage.

Consent Notes: A consent note is a letter written and signed by the bride’s or groom’s parent or guardian stating that the person has permission to marry. Consent notes were written only if the bride or groom was under the legal age to marry, often 21 years of age. Consent notes, like bonds, don’t absolutely prove that a wedding took place. They also don’t provide the actual date of the wedding. Consent notes are helpful in discovering the age of the bride or groom, and they reveal family relationships. If the father is not the author of a consent note, that could mean he was deceased at the time of the wedding and then the mother, an older brother, or even a friend or an appointed guardian would sign the note. Consent notes are often found together with marriage bonds.

Marriage Licenses: A marriage license is what we are most familiar with today. A couple would go to the county clerk’s office and take out a license to marry. The date on the license is often used as the marriage date by genealogists, but the actual marriage usually took place on a later date. A marriage license stated the couple’s names, and could state their residence, age and/or date of birth, their place of birth, and their parents’ names and birthplaces. The older licenses don’t have all of this information.

Marriage Returns: This is the gold standard and definitely proves that a couple was married. It also verifies the actual date of the marriage. A return is the minister’s record that he performed a marriage. It is a follow-up to the license and is often listed with the license. Older marriage returns are sometimes the records of circuit preachers, who traveled around and performed marriages and reported back to the county clerk’s office periodically with a list of people he had joined in marriage.

Supplemental Marriage Transcripts: These records are a gold mine of information for the genealogist. They can include extensive information on the bride, the groom, and their families. Many of the Indiana counties had separate books for supplemental marriage transcripts during the 1880s to the 1910s. They were filled out separately at the time the couple applied for a license.