The state of South Carolina did not require the recording of marriages until July 1, 1911. Marriage licenses are recorded in the Office of the Probate Judge. Marriages may be performed by ministers of the Gospel and by magistrates in addition to the Office of the Probate Judge.
Until July 1, 1950, the record of marriage was preserved only in the county in which the marriage occurred. After July 1, 1950, the state of South Carolina centralized all of the marriage records by placing them in the Bureau of Vital Statistics, a division of the State Board of Health. The Bureau of Vital Statistics was not created until 1915 and then kept only a record of births and deaths. The state did not require a record of births and deaths before January 1, 1915, and did not centralize the records until July 1, 1950, at which time they became official state records. The Bureau's address is Bureau of Vital Statistics, State Board of Health, Sims Building, Columbia, SC 29201.
For many years it was very easy to get married and impossible to get divorced. South Carolina was the last state in the union to permit divorce. It was not until 1950 that divorces were allowed and not until July 1, 1962, that the Bureau of Vital Statistics began keeping a record of divorces.
Common law marriages (where a man and woman live together openly as man and wife) have always been considered lawful marriages.
The largest collection of Marriage and Death Notices is at the South Caroliniana Library on the University of South Carolina campus in Columbia. It is far from being inclusive. It is unfortunate that South Carolina did not follow the example of North Carolina and keep vital statistics from the beginning of statehood.
Newspapers did publish some marriage notices, or "hymeneals," but these account for only a few of the marriages. A few churches, or their pastors, may have kept records but few have been preserved. Historically, South Carolina has treated births, marriages, and deaths as private family matters of no concern to the state unless these events also were pertinent to other matters such as marriage settlements that dealt with titles to certain properties held by the woman. Marriage settlements, both prenuptual and postnuptual are recorded with the Secretary of State (records in the State Archives) and are usually in the form of a trust designed to protect the wife's property or her inheritable property.
Records of births, marriages and deaths were kept in Charleston by the Church of England and after the Revolution were kept by the Episcopal Church, the successor of the Church of England, until the 1850s. But Lancaster County had no Church of England congregation at all and few Episcopalians at any time. The Presbyterian and Methodists seem not to have kept these records in the pre-Civil War period.
The lack of official birth, marriage and death listings has made cemetery listings extremely important. Tombstones, along with family Bible records and newspaper accounts remain our best sources of information.
© 1998, Louise Pettus