Canada Marriage Records (National Institute)
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 Will the Marriage Record Tell Us?
In the plainest of marriage records, we will find the names of bride and bridegroom, the date and place of marriage and the name of the clergyman who performed the ceremony. There should also be the names of two witnesses (occasionally more), but in very early records these may be lacking. At other times, there may be added information: birthplaces, residence of bride and groom, names of parents, fathers’ occupation.
If you have obtained the marriage date from another source (such as a newspaper), it is advisable to look at the church record to see if there is any additional or useful information there, most particularly the names of the witnesses, which are rarely reported anywhere else. Since many people chose a near relative to ‘stand up with’ them at this crucial time, it is worth noting who they are, both for family history purposes and also in case they can indicate a solution to genealogical problems regarding relationships.
Here is a short example to illustrate how this might work. Three marriage records were found from the 1840s and 1850s, with the same person as witness in each case. She was easily identified, and it was established eventually that she was the aunt of the bride or groom in each case. The bride of one marriage was a second witness at one of the others. The linking of these people helped to establish that all were children of a group of sisters, whose married names had not previously been known. The key to it all was the identification of the witness, who was one of the group of sisters.
Examples of Marriage Records
Early Roman Catholic
In the printed registers of Notre-Dame-de-Québec for 6 August 1702, we find that Joseph Brodière, menuisier, born in the parish of Notre-Dame de Nantilly, diocese of Anjou, and Marie David, widow of this parish (“de cette paroisse”) were married. His parents, who were not present, were Louis Brodière and Etiennette Noëlle; Marie’s late husband was Noël Favéron. The witnesses were Guillaume Page ‘le père’, Jacques Page, Jean-Baptiste Page. The priest who performed the marriage was François Dupré. The printed version of these French-Canadian records add a useful notation: whether or not the bride and groom have signed their names. This information concerning the literacy of the individuals will add to the family history, but in this day of scanners, signatures can also be interesting and useful illustrations. Many people leave few signed documents behind, but appear in their own wedding records, or as witnesses in other people’s. This can be another reason for examining the originals and noting the names of witnesses.
Later Roman Catholic
In the printed registers of Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, Québec for 11 April 1763, there is the marriage of Ambroise Petit and Marie Angélique Trudel, both of this parish. Jean Petit (presumably his father) is present; Catherine Tapin is named and is probably his mother but not present. Pierre Trudel, deceased, is Marie Angélique’s father and her mother is Angélique Goulet, also not present. The witnesses are Gingras (no first name), captain of militia, and Augustin Lalemant. The priest’s name was Brassard. As with the baptisms we saw earlier, there is less information here than in the earlier record in the area of relationships. Nonetheless there is a great deal of data.
Modern Roman Catholic
The records of Saint-Alphonse-de-Liguori at Hawkesbury, Ontario have the marriage of Jean-Charles Lecuyer and Eva Séguin on 15 April 1940. His parents are Onézime Lecuyer and Aléxina Séguin; hers are Adonias Séguin and Florida Carrière. The witnesses were Onézime Lecuyer and Adonias Séguin, the two fathers. There is a notation that Jean-Charles is of the parish of Saint-Jean-Baptiste.
Grand View Presbyterian Church in Manitoba used a printed form which was not Presbyterian in origin, since the head of page reads “Register of marriages, diocese of ...”. The clergyman, Alexander Fraser, has stroked out ‘diocese’ and replaced it with ‘municipality.’
On 22 December 1903 he married Elijah Ramm and Mary Clarkson. There is a great deal of information about them both, probably necessary for the civil registration which would also be required of the minister. Elijah was 29, of Tamarisk, Grand View, but born in Holland, Ontario, a bachelor, a farmer, of the Salvation Army and his parents were “Ed.Will.Ramm & Eliza Sweezy[?]” Mary was 20, of Wilford, Dauphin, born at North Austin, England, a spinster, and also Salvation Army. Her parents’ names are omitted.
They were married by license. The witnesses were Seth Ramm of Tamarisk and Elizabeth Jane Minish of Glenlyon. Fraser notes that the wedding took place at Wilford, Dauphin. It was not his habit to have the bride and groom sign the register, which is odd, but perhaps they signed a civil registration document instead.
The marriages recorded in the Grand View register are a good illustration of the way couples would take whatever clergyman was available to them. Elijah and Mary above were both Salvation Army, but in this early time it is unlikely there was an officer of the Army available to marry them nearer than Winnipeg. On the following pages are Anglicans, Baptists and even a Roman Catholic couple.
This format, with modifications according to denomination and time period, is fairly typical of registers after the advent of civil registration, when the government specified what information the clergy were expected to obtain and report.
An interesting sidelight to the question of signatures of the bride and groom in church registers is provided by the records of Knox Presbyterian in Ayr, Ontario. In the early decades of the past century the brides invariably signed using their new married name, not their maiden name as they should have. The clergy of the day must have sanctioned this rush to add the ‘Mrs.’ to the name. I have seen other registers where the bride has done the same thing, but the priest or clerk has insisted that they sign again, using their maiden name for the last time, as was legally correct.
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.
- Répertoire des actes de baptême, mariage, sépulture et des recensements du Québec ancien (1981), this reference is from v. 8.
- Op. cit., v. 33.
- Printed version of this register published by the Société franco-ontarienne d’histoire et de généalogie, 1997.
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