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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4 Responses

  1. I find it odd that my great-grandparents were married at a hospital in Bemidji, Minnesota when they lived further south around St Peter area. I was told that he had gotten shot (not sure how that happened, the story behind it, or if it was even true at all) and had a bullet in his head (I was also told he would let his daughters feel the bullet under the skin??) and he was undergoing some type of electric shock treatments. I believe they were married by a Catholic Priest, according to their marriage license. I have been unable to verify anything about this story, except they were indeed married.

  2. In Irish records ( likely to be the same for British records) you have two sources for BMDs.
    One would be the church records (Irish births and baptisms), which is the register in the local church. The other would be the civil registration index.
    Civil registrations show you the QUARTER when the registration was published, not the exact date.
    So, if someone was married on, say, October 1, church records would say October 1, but the civil registrations would say December, as in Oct-Nov-Dec. To get the exact date you have to copy down the registration reference number, then go to the General Records Office in Dublin to get the exact date and other details.

    This is how you can have very different dates for the same event.

  3. I recently found a marriage date listed for a couple, but when I looked at the original source, it was actually the license/bond to marry. Many, many researchers list it as the marriage date, and it might have been the same day, but there is no “proof” that I have found to substantiate the actual wedding day. In an account written by the youngest son (in his old age), he actually says his parents married on the same day as the license, but did he know it for a fact (he wasn’t there) or had he been shown a copy of the marriage license at some point? It’s hard to know.

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