Marriage records are one of the first primary records that
a researcher uses to verify marriage dates, maiden names and locations.
But the evolution of the processes involved in that simple "I do" will
help we as researchers to figure out what to look for, where to look for
it and what information we can find.
First there was no Kentucky before 1792 - a simple county in Virginia we
were. Civil and church laws, rules and regulations were confusing to put
it mildly. Kentucky's earliest marriage records (while still a county in
ruled by Virginia laws. So what were those laws?
Let's go back before the Revolutionary War. At this time frame, only
ministers of the Church of England were permitted to perform
marriages. Any other marriage was considered illegal. Even in our own
family there were instances where ancestors were not members of the
Church of England; they were duly married by a minister of
another denomination; but no record exists of the marriage because the
marriage was not considered legal in the eyes of Virginia. If the
marriage was a sanctioned one by the church, a marriage license was
issued by the Governor himself or a Justice of the Peace. A document
known as banns was required during 1660 up to 1849 in Virginia.
Now, after the Revolutionary War, Virginia passed a law in May of 1783
whereby courts on the "western waters" (which included Kentucky) could
license laymen to perform marriages if there was no available clergyman.
This same law confirmed that the prior marriages which had not been
"legal" before (done by non Church of England ministers) were now legal.
But - many of those old marriage records were lost over time and never
recorded as many were done in secret. (See Conrad 1988, p. 104-05).
Starting with this law, County Clerks started recording more of the
marriages and the information on the forms were more uniform from county
Also, under this 1783 law, laymen could perform ceremonies and produce a
marriage license which certified that the requirements had been met by
the banns being published three times. (a notice of impending marriage).
These banns had to be made on three days and not to extend over two
weeks and be posted in a public "assembly" where
ordinary citizens could see them. This "assembly" could be a military
assembly or a church assembly but it had to be posted in the area where
the couple would be residing. In other words, if a marriage was to take
place in Russellville, Logan County KY (under the old law, not current),
the banns would have to be posted in Russellville if that is where the
couple would be residing.
The next law was effective in July 1785, still in Virginia, requiring
that a certificate be filed, listing all marriages performed. This was
recorded by the minister or the county clerk. This certificate would
then be sent to the clerk
of the county where the marriage took place within 12 months. (Conrad
1988, p. 105).
Thus the laws existed until Kentucky reached statehood in 1798. Our
records included marriage bonds, marriage consents, marriage licenses,
marriage certificates and marriage registers (also known as marriage
returns) and marriage contracts. Simple? Not really!
Let's look at these forms. A marriage bond is posted when applying for a
marriage license. It is a "performance" bond that assures the court that
there is no lawful reason why this marriage cannot take place. (i.e.,
criminal, insane, etc.) There is a fee for the bond which is only paid
if the marriage does not take place because of the above reasons. Some
County Clerks occasionally skipped the bond if they knew the parties,
but in the majority of
cases, the bond had to be filed. Two people were required in the bond
posting. Under Virginia and early Kentucky laws, a woman had no legal
standing, so she could not post a bond. The bondsmen were a male
relative or guardian of the bride and the groom himself. The bondsman
was usually the bride-to-be's father or brother, but if the father or
brother was deceased (or there was no brother), or otherwise unable to
serve as bondsman, a close friend or guardian of either the bride or
groom could serve as bondsman. I have also seen instances where the
County Clerk served as bondsman.
Information found on the bond: From about 1860 to 1900, the bond
included the ages of the bride and groom, place of birth of both parties
and their parents. In 1902, the names of the parents are given. By 1900,
the marriage bond stopped being completed. I have found, in transcribing
many hundreds of bonds here, that the County Clerk did
not always complete the bond. There were two pages in the old books; the
left side listed the names of the parties, date, the bondmen's names and
signatures. The right page was to be completed with the information
shown as to age of the parties, normally the number of the marriage
(first, second, third marriage, etc) and sometimes the occupation of the
groom. However, the Clerk must have grown weary of writing and basically
the only forms filled out were for
their friends or some important citizen of the town!
The consent form: These little scraps of paper are priceless!
Written on whatever paper was available, some only a few inches big and
weathered, poor spelling and all, these consents were filed as loose
papers along with the bond
and a copy of the license. Many times they can be found taped on the
bond itself in the weathered old books. The consent form listed
(supposedly) the signer's relationship to the bride or groom and gave
consent to the marriage. Many gave the date and/or place of birth.
Consents were required for the party who was under legal age to marry.
If there was no parent to sign the consent, it will often show their
relationship to the bride or groom. If the consent is signed by the
mother, it's pretty safe to assume that the father is deceased (or
serving in the military, etc.). Of all the documents concerning
marriages at this time frame, the consent form is the greatest look at
the people and their lives. I have literally cried over some of these
consents - many of which have been lost over the years or faded. There
are so many poignant statements such as "I have raised this girl from
infancy when her parents were tragically killed", or "I'm sending this
consent in with my friend Joe as I am near death's door and unable to
bring it to you in person." My most favorite of all brought a laugh, not
a tear. A young man was wanting to marry this young lady and he wrote
his own permission form; assumedly he had no close relative to give
permission. He stated that he was sending this to
the County Clerk by a friend or neighbor as he was terribly ill and
could not make the trip to Glasgow; in critical condition. Well, he must
have had a miraculous recovery or his bride was a nurse, as they married
the same evening. Did she have to nurse him back to health???