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From the Green Valley News, Friday 1 September 2006, page B3

Genealogy Today, by Betty Malesky

Till Death do us Part!

When conducting genealogical research, one of the "must find" documents for each ancestral couple is a record of their marriage.

Marriage records are the best way to learn a womanís maiden name. If the bride was underage, her father, brother or guardian may have had to give permission for her to marry. While the requirement was the same for the groom, men generally didnít marry as young. In some areas the groom or a male friend had to post a bond guaranteeing he was eligible to marry.

In the New England Colonies, when a couple planned to marry their church posted marriage banns for three to six weeks prior to the proposed wedding to be sure there was no impediment to prevent the wedding going forward. Published Massachusetts town records will often have two marriage dates for each couple, the date the banns were posted and the date of the wedding.

In addition to parentsí names, marriage records sometimes provide the partiesí ages, their residence, occupation, and whether either had been married previously. If a woman had a prior marriage she may be listed as "Mrs." married name rather than as her maiden name.

If a previous marriage is indicated, try to determine why it ended. While the first spouse may have died, divorce was not as rare as we think. Divorce records provide information about a coupleís assets, their children, and their community as well as why the marriage failed. Yet divorce carried such a stigma that the parties often claimed widowhood rather than divorce on census records. Families seldom talked about divorce in their midst before the mid 1900s.

In most areas, marriage licenses were issued long before birth and death certificates. To find marriage records search in the town/city hall, county courthouse, state archives, and/or church registers, depending on laws of the area of residence. Marriages in frontier areas may have been performed by a circuit preacher or justice of peace who kept his own records. Unless these records have been deposited in a library or archive you likely wonít find them.

Divorce records may be found in various courts depending on the time period and local law. For instance, until the 20th century the New York Supreme Court granted all divorces in the state. Study laws in the state where the divorce occurred to determine the relevant court.

Revolutionary and civil war pension files are another source of marriage information. When a widow filed for her husbandís pension, she had to provide proof of their marriage. In cases where the marriage wasnít recorded, a sworn statement by a person present at the wedding was often submitted attesting to the marriage. My 3rd great grandmotherís pension application includes the date and place she was married in a notarized statement by the Justice of the Peace who performed the ceremony. He adds that he did not keep any written record of his marriages.

Daughters of the American Revolution, the Mayflower Society, other patriotic and historic societies, as well as most state First Family projects require applicants for membership to submit evidence of marriage for each generational couple back to the qualifying ancestor.

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