There has been a lot in the news lately about bans…which reminded me of a number of great genealogical records — including marriage banns.
Perhaps you have heard about banns before, but weren’t quite certain what they were. To be brief, marriage banns were nothing more than announcements that a couple were to be wed, and they were required to be read the three Sundays previous to a couple’s wedding. The intent of the banns was to publicly announce the upcoming marriage, and provide anyone with the opportunity to come forward if they possessed information that might make the marriage inappropriate — either one (or both) of the individuals might be under age, might already be married, might be too close a family relation, etc.
Unofficially, the Catholic Church began “calling banns” in the early 1400s, but it wasn’t until the 1700s that they became a requirement. But — that’s a lot of marriages for which you may find information about the proposed marriage of a distant ancestor of yours. (Banns are not limited to just the Catholic Church — the Church of England called them, as well as many other churches.)
In that last paragraph, I mentioned proposed marriage…just because you discover that banns had been called for an ancestor of yours, that does not mean the marriage actually took place. As now, either the bride or groom (or both) may have changed their mind as the marriage date approached, and no marriage actually occurred. So…just be cautious lest you make an incorrect assumption.
Recorded marriage banns range from a line in a Parish marriage book to ornate, flowery certificates. Often, the latter will include information about each member of the wedding party — the bride’s and groom’s ages are sometimes listed — sometimes the bann will only say “of full age” or “over 21.” So close to finding out the age of that 15th-century ancestor of yours! I have seen banns that listed the groom’s occupation, the names of the groom’s and bride’s father and mother, etc. These are fabulous records!
Ah — but what if the couple didn’t want to wait three weeks+ for their wedding to take place? There are lots of reasons this might be the case — the bride was already pregnant (oh my!), one of the parties to the marriage was under age, they were too closely related, the bride and groom were many years apart in age, or the groom was in the military and was on leave, and needed to make things happen quickly.
What then? Well, for a price, the couple could request a marriage license, which was just that — a license to marry. They didn’t have to wait the obligatory three weeks that they would have had to have waited had they waited for their banns to be called — for whatever reason.
Like the banns, a marriage license isn’t proof the couple was actually married, but again, is a valuable bit of genealogical data in your search to tie down the loose ends on an ancestor that has been particularly difficult for whom to find information!
So — where, you ask, might you find these genealogical gems? Well, for starters, you could check out several of the books in the Quillen’s Essential Genealogy series, specifically Tracing Your Irish and British Roots, and Tracing Your European Roots.
You can also find information on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org and Cyndi’s List, just to name a few of the huge genealogy websites out there today. Just search for bann or marriage license in the search sections of the websites.
Good luck and Happy Banning!