Muhlenberg County Kentucky

Marriage Records

Description of Kentucky Marriage Records

Marriage records in Kentucky include bonds, consents, licenses, certificates, marriage registers or ministers' returns, and marriage contracts. In the narrative below, laws governing each of these records are discussed along with information regarding the legal status of the parties involved and the content of the records.

Marriage Bonds

In Kentucky, a bond is posted when applying for a marriage license. This document is a performance bond that assures the court that there is no lawful cause to obstruct the marriage. The bond amount would be paid if this was not the case. A bond does not guarantee that the marriage took place. In rural counties where the clerk knew the parties, a bond might not be required.

Since women had no contractual rights under Virginia or early Kentucky law, this contract of marriage could not be arranged by the bride. As a result, two parties were necessary to obtain the marriage license based on the bond executed: 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 a close friend or guardian of either the bride or the groom often served as bondsmen as well.

Bonds beginning circa 1860s to 1900 included the ages of the bride and groom and places of birth of both the marrying parties and their parents. Beginning in 1902, the names of parents are also given. By 1900, the marriage bond fell into disuse by some county clerks.


Beginning in 1799, the Kentucky General Assembly amended its 1798 act so that both parties had to have the consent of the parent or guardian prior to a marriage if either the bride or the groom was less than twenty-one years old. Thus, the consent of a parent or guardian was required for the first time.

The consent was usually filed as loose papers along with the bond and a copy of the license. The consent listed the signer's relationship to the future bride or groom. If the parent is not the signer of the consent, the consent will often mention that the bride or groom is the “infant son or daughter of” the deceased. If the consent is signed by the mother, it can often be assumed that the father was deceased at the time of the proposed marriage.


Upon completion of the bond, the court clerk would issue a marriage license. The license gave permission for a marriage ceremony to be performed. Thus, once a license was issued, it was presented to the minister or other person who performed the marriage ceremony.

The licenses were written on any small piece of paper available. The clerk did not always keep a copy. After 1799, it was usually addressed “to any minister of the Gospel or magistrate authorized to perform marriages.” A copy of the license is usually filed with the bond and consent.


The fact that a bond or a license was issed does not necessarily mean that the marriage actually took place. The marriage certificate, however, does. The certificate was completed by the minister or judge and given to the couple. In some counties, certificates are filed in their own books.

The marriage certificate typically includes the following information: names of the bride and groom, place of the marriage, witnesses, and minister performing the ceremony. The marriage typically took place in the county in which the bride resided.

Marriage Register or Minister's Return

After the ceremony, the person performing the marriage was required by law to register or “return” the marriage to the county clerk's office. This book is called the Marriage Register or Minister's Return Book. These return books usually do not contain much information beyond the names of the bride and groom, date of marriage, and name of minister performing the ceremony.

Since many marriages were performed in rural communities miles from the courthouse, the pastor or justice of the peace usually registered the marriages en masse once or twice each year. If the person performing the marriage died or moved away, the marriage might not be registered.

As a result, ministers' returns should be viewed with caution, since they may have been recorded as long as a year after the event. The given names shown in these records are often wrong, and witnesses may be confused with grooms and vice versa.

Marriage Contracts

While not a marriage record per se, researchers should be alert to the existence of marriage contracts in early Kentucky records. While they are not great in number, they do exist. Marriage contracts were used by widows or widowers to protect the property of children by previous marriages. These agreements can be filed in the deed books or in county order books since they deal with property rather than matrimonial matters.

State Registered Marriage Records

Between 1852 and 1861, marriage records listed bride and groom names, date of marriage, place of marriage, the number of the marriage (whether first, second, etc.), age, residence, and birthplace. In 1878 until 1910, some counties filed marriage records with the state. Marriages have been recorded uniformly in the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics since July of 1958.

From the period 1866 to the early 1900s, some background information on the bride and groom was given. Information might include the age, occupation, birthplace of parties, place of the ceremony, and whether they had been previously married. Some records also give the birthplaces and names of the parents. After 1902, the parents' names are more consistently recorded.

County Marriage Records

Whatever weaknesses existed in the state system of filing marriages, the county clerk nevertheless continued to record and maintain marriages at the county level. Most of these records are indexed; however, some are only arranged chronologically and are thus difficult to search.

Citation: Hogan, Roseann Reinemuth. “Kentucky Ancestry: a Guide to Genealogical and Historical Research.” Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1992.

Updated January 5, 2017