FINDING THAT SOUTH CAROLINA MARRIAGE RECORD
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by Brent H. Holcomb
One of the biggest disappointments to researchers is the lack of marriage records for South Carolina. At least several times a week, persons arrive at the South Carolina Archives asking for marriage records. South Carolina does not have regular marriage records prior to 1911, the marriage license law having taken effect on July 1 of that year. There is no clear reason for this lack of early marriage records, except that in the colonial period the parishes of the Church of England were supposed to record all marriages within the parish (whether the parties were members of the Church or not). Whether this was done is a moot point; however, it is a fact that after the Revolution no state marriage license statute was passed until 1911.
Nevertheless, some counties or districts did issue marriage licenses. We find a handful from the 1780s in Camden District and Ninety Six District records. Additionally, the following counties or districts issued some marriage licenses or bonds, of which we have either recorded copies or originals: Charleston, Chester, Darlington, Fairfield, Horry, Marion, Marlboro, Newberry, Pendleton, Spartanburg, Sumter, and York. There is extant one marriage return for Pickens District for the years 1859 and 1860, which I published in my periodical, South Carolina Magazine of Ancestral Research (SCMAR).
In some church records, marriage references can be gleaned from the membership lists. Baptist records often contain separate male and female lists. You might find an entry in a female list, such as “Mary Jones, now Smith.” The manual of the Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston, which I am publishing in part in my quarterly, SCMAR), shows such examples. There are entries such as “Miss E. H. Simonon, now Mrs. Geo Moffett,” “Miss Louisa Burdell, now Mrs. Agnew,” “Miss Quintana Smith, now Mrs. Paxton,” and others.
South Carolina does have a number of marriage settlements, which are usually pre-marital agreements concerning property. Frequently, these marriage settlements are second marriages for one or both parties. Quite often, family information is found among these in statements of the origins of the property (inherited from a relative or obtained in some other way). These marriage settlements are found in Miscellaneous Records, Main Series for the Colonial Period, and for 1787-1885 in a separate series titled Marriage Settlements at the South Carolina Archives. Additionally, some marriage settlements are recorded in Miscellaneous Records (Columbia series) after 1787, for some unknown reason. Supposedly, these marriage settlements (after 1787) were also recorded in the deed books for the counties where the couples resided. However, this recording does not appear to have been consistent. Conversely, some marriage settlements are found recorded in the deed books of various counties and are not recorded in the Marriage Settlement volumes.
Eleven marriage settlements prior to 1821 have been abstracted and published within my two volumes available from Genealogical Publishing Company (GPC), South Carolina Marriages, 1688-1799 and South Carolina Marriages, 1800-1820. Genealogical Publishing Company has also released my supplement to these volumes. These three books also contain marriages from other sources: church records (including the colonial parish registers), diaries, the above-mentioned marriage licenses and bonds, etc.
The aforementioned volumes, on the other hand, do not include any marriages reported in newspapers, which probably represent the best source for 19th-century marriage records in South Carolina. Marriage notices from newspapers are found in several volumes published by myself and several other persons. Prior to the Civil War, newspapers were regional in scope, covering several counties or districts. A marriage from Fairfield District might be reported in a newspaper of Columbia, Newberry, or Camden, for example. The Greenville newspapers covered most of the upper part of South Carolina, 1826-1863.
Religious newspapers should also be consulted. The religious newspaper of the appropriate denomination may have been published outside of South Carolina, such as The Lutheran Observer (Baltimore, Maryland) and The Southern Christian Advocate (the Methodist newspaper, sometimes published in Augusta or Macon, Georgia). Presbyterian newspapers included the Charleston Observer, The Watchman and Observer (published in Richmond, Virginia, but contains South Carolina notices), and the Southern Presbyterian. I have published the marriage records from the first two of these. Lowry Ware and I have published notices from the Association of Reformed Presbyterian newspapers in two volumes. The South Carolina Temperance Advocate was a quasi-religious newspaper that published notices from all over South Carolina. Because it was published in Columbia, for the most part, researchers can access its notices in my Marriage and Death Notices from Columbia, South Carolina, Newspapers 1838-1860 (Southern Historical Press, 1981).
Such marriage notices are NOT limited to prominent persons. Consider the following example from the Southern Times and State Gazette (Columbia, South Carolina) of 6 January 1831:
Economical Marrying. Married on Thursday evening, the 23d ult., by Thomas Johns Esq., Mr. John Hendrix to Miss Mary Marbut; Mr. Joshua Hendrix to Miss Sarah Mills, and Mr. Euclidus Hog to Miss Kisiah Marbut, all at the same place, and all of Newberry District. Four of the persons married are the grandchildren of Mrs. Sarah Marbut, who was present and participated in the festivities of the evening.
Now, what does this tell us? If four of the persons who were married (out of six) were grandchildren of Mrs. Sarah Marbut, then one couple being married had to be first cousins. Such was not at all unusual at the time. Double cousins, first cousins, second cousins, etc., often married, but it was not legal for closer relatives to marry. One could not marry his niece or aunt, her uncle or nephew, for example.
Odd marriages were often reported in the newspaper. The following notice was abstracted from the Columbia Telescope of 25 February 1837:
Married in Fairfield District, near Twenty Five Mile Creek, on Thursday evening, 23d inst., by Mr. Jonathan Watts, Esq., Mr. Jacob Blizard aged 17 years, to Mrs. Wilson aged about 75.
Interracial marriage in South Carolina was not prohibited until 1895. Therefore, willing parties could be married, no matter what their race. We have examples of whites and blacks marrying, Indians and whites (though not often documented), etc. Many people have a “tradition” of Indian ancestry, but this is fairly rare, or at least it cannot be proved. The reasons are fairly obvious. Indians had already been removed from a given area, allowing whites to occupy the abandoned land.
Before 1872, divorce in South Carolina was not possible except by an act of the legislature. There are a dozen petitions for divorce on file prior to 1872, but all were denied. The 1872 statute was repealed in 1878, and the next divorce law was not instituted until the mid-20th century.
Ms. Barbara Langdon has begun to publish a series of South Carolina marriage records that can be inferred from various records. There are volumes available from her on Barnwell, Spartanburg, Edgefield, York, Chester, Fairfield, and some state-wide reference works. These are excellent sources, but you must understand what they are. They are records that prove that a marriage took place; however, the date of the record might be many years after the marriage took place. Ms. Langdon will provide a list of her works by request with a SASE. Her address is 132 Langdon Road, Aiken, SC 29801.
Sometimes we find proof of marriages in court cases, especially the quit court, and in obituary notices. Also, death certificates (which begin in South Carolina on January 1, 1915) might prove a marriage, as the name of the father and the maiden name of the mother of the decedent are often included. However, such information is subject to question and should be verified through other sources.
Don’t forget records of various wars and pension applications for participants and their widows–not only the Revolution but also the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and various Indian and “old wars.” There are published indices to most of these pension applications now. Additionally, the pension applications for Confederate widows are supposed to contain marriage dates inasmuch as the widow’s pension applications asked for a date of marriage if it could be supplied. Sometimes only a year is given, and rarely is the maiden name of the widow included. Often, these widows submitted depositions from persons who had attended their marriage or from persons who had known that she and her husband had lived as husband and wife for so many years. Sometimes, Bible records are included in such applications.
Deed Records: It is not unusual to find deeds of gift from a mother or father to children, frequently married daughters. In this way, some people avoided probate. Such records are to be found in the deed books of the individual counties in South Carolina. Therefore, there are numerous sources to find proof of a South Carolina marriage.
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