Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Kentucky Marriage Records

Copyright by Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG
May not copy without written consent

Marriage records are a favorite source of information among genealogists. Most counties in western Kentucky have marriage records back to the formation of the counties. That isn’t to say the records are complete, because surely some records have disappeared or disintegrated through the years.

Becoming man and wife in early Kentucky occurred only after several requirements had been met. The first thing was to sign a bond at the county clerk’s office at the county courthouse. This bond was a formal binding agreement that all marriage laws would be obeyed and that there was no legal impediment to a marriage between the couple. The sum of money listed on the bond was not paid unless it was found that the couple was not free to marry. The bride did not have to go with the bridegroom to obtain the marriage bond, but a surety, or bondsman, did go along to sign the bond with the bridegroom. Sometimes the bondsman was a relative or friend of either member of the contracting party, but not always.

When the bond was signed, the county clerk issued a marriage license, which was to be taken to any person legally authorized to perform marriages within the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The marriage license could be issued in one county and the wedding performed in another county, as long as it was all done within the boundaries of Kentucky. The license was not valid in another state. As a rule, though, the marriage usually occurred in the bride's home county.

In early Kentucky, if either the bride or bridegroom was under the legal marrying age of 21, a parent or guardian had to give consent for the license to be issued. If the bride was of age, it was not uncommon for her to write a little consent note and send it with the bridegroom when he signed the bond. If there is no consent note and you are sure one party was a minor, look at the name of the surety or bondsman. Could a parent of the bride or bridegroom have been present when the bond was signed and perhaps gave verbal consent for the license to be issued?

Once the marriage license was in hand, the bridegroom and bride were ready to stand before a minister, justice of the peace or even the county clerk and say their vows. Whoever officiated at the wedding was supposed to sign the license or write a note, giving the names of the couple and the date of the marriage, and return it to the county clerk’s office. There the information was to be recorded in the Marriage Register. Inclement weather, long distances to the courthouse and procrastination may have delayed or prevented the license from being returned. If you don’t find a returned license or an entry in the Marriage Register, check marriage records of neighboring counties.

Early Kentucky marriage bonds rarely contained personal information, but later on you will find the exact ages of the couple and their birthplaces and residences. Sometimes the birthplaces of their parents will also be listed. The time period when this additional information first appeared in the marriage bond books varies from county to county. It wasn’t until November 1898 that the additional information was listed in Crittenden County, while Caldwell County marriage bonds contain the additional information before 1860.


Linda Lamb Monticelli said...

Thanks for the information on Kentucky marriage records, Brenda. Yesterday I was looking for some information on marriage bonds and found the following: "In earlier times, a marriage bond was given to the court by the intended groom prior to his marriage. It affirmed that there was no moral or legal reason why the couple could not be married and it also affirmed that the groom would not change his mind. If he did, and did not marry the intended bride, he would forfeit the bond."

Here's my question, if the man changed his mind and did not go through with the marriage, who would get the forfeited bond money, the intended bride or the county?


Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG said...

Linda, I've never heard that the bond amount was paid prior to the license being issued and, if the bridegroom backed out, the bond amt. was paid. The only reason for the bridegroom having to pay the amt. listed on the bond is if there was found to be a legal reason. Backing out of a marriage was not illegal - maybe not nice, but certainly not illegal.

See pp 82-83 of Roseann Hogan's "Kentucky Ancestry."

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG said...

Linda, I didn't finish responding to your question before my fingers hit Send.

If it was found there was a legal reason to prohibit the marriage, the amt of money given on the bond was paid to the court.

Linda Lamb Monticelli said...

Brenda, thanks. I didn't think it sounded right that the amount of money of the bond would be forfeited if either one changed their mind about the marriage.

Dolores said...

Can you tell me if there was any requirement for a marriage Bondsman other than money or property to back up the Bond? For example, did they have to be of legal age? I am trying to use the fact that my 3rd great grandfather was a bondsman in 1810 to get a closer fix on his birth date. Also, are you aware of anyone else who has studied and written about bondsmen?

Thank you,

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG said...

The bondsman should have been "of age" - in other words, 21 or older. I don't know that the bondsman had to own property, but, by signing his name to the bond, he was guaranteeing that if the money was forfeited and paid to the state, the bondsman could stand in place of the bridegroom in making that payment. The bride's father was often the bondsman, but not always. I don't know anyone else who has studied or written about bondsmen.

fayrankin said...

The situation I'm referring to is not in Western KY but in Clark Co., Ky 1794-1802 ish. I think the situation would be the same. There are copies of marriage bonds found at various sites. My question is if these are copies of the original documents where the parties (grooms, fathers, bondsmen, etc) put pen and ink to the paper of the original marriage bond or a copy of the transcribed record recorded by a clerk to the county record books. This is an important distinction as the signature of the father of 2 supposed daughters on different bonds needs to match. If the names were both written by the same clerk they are going to match. If the records we are looking at are clerical copies, how should the clerk have indicated if the parties signed their name or just made their mark?

Terry Linthicum, Green Valley, AZ

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG said...

One would hope that the clerk indicated whether the person made his mark or actually signed his name. I've seen it expressed this way: Given name (X) surname. However, we can't be sure and it probably depend on the clerk.

fayrankin said...

I'm sorry i was a bit obtuse in my original question(s) of 9/17. How do I know if I'm looking at a transcribed copy from a record book or an original bond. Obviously, i did not obtain the record myself and I am hesitant to ask the question of the provider until i understand things a bit more.


Terry L.

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG said...

I think I understand now. The ones that I have seen that are copies have indicated they are copies. These copies appeared in military pension files and were obtained especially for the pension application. If you have the names and county where they married, why not simply write for a copy of the original record? If it is a copy of the original record, the signature of the bridegroom should not be in the same handwriting as the signature of the clerk or the surety - should be 3 signatures in 3 different handwritings. Hope this makes sense.