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FAQS *Frequently asked questions

Frequently I get questions about marriage certificates. Some folks have NEVER seen a  marriage certificate and they don't know much about these documents. This page will attempt to guide you through unknowns.

Are the Couple's parents on the marriage certificate?
Don't count on it! It seems very logical to ponder this question and to get excited that this may be an avenue of discovery. A brother, friend, lawyer, neighbor or business associate is often listed as a witness to the signing of the license. Many, many marriage intentions were taken care of at the courthouse and I believe that folks took care of many other tasks at the same time (land purchases, stock purchases and supplies). If you think back to the time, it was difficult to leave the farm and the WORK necessary to keep it running. Family attended the wedding but the signing of the documents wasn't as important as the event. Unless one of the parties was underage, the parents did not commonly sign the license for marriage. It is usually whoever is securing the bond. A bond had to be put up for decades. It cost fairly big money for the family to raise a bond. When you have several children in the family, other arrangements had to be made or the family went broke just to get their children married off.

Other arrangements? If a young man was given property by his father, he could lease part of the property to another party. In return, the other party raised the bond. Just to give you an example of what went on. Every situation has it's own unique circumstance but you get the idea.

Why are there so many errors on the marriage certificates?
There are many reasons for this. Again, we have to go back into time and consider the circumstances. Immigrants were flooding into this country and in Marengo County there were French, German, Swiss and many European immigrants that came by the hundreds into the county to settle. They brought their home country language with them. Many clerks that worked in the offices weren't that well educated either. It is easy to struggle when there are several people that come into your office that don't speak your language and fill out documents. 

Foreigners were prejudiced against, they were outsiders. If you came from South Carolina, you were a foreigner too. You spoke differently than the locals. Same applies to all other states. Dialect was a huge problem! (this comment is for the people that want to rationalize that their ancestors were not from another country and had to have spoken clearly and distinctly so there were less reasons to get the information wrong. Surprise! What if you had a clerk from a foreign country?) Clerks didn't sign the license, so we will never know. Keep in mind, many people could not verbally spell their own name and their signature can be compared with chicken scratches. 

The clerk's office took care of many tasks also. Distraction had to be a factor and as always we are looking at humans that make mistakes. Scribbling, for instance stays with some people their whole lives. Writing skills were seriously lacking by some people just as it is today. The document is far more important to you now. The lowly clerk may have gained a different attitude back then if they knew you were coming. 

When writing to me: Please avoid verbal abuse. I didn't register your ancestors on any documents and I can't change the documents stored in the courthouse. So keep in mind, I am not the source of the problem. I don't have the power to fix it except to make notations online. Wish I could, my family records are riddled with mistakes too. In our fast paced world, there is a lot of anger out there. If you feel that you must vent: Ask yourself one question! How much have you contributed? PLEASE write with compassion or see your doctor to change your medication.

In Genealogy, it is common to see errors. I work hard to help, I am not out to "get you" or lead you astray. C. Wood

Click here to see an example of a marriage certificate from 1850. See example, click me!
How do I get a copy of my ancestor's Marriage certificate?
There are  a couple of ways to get your copy. The easiest and least expensive way is to find the nearest LDS family history center in your area. They are scattered all over the country. You may have to drive a ways but it is well worth seeing the documents yourself. You also have the opportunity to get ALL of the family marriage certificates in a couple of trips instead of ordering them from the Alabama State Records Department at $8.00 a piece. Several people have asked why they can't find the record anyway...well, once you see the writing on this document, you can tell why. It may be a challenge for you to find it too. I have given you the date, so you have a starting point. Sifting through the documents is your task to find the elusive butterfly.

If the center doesn't have the film you want to see, you can order it for a fee and it will take a couple of weeks for the film to be delivered. (The center will let you know by mail when your film comes in). When it arrives. You will have a few weeks in which you can view the film at your convenience. If you are traveling quite a ways to visit the center...plan wisely before you go. Take a list of all the marriage certificates you want and order the films you need at one time. The marriage records are divided into 3 parts by year. Your next trip will pay off, over and over again. The cost of a copy is about 25 cents per certificate. Take quarters when you go. Take a magnifying glass to decipher the writing. Take some patience with you too. These records are very old and very frustrating. The filmed indexes are really messed up. This is why I posted them by name instead of chronological order.

Second most successful way is to order the certificate from ADAH (Alabama Department of Archives and History:

I have posted the address here and other vital information:

Why can't I find my family in your marriage records? They lived their whole lives in Marengo County...
Good question that I hear often. The biggest reason is that they may have married in a neighboring county! In the early development of the county, parts of the county were actually part of CLARKE COUNTY.

Now, if your family was close like mine, they wandered back and forth to visit or stay with relatives that lived in MISSISSIPPI. An event like a marriage was a big deal and you definitely wanted to be near your family. It was not unusual for the couple to travel to the main part of their family than pack up everybody and have them travel to you.

Another possibility is: The person you are looking for may have used a "nickname". Nothing was formal at the clerk's office. A variety of names and initials were used on these documents and there were not any hard set rules when information was entered. ID's were nonexistent as they are today.

Another factor: If the person is female, check the maiden name carefully. Different spellings are helpful. Many women lost husbands and remarried after the conflict between 1860 into 1867. Now, you may say to yourself: The conflict was between 1861 & 1865. However, soldiers were active in the late 1860's. Some were taken as prisoners of war and were released as late as 1867. Some didn't come home for a variety of reasons (other than dying). Many people did not formally change their name through the court system either. All of a sudden they just started using another name! Some folks married in one county for one marriage and may have married again in another state. There are endless possibilities to contend with.

The court records also reveal that people acquired divorces as early as 1840 too. We'd all like to think that everyone lived a rosy life so long ago but the reality was, not everyone got along. Poor choices in spouses occurred even back then.

Why can't ADAH find the marriage certificate on file?
This is another great question. In my experience, people have information either from family, bible records etc. The name is the big hold up. One of my ancestors was born with one name but sometime in his life, he went by another name. Spelling is a problem when searching the records. Asking for "how you know it to be" and "how it really is" are two different approaches. The people looking up your record should be considered here and you can help them immensely by giving them some possibilities. Your great, great "Aunt Almmie" Ferguson (who everybody thought was married only once may have been married before. Do your research carefully before you write with your request. "Almmie" may be on the certificate or it may be Alma or it may be Mary Alma. It may also be so unreadable that the person trying to locate the certificate just can't read it and doesn't want to send you something that is of little or no use to you.

Now, I'll address transcribing. The marriage certificate transcription is what I saw. Many people over the last year have written to me and told me they lucked up with ADAH when they asked for the name written like my transcription (the first entry in the listing). Many have mistakes as you can see. People from all over the country have written to me to "correct" the entry so you can identify who to look for in the census or other documents.

When a person is looking for a marriage certificate at ADAH, god knows what they see when they are going through these names. I looked at literally hundreds of names, until I thought my eyeballs were going to fall out. When I was stumped, I asked for another pair of eyes to look at the entry. We all see individually and with condition of eye receptacles. If your request comes back to you from ADAH, try the mistake listing if that applies. Give some possibilities like nicknames that were used and make sure that both the potential husband and wife are listed in the request.

If you get your certificate and it proves different than the marriage listing on the net...I will gladly correct the entry. If you know of the actual name of the parties where an initial is used on the certificate, please share. Those marriage listings help others daily. There are enough brick walls in genealogy. We have to help each other to break through. You can write to me anytime:

C. A. Wood See more detail on writing

Why can't you send me the marriage certificate?
I get this question more often than any other question online. I have to go through the same process you do to get a copy. I have to travel and do a search. That takes time and unfortunately I simply don't have the time to accommodate the literally dozens of requests per year that I get already. I don't make excuses about my time and none of you have to face my family when they scream for my time too. I would like to devote more time to genealogy and helping others but there are more of you than my 24/7 can deal with. I try really hard to post information so you can search for yourself. I use spare moments to compile records, process donations, answer email (I get as high as 60 emails a day concerning Marengo County alone) and build webpages. Beyond that I am simply overwhelmed. There are over 200 documents posted to this site. That was a big task to get them there. I can be a bigger help to more people by doing what I do. If you really want someone to do the research for you, please pay someone! There are perfectly qualified individuals out there that do it for a living. My time is volunteered.

Genealogy is a hobby for me. In the last three years, I haven't had the chance to look at my hobby. People have asked me if they can help me with my family lines. I don't even have the time to ponder it. Between family (god bless them!), two houses, work (yes, I work for a living), and  2 large websites, I really do have a full plate.

Why can't you relook up the certificate and verify the information?
Same reason as the question above. It takes time to go do this special for someone. I have to travel to make this happen. When I travel to Alabama, I run into the same problem. I just can't accomplish all the requests for "other people's research". I am also bound that I can not take money to complete any task. I am a member of Rootsweb and we are committed to not taking money for profit or to charge for any info.
Why is someone's name different on the marriage certificate than what I am seeing in the census or in family records?
This is a great question! Often I will hear from folks that are attempting to make a "correction" to a marriage entry and they have one name and someone else has already noted a different name. Family Bibles come into play here and multiple records. Someone can be referred to by several names according to what record you are looking at, at any particular time. The gods of Genealogy are messing with you for sure! Make a note in your records that the ancestor's name has more than one possibility. There may be more than several different spellings of the same name. See also "errors on marriage certificates". There are no hard fast rules to Genealogy, unless by some miracle you can dig up the person and ask them face to face: it's something we get to live with. It can get real confusing and frustrating but it is the nature of the game.
Why do you have one date online and our bible record has something different?
I transcribed the marriage records from the LDS films. These were not taken from the county courthouse. Back in the days of the depression, WPA workers photographed a variety of records from around the country in literally hundreds of counties. Again these are fallible human beings that may have missed records or the record was not complete at the time of the photo. When you look at the films, you will see repeat records and unfinished records. I transcribed what I saw. Every attempt was made to give you a ballpark date or something to go by. I heavily depend on my users to assist in making the entries as accurate as possible. 

If you go by a bible record passed down by the family, please keep in mind that the date was far more important to your family and may be more accurate than a busy clerk!

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3/12/2002  Copyright by C.A. Wood. All rights reserved.