February is the month of love – Valentine’s Day – so we are taking a look at marriage records – using Catholic records as an example to show the significant role of these documents in genealogy research.
The Catholic Church mandated that marriage records be kept after the 1563 Council of Trent, which decreed that each parish should keep records on baptism, marriage and death for their parishioners. These records can contain valuable genealogical data linking together many generations. Each marriage record lists the names of the couple, their places of residence, along with each of their parents and their places of residence. It is possible to jump from one generation to the next using marriage records on their own, as they all tie together. Of course, the problem is whether you can find those records – a topic for another post – but when they are available over many decades, they are perfect for providing essential information which can lead to other parish and diocesan records for more investigative work.
According to the FamilySearch Wiki, you can expect to find in a marriage record:
• Marriage date and place
• Full names of the bride and groom
• Marital status of the bride and groom – single, divorced or widowed.
• Residence of bride and groom
• Ages of bride and groom
• Parents’ names, residence and/or birthplace
• Sometimes the parents’ civil status at time of marriage
• Witness names
When I conducted research in Spain, I used these records and was grateful to the Church and, in particular, to parish priests who have painstakingly recorded this information for centuries. Today, whether through an onsite visit to a physical parish archive, or via an online database, I can find and record important marriage data.
The Catholic marriage record – the certificate – as recorded by the parish priest is only one small piece of the much greater puzzle in Catholic Marriage Records. Once the Church required marriage records be kept, recording improved. Additionally, many new requirements prior to marriage were instituted, and any impediments had to be disproven.
Bride and groom had to prove they were not related within four degrees, prove that they were capable of being married, and that they were not already in another marriage.
The male had to prove that he had reached manhood and was ready to be married. The marriage announcement had to be made public for three consecutive Sundays – the priest had to personally address the congregation and provide an opportunity to show valid reason to disallow a proposed marriage. If there were problems with any of the above, the parish priest would need permission – from the diocese’s bishop – to continue with the marriage. The bishop would issue a dispensation – or dispense with a requirement – for the wedding to proceed or stop the marriage based on the impediment.
In my Spanish research, I saw hand-drawn and elaborate family trees from both the bride and groom to prove the absence of a familial impediment to marriage. If the couple were closely related, the bishop had to rule whether it would prevent the marriage.
In other countries, marriage data is also very important. While many countries provide the names of parents and witnesses, the Catholic records are some of the best, since they contain impediments to overcome and they also list other data described above.
In US civil marriage records, expect to find the essential information for bride and groom, parents and witnesses. Don’t expect it to have more, and you made need other sources – a will or court record – for additional details.
Happy hunting for the marriage records of your ancestors.