Marriage and Divorce Records
by Betty R. Darnell
This is one in a series of researching tips taken from presentations by Betty R. Darnell, a noted local historian and genealogist. These notes are copyrighted by her.
Where are the Records?
In Kentucky, marriage records are at the county clerk’s office. Older records are also on microfilm at the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives (KDLA), Frankfort; at the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS); and maybe at the local library.
What Records are There?
Marriage bond (generally from the beginning of the county to about 1860): asserting that there is no lawful cause to obstruct the marriage. Posted by the groom (women had no contractual rights); the security may have been a neighbor or a relative. Bonds may be filed in small file boxes.
Consent: Required by a 1799 Kentucky Act, if either party was under age 21. May be either verbal, if parent or guardian is present, or written. Filed with the bond.
License: written out or completed form, by the county clerk. The license was taken by the groom to the minister or justice of the peace performing the marriage. The license was not always returned to the county clerk.
Certificate: completed by the minister of justice of the peace and given to the couple; not always returned to the county clerk.
Marriage return: Legal proof of the marriage; to be returned to the county clerk by the minister. May have been returned months or years after the marriage. Returns may be filed in small file boxes.
Marriage register: A copy of the information, from the minister’s return. There may be errors in names or dates. In later years (1876 in Bullitt County), the register may include copies of the license and return.
Where Else Can a Record Be Found?
- Family records
- Church records
- Military pension records
- Reference in biography in published book
- Marriage contract recorded in county deed books, or county court order books
- State Vital Statistics, 1852-61, 1874-1910 [scattered years]
- Freedmen’s Bureau records (Blacks) – available online at HeritageQuestOnline
- Since 1958, KY marriages have been recorded by the Registrar of Vital Statistics. No statewide index before 1958. An index of KY marriages, 1973-1999, on CD-ROM, is available from KDLA.
- Look also for marriage records for your ancestor’s siblings.
- In Kentucky, until 1849, divorces were granted by Acts of the Kentucky Legislature.
- After 1809, divorces could also be granted by circuit courts.
- After the 1850 constitution, divorces could only be granted by circuit courts.
- In 1972, the term was changed to “Dissolution of Marriage.”
- Since 1958, KY divorces have been recorded by the Registrar of Vital Statistics.
- Kentucky Ancestry, Roseann Reinemuth Hogan, 1992. Inventory of county records on microfilm.
- Kentucky Genealogical Research, George K. Schweitzer, 1987. Inventory of original records at county courthouses.
- Images of Hardin County original marriage records are online. Click on “Archive” (below “Information” at the right).
- "Kentucky Divorces, 1792-1849" (divorces granted by the State Legislature and Courts), Bluegrass Roots, KY Genealogical Society, 1980, and 2006-2007.
- Kentucky Acts, KY House and Senate Journals (at KDLA)
- Index to Littell’s Laws of KY (1792-1819), W. T. Smith, 1931; reprint, Clearfield Press, 1994.