Research Tips From Sandi Gorin

Kentucky Research Tips 

Marriage Records in Kentucky

Have you ever asked why you couldn't find Great Aunt Fannie's marriage record?

This will help explain why you may never find it!

Marriage records are one of the first primary records that a researcher uses to verify marriage dates, maiden names and locations. But the evolution of the processes involved in that simple "I do" will help we as researchers to figure out what to look for, where to look for it and what information we can find.

First there was no Kentucky before 1792 - a simple county in Virginia we were. Civil and church laws, rules and regulations were confusing to put it mildly. Kentucky's earliest marriage records (while still a county in Virginia) were
ruled by Virginia laws. So what were those laws?

Let's go back before the Revolutionary War. At this time frame, only ministers of the Church of  England were permitted to perform marriages. Any other marriage was considered illegal. Even in our own family there were instances where ancestors were not members of the Church of England; they were duly married by a minister of
another denomination; but no record exists of the marriage because the marriage was not considered legal in the eyes of Virginia. If the marriage was a sanctioned one by the church, a marriage license was issued by the Governor himself or a Justice of the Peace. A document known as banns was required during 1660 up to 1849 in Virginia.
Now, after the Revolutionary War, Virginia passed a law in May of 1783 whereby courts on the "western waters" (which included Kentucky) could license laymen to perform marriages if there was no available clergyman. This same law confirmed that the prior marriages which had not been "legal" before (done by non Church of England ministers) were now legal. But - many of those old marriage records were lost over time and never recorded as many were done in secret. (See Conrad 1988, p. 104-05). Starting with this law, County Clerks started recording more of the
marriages and the information on the forms were more uniform from county to county.

Also, under this 1783 law, laymen could perform ceremonies and produce a marriage license which certified that the requirements had been met by the banns being published three times. (a notice of impending marriage). These banns had to be made on three days and not to extend over two weeks and be posted in a public "assembly" where
ordinary citizens could see them. This "assembly" could be a military assembly or a church assembly but it had to be posted in the area where the couple would be residing. In other words, if a marriage was to take place in Russellville, Logan County KY (under the old law, not current), the banns would have to be posted in Russellville if that is where the couple would be residing.

The next law was effective in July 1785, still in Virginia, requiring that a certificate be filed, listing all marriages performed. This was recorded by the minister or the county clerk. This certificate would then be sent to the clerk
of the county where the marriage took place within 12 months. (Conrad 1988, p. 105).

Thus the laws existed until Kentucky reached statehood in 1798. Our records included marriage bonds, marriage consents, marriage licenses, marriage certificates and marriage registers (also known as marriage returns) and marriage contracts. Simple? Not really!

Let's look at these forms. A marriage bond is posted when applying for a marriage license. It is a "performance" bond that assures the court that there is no lawful reason why this marriage cannot take place. (i.e., already married,
criminal, insane, etc.) There is a fee for the bond which is only paid if the marriage does not take place because of the above reasons. Some County Clerks occasionally skipped the bond if they knew the parties, but in the majority of
cases, the bond had to be filed. Two people were required in the bond posting. Under Virginia and early Kentucky laws, a woman had no legal standing, so she could not post a bond. The bondsmen were a male relative or guardian of the bride and the groom himself. The bondsman was usually the bride-to-be's father or brother, but if the father or brother was deceased (or there was no brother), or otherwise unable to serve as bondsman, a close friend or guardian of either the bride or groom could serve as bondsman. I have also seen instances where the County Clerk served as bondsman.

Information found on the bond: From about 1860 to 1900, the bond included the ages of the bride and groom, place of birth of both parties and their parents. In 1902, the names of the parents are given. By 1900, the marriage bond stopped being completed. I have found, in transcribing many hundreds of bonds here, that the County Clerk did
not always complete the bond. There were two pages in the old books; the left side listed the names of the parties, date, the bondmen's names and signatures. The right page was to be completed with the information shown as to age of the parties, normally the number of the marriage (first, second, third marriage, etc) and sometimes the occupation of the groom. However, the Clerk must have grown weary of writing and basically the only forms filled out were for
their friends or some important citizen of the town!

The consent form: These little scraps of paper are priceless! Written on whatever paper was available, some only a few inches big and weathered, poor spelling and all, these consents were filed as loose papers along with the bond
and a copy of the license. Many times they can be found taped on the bond itself in the weathered old books. The consent form listed (supposedly) the signer's relationship to the bride or groom and gave consent to the marriage. Many gave the date and/or place of birth. Consents were required for the party who was under legal age to marry. If there was no parent to sign the consent, it will often show their relationship to the bride or groom. If the consent is signed by the mother, it's pretty safe to assume that the father is deceased (or serving in the military, etc.). Of all the documents concerning marriages at this time frame, the consent form is the greatest look at the people and their lives. I have literally cried over some of these consents - many of which have been lost over the years or faded. There are so many poignant statements such as "I have raised this girl from infancy when her parents were tragically killed", or "I'm sending this consent in with my friend Joe as I am near death's door and unable to bring it to you in person." My most favorite of all brought a laugh, not a tear. A young man was wanting to marry this young lady and he wrote his own permission form; assumedly he had no close relative to give permission. He stated that he was sending this to
the County Clerk by a friend or neighbor as he was terribly ill and could not make the trip to Glasgow; in critical condition. Well, he must have had a miraculous recovery or his bride was a nurse, as they married the same evening. Did she have to nurse him back to health???