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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Religious Records by Brenda Dougall Merriman, CG, CGL. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
What Are Banns?
When a couple came to be married in England, as we have seen the parish priest was obliged to marry them. However, he also had to ensure that they could legally be married, that there was no ‘just impediment’ to the marriage. This might mean a previous marriage, too close a blood relationship, or some such thing.
Since people were usually married in the place where they lived, perhaps for all their lives, it was a simple matter of asking the community if there was any reason why the couple should not be married. This was done by proclaiming on three successive Sundays the couple’s intention, during the church service when the largest number of people would be present.
If they lived in different parishes, it was usual for the proclamations to be carried out in both places. It was expected that their neighbours knew everything about them and would report any problem.
After the third proclamation, the marriage could take place, and the ceremony included one final request for anyone knowing an impediment to step forward, the moment in the marriage service beloved of screenwriters who can then add a dramatic event to the wedding. It was not unusual for couples to be married on the Monday following the third proclamation (the first possible day they could do so).
The custom was carried to Canada and we often see in registers that the couple were married ‘by banns.’ These are very often Anglican registers. Occasionally one still hears banns being read in Anglican churches nowadays, but this is merely the adherence to a beloved old custom.
Although books of banns can be found in some church registers, they are rare and usually so incomplete as to be frustrating for the researcher. They can provide clues about weddings in which the banns are called in one parish but the ceremony takes place elsewhere.
Other records associated with wedding arrangements are the contracts found in Québec notarial records (as mentioned earlier), marriage bonds and the issuing of marriage licenses. Marriage bonds were promises or sureties concerning the wedding, and did not guarantee that the marriage actually took place. Also, there may be no record of the marriage itself.
These documents can often be found in public institutions, as for example in Nova Scotia where the provincial archives holds bonds from 1763 to 1864, some including the wedding date. There may also be published versions, as in Thomas B. Wilson’s Marriage bonds of Ontario, 1803-1834 (1985).
Marriage licenses were sold by businesses in some places and later were part of the civil registration process. Records of businesses who sold them may be in public archives now, or published in book form by genealogical societies.
None of these three types of records (notarial, bonds, licenses) are church records.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Religious Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at email@example.com
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.
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