Several different types of marriage documents are generated before a couple says “I do.” While all of these won’t exist for any one couple, all are worth looking for.
• Banns: Church-generated documents that were a custom dating back to colonial America. Banns of a couple’s intention to marry were posted or read on three consecutive Sundays.
• Certificates: The document given to the couple after the ceremony, may be found among family papers. It may not have all the personal detail that can be found on a license. Copies of certificates may be recorded in the church or with a town or county clerk.
• Marriage returns or registers: Ministers and justices of the peace sent a record of the marriages they performed to the town hall or county courthouse. These were recorded in books called returns or registers. Unfortunately, some marriages were never recorded beyond what the minister or justice of the peace kept in their private journals or ledgers.
• Intentions: Similar to church banns, except filed with the county or town clerk.
• Bonds: Common in Southern colonies and states. A bond was posted before the marriage license by the groom and usually the father of the bride or some other close relative. The bond carried a monetary amount to defray costs in the event the marriage did not take place. Usually recorded in the bride’s county of residence.
• Licenses: These applications to marry usually contain the most genealogical information of all marriage documents, giving personal information on both the bride and the groom, but licenses may not have been required in all states or have survived. They’re most common after the Civil War, when they replaced banns and bonds.