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?