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When is a Marriage Date Not a Marriage Date?

Researchers should be aware: When searching out marriage records, you will often find different kinds of documents with slightly varying dates. For example, on March 6, 1828, John Jones obtained a marriage bond in Quebec City, Quebec, in order to marry Lydia Osborne. The bond was signed by Francis Osborne (the bride's father) and John Jones. The actual marriage, however, took place the following day, March 7, at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.

In addition, there may be certain rare instances where banns were published, or a marriage bond or license was obtained, but the actual marriage never took place. Maybe someone protested or there was a legal problem or the groom got cold feet! The following are some facts related to marriages that will help beginning researchers better understand the various kinds of documents that might (or might not) be found:

• Banns: Banns was the public announcement of an intent to marry, usually read out loud in church on the three consecutive Sundays prior to the marriage. This provided advance notice to those who might have reason to object. When the bride and groom live in different parishes, you can sometimes find banns published in both locations.

• Civil Marriage: A marriage performed by a government official rather than by a clergyman.

• Common Law Marriage: A marriage relationship created by agreement and cohabitation rather than by ceremony. No record will be found.

• Consent Affidavit: Consent given by a parent or guardian (usually the father) in cases where the bride or groom was under the minimum legal age for marriage.

• Marriage Allegation: When a man and a woman wished to marry without having the banns read out in church, they usually applied to the bishop or archdeacon for a special license called a marriage allegation. This may have been to avoid the three week delay or simply to avoid the publicity of banns. The couple might also have been away which would have made it difficult to arrange banns in their home parish.

• Marriage Bond: A legal document obtained by an engaged couple prior to their marriage. It provided a guarantee that there was no moral or legal impediment to the marriage. Sometimes the man affirmed in the bond that he would be able to support himself and his new bride. The bond date is usually not the actual marriage date.

• Marriage License: A legal permit authorizing a man and a woman to marry. It is issued upon application at a local court house or city hall. The couple to be married present the license to the person performing the marriage ceremony who, in turn, completes the information and returns it to the office that issued it. This information is then transferred to the couple's marriage certificate. The license application date, often recorded in indexes, is typically not the date of the actual marriage.

• Marriage of Convenience: A marriage for expediency rather than love.

• Church or Parish Record: A register kept by a church of marriages conducted within the congregation. Besides the names of the individuals being married, it may also contain their ages, occupation and residence, the clergyman's name, and possibly the names of sponsors.

And what if you bump into the situation where you have discovered both a marriage bond and a church marriage record? Simply record the actual marriage date and place in Legacy's Marriage Information screen in the normal way. Next add the marriage bond information in the lower half of the screen as an Event. This removes all ambiguity or confusion other researches might have. This same procedure can be used for the publication of banns or license dates.

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In addition to the different records enumerated above, we often find a "Marriage revalidation" among Quebec parish records. This occurred mainly with the deported Acadians who, not having a priest readily available, expressed their marriage vows before family and friends. Upon their return from exile, the marriage was "revalidated" in their new parish. This entry will often record the date of the actual marriage in exile.

Marriage by Licence

One other type of marriage found in English records should probably be included. This information was supplied to me by an Entwistle Family Association researcher.

Marriage by Licence was still a church wedding, but sometimes people chose this option rather than have the banns read out in church on three successive Sundays – on each occasion the Vicar saying: “If anyone knows any reason why these two should not be joined in matrimony he should now declare it”. [N.B. Banns have to be read in both parishes if the couple do not both live in the same parish. This only applies to the Church of England. Non-conformist churches have different rules.] This is what my reference book has to say:

“A couple, or their families, might wish to avoid waiting at least three weeks (for the calling of banns) before a wedding could take place, or wish to avoid the publicity of banns. The couple might be away from home (thus making it difficult to arrange banns in their home parish) or they might wish to marry quickly because the bride was pregnant or because the groom was going abroad with the army or navy. In such cases the couple could obtain a marriage licence and avoid the need for banns. Most people were married by banns, mainly because licences cost more money than banns, but many who could afford it therefore preferred to be married by licence (as a status symbol) rather than by banns.

There were two types of marriage licence. A special licence allowed a marriage to take place anywhere. These licences could only be granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury or his officials and are very rare. A common licence usually named one or two parishes where the marriage could take place, since the church required the marriage to take place in the parish in which one of the couple lived. A common licence could generally be obtained from the church official who had jurisdiction over (a) the parish in which the couple wished to marry, and (b) over the place in which both bride and groom were resident (from 1640 at least one of them should actually have lived in that official’s jurisdiction for at least one month). Despite this requirement, one or both of the couple might simply take up temporary residence in a parish in which they wished to marry and these temporary residents usually had little difficulty in obtaining a licence. Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753 reiterated ecclesiastical law by providing that marriages by licence should take place in the parish in which one of the spouses had his or her “usual abode” for four weeks before the grant of the licence. This period was reduced to fifteen days in 1823.”

In non-conformist churches notices of a couple’s intention to marry is posted in the nearest Register office, together with those intending to marry in the Register Office. Anyone can go in to inspect them and make any legal objections if there are any. Muslims and Hindus have their own marriage ceremonies, but also have to be married in a Register Office.

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