Fairfax Court has very little official surviving marriage information prior to 1853. The information below, provided by the Library of Virginia, is meant as an introduction to how marriages were recorded in Virginia prior to the adoption of a statewide recording system in 1853.
Beginning in 1661, in order to be married by license, the groom was required to go before the county court clerk and give bond with security that there was no lawful reason to prevent the marriage. The license issued by the clerk was then given to the minister who performed the service. Written consent from a parent or guardian was needed for individuals younger than twenty-one years.
Marriage could also be accomplished “by publication,” meaning by the reading of banns. After announcing on three consecutive Sundays or holy days the intention of the parties to marry, the minister performed the marriage. Marriages by banns were recorded in the church or parish register. By the time of the Revolutionary War, marriage by banns had fallen into disuse in the Tidewater region, but the practice continued in the western counties until 1848, when this form of marriage became illegal.
Until 1780, marriages could be performed only by ministers of the established (Anglican) church, who were required to record the marriages in the parish register, or by ministers of those denominations that had received official toleration. Very few of these parish registers have survived. Quaker marriages were entered in the records of the Society of Friends. Dissenting ministers were first permitted to perform marriages in 1780. Ministers’ returns were required by law beginning in 1780, so all marriages from that date forward would be on record in the county court clerk’s office. Researchers checking for early records may wish to consult Virginia Marriages, Early to 1800: A Research Tool (1991).
Beginning in 1853, statewide registration of marriages was required. These registers exist for all counties but may be incomplete, especially during the Civil War. The registers list the date of the marriage; both parties’ names, ages, marital status, and place of birth and residence; parents’ names; the groom’s occupation; and the name of the minister performing the marriage.
Learn more about Early Colonial Marriages from the Library of Virginia.
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