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A Guide To Understanding Marriage Bonds

Researching your ancestor’s marriage history is a great way to explore your family tree. You can research various types of marriage records to learn more about how your current family came into being and who you’re related to.

One type of document you can look through to learn more about your family history is marriage bonds. What are marriage bonds, and what can you discover from them? Read on to find out.

What Were Marriage Bonds?

Marriage bonds were documents that declared somebody’s intention to marry. 

Back then, a man who had recently proposed to a woman would go to the courthouse with a bondsman, usually the bride-to-be’s father or brother. At the courthouse, they’d post a bond declaring the man’s intention to marry the woman.

A marriage bond requires the groom and bondsman to put a certain amount of money down. It could be as low as $50, but some bonds cost thousands. The bond acts as a “guarantee” that the marriage will take place. If something impedes the marriage, like if the groom already has a wife, they won’t get that money back.

Since a marriage bond only declares the intention to marry, the date on the bond usually isn’t the actual marriage date. In many cases, the bond was usually posted a few days or weeks before the marriage. 

A marriage bond doesn’t mean the people named ended up marrying each other, either. Most of the marriages did occur, but some of them didn’t. 

The reasons why a marriage didn’t follow through can vary, such as the death of either party or a mutual agreement to cancel the marriage. In cases of death or mutual cancellation, the groom and bondsman may have the money returned to them.


What’s The Difference Between Marriage Bonds And Marriage Licenses?

The main difference between marriage bonds and marriage licenses is their purpose. A marriage bond declares a person’s intent to marry and imposes a penalty if the marriage doesn’t happen. Meanwhile, a marriage license is a document that permits a couple to marry. 

Where these documents were issued also differs. Marriage licenses are issued by local public authorities like the county clerk. Marriage bonds were issued by the groom and one of the bride’s relatives through a courthouse.

Both documents are very useful if you want to research your family tree by looking through marriage records.

What You Can Find From Marriage Bonds

A marriage bond declares a groom’s intent to marry his would-be bride, meaning it shows a certain commitment to marriage. But what information can you glean from marriage bonds that can help you in your research? Here are several pieces of information you might find useful in marriage bond documents:

  • The groom’s name: The first thing you can find in a marriage bond is the groom’s name. He’s the one who posted the bond, so his full name is very likely to be on the bond.
  • The bondsman’s name: The bondsman is usually a relative of the bride-to-be or a close friend of hers. The bondsman’s job is to vouch for the groom and put money down to guarantee that the marriage happens. Researching the bondsman’s name may uncover more relatives or help you learn more about the ones you already know.
  • The bride’s name: Looking for the bride’s name is sometimes tricky. Sometimes, the bride’s name isn’t listed on the bond or only referred to by her maiden name, like “Miss Johnson”. But in other cases, you can see the bride’s full name on the bond document. 
  • The bond’s location: Where the bond was signed tells you more about where the groom lived or where the marriage was supposed to take place. By learning where the groom lived, you can search the area for more potential ancestors.
  • The bond’s posting date: Marriage bonds are usually posted a few days or weeks before the marriage. If you can’t find the actual marriage record or certificate, the bond’s posting date may give you a rough idea of when the wedding took place.
  • The signatures of those involved: A marriage bond usually bears the signatures of the groom, bondsman, and witnesses. Researching the names of the witnesses may give you more leads on your ancestor’s close friends or relatives.

How To Find Marriage Bonds

Like many official documents, bonds of marriage were often recorded for archival purposes. This is why you have a good chance of finding your ancestor’s marriage bonds in places that store historical documents.

Some places you can try searching for your ancestor’s marriage bonds include:

  • Genealogy and ancestry sites
  • Local marriage record archives
  • Regional marriage bond databases

Often, the best first step to finding your ancestor’s marriage bonds is to look for it with a search engine. Use a very specific term with area and year, like “North Carolina marriage bonds, 1741-1868,” to narrow the results down.


Other Ways To Learn About Your Family History

If you can’t find your ancestors’ information through marriage bonds, don’t worry. There are other documents you can look into when researching your family’s history. 

Here are some additional documents that might help you explore your family tree:

  • Birth certificates: Looking through birth records is a great way to learn more about your family history. Birth certificates often include the names of the parents, which means you can possibly get three or more names in one go. However, some people don’t file a birth certificate after giving birth, so you may also need to look for delayed birth certificates.
  • Death certificates: A death certificate may give you a lot of information about a person’s life. Often, a death certificate lists the deceased’s name and their family members.
  • Church records: For most of America, birth and death certificates were only required by the end of the 19th century. If you’re looking for people further up the family tree who may not have birth or death certificates, you can look into church records.

Of course, sometimes genealogical research doesn’t go as smoothly as you might think. You may encounter bumps in the road, like looking for birth parents without their names or looking for estranged relatives in your family tree with a history of divorce. But as long as you know where to look, you’ll likely find records of your ancestors.

Closing Thoughts

Looking into your ancestor’s marriage bonds might give you important information about when they were married, who they married, and who were their closest relatives. 

With many potential leads, finding a marriage bond can represent a breakthrough when you’re looking to learn more about your family’s history. You might even reconnect with relatives you never knew you had!