Thursday, October 11, 2007

African-American Marriage Records

Beginning in 1866, African-American couples could register their marriages in the county clerk’s office by giving their names and the number of years they had lived together as man and wife. A small fee was required to record the marriage and it is likely that many people could not afford to pay and, thus, their marriages were not recorded. These marriages are found in separate books called "Declarations of Marriages of Negroes and Mulattos" and are located in the county clerks’ offices of each county.

Also, in 1866, African-American couples could have their marriages performed in Kentucky . These marriages are recorded in separate marriage books, which indicate on the cover that they are records for "colored" persons. It wasn’t until much, much later that white and African-American marriages were recorded in the same books. In most "colored" marriage bond books, there is less information on the bride and bridegroom. However, there should be a consent note if either one was a minor.

Prior to 1866, Free Persons of Color might choose to go to a free state to marry. This was what Levi Goins, a resident of Livingston County, Kentucky (later Crittenden County) and Rebecca Harris, did. They crossed the Ohio River and were married in Pope County, Illinois 4 Feb 1835. However, being free and being legally married did not stop Crittenden County authorities from issuing a summons on 20 Oct 1843 for Levi and Rebecca to appear in court to answer a charge of fornication. Crittenden County Circuit Court Order Book A, p. 92, 30 Apr 1844 states the following: "This day ... on motion of the defendants by their attorney and for reasons appearing to the court it is ordered that this suit be dismissed and that the defendants go hence without day [delay] and they be required not to further answer." Somehow I have a vision of the attorney whipping out that marriage certificate and waving it in front of the judge and jury.

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