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.