What Are You Looking At?

A correspondent indicated that a database on a certain website had multiple dates of marriage for several of his ancestors. My correspondent wanted to know what the different dates meant.

It was difficult for me to say without knowing the time period, the location, and the type of record from which the dates were pulled. Like many events in life, marriage is a process that usually takes place over time. A couple meets, courts/dates, gets engaged, decides when to get married, decides where to get married, gets permission or license to get married, gets married.

Those events may happen in very close proximity or they may be extended over a long period of time. Some of those events generate records with dates on them, particularly the permission to marry (if necessary), license (if the location requires it), and actually getting married part. If there is a license or other marriage record, it eventually gets recorded. Those records all have dates associated with them. Not all of those dates are the marriage date.

Databases may not clearly indicate what the “date” associated with a marriage actually is. That’s why the researcher needs to look at the actual record to determine what it was. Permissions, licenses, and banns being published indicate there was an intention to get married. Marriage records, returned licenses, and completed marriage certificates indicate the marriage took place.

Know what you are looking at. Know what it means. Interpret it correctly.

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