Wedding Bell Clues
1/21/2011
Walk down the aisle into your family history and discover what marriage records and customs can reveal about your ancestors.

Marriage bonds — as in money, not the bonds of holy matrimony — were common in some states, particularly in the South, into the 18th century. They were posted in the county courthouse to help offset any costs of legal action in case the marriage was nullified. The groom and usually the father or brother of the bride posted a bond; if a woman posted bond, it may have been the bride's mother because the father was deceased.

Licenses eventually replaced bonds in the 19th century. In some states, however, a license wasn't required for a couple to be married, or the license might be recorded in a different jurisdiction from the marriage. For those states requiring licenses, keep in mind that couples sometimes took out a license or application but never made it to the altar. Make sure you follow through and look for further evidence confirming the marriage actually took place (a census enumeration, for example).