by Lisa South, Certified Genealogist
The following article was written in the June
2, 2005 OneGreatFamily newsletter. Since Lisa is no
longer writing for us, we are featuring some of our
favorite articles written by her.
I was a nineteen year old bride to be and my fiancé
had just arrived home on leave from the military for our
wedding. We walked into the courthouse in our hometown
to apply for our wedding license and were told we could
not get married on the date we had set because we did
not have enough time to post banns. The invitations were
out and my groom's leave was short - and did I mention I
was young? I became a puddle of tears on the floor
repeating the words "What's a bann? What's a bann?"
During the course of our country's History, a
plethora of marriage documents have been created. These
include banns, applications, bonds, certificates,
consent notices, intentions, licenses, proclamations,
register entries and returns. Each of these can be very
useful for the genealogist on the trail of an elusive
ancestor, so it's a good idea to become familiar with
all of them.
Banns & Proclamations - These
were usually ecclesiastical records. The couple had to
post banns (an announcement of their upcoming marriage)
for two or three consecutive Sundays. This allowed a
person to register a protest if they knew of some reason
the marriage should not take place. When banns were
posted, the couple was not required to give the minister
a license or bond to perform the ceremony. The minister
was to report the information about the marriage to the
county or town office.
Intentions - These will be found in
New England. They are similar to the banns, but are
civil records. The couple's intention to marry was
usually recorded in the town meeting book for two or
three weeks. If there was no protest, the marriage could
take place without needing a license.
Consent to Marry - When an
under-aged bride or groom was involved (the legal age
changed over time), you may find a "consent to marry"
document on file. This was usually given by the father
(genealogists love a document that gives the name of the
father!) If a mother signed the consent form, it
probably means the father was deceased.
Marriage Bond - This was a written
guarantee that no financial impediment to the marriage
existed. It would have been supplied by the intended
bridegroom alone or with a second person - usually the
father of the bride.
Register Entry and Return - When a
couple applied for a marriage license, it was entered
into the court house register. After the ceremony was
completed, the minister or official would "return" that
information to the court house where it was entered into
the register. It is usually just a date that follows the
application information. Too often, novice genealogists
list the date the license was issued as the marriage
date, when in fact it is the second date (the date
registered on the "return") that is the actual marriage
Most of these records merely indicate that a marriage
was being planned - only three records actually prove
that a marriage took place: a marriage return entered
into a civil record, a marriage recorded in a church
record, or a marriage certificate. If you can not find
one of these three, but find banns, bonds, etc., it's a
good bet (but not positive proof!) that the marriage did
By the way, through the kindness of the officials in
the court-house and some fancy planning, our marriage
did take place before my husband's leave was over and I
can prove it. You'll find the record in the Register
Entry and Return records!!