[APG Public List] Tennessee Marriages

Debra Mieszala debfamhist at sbcglobal.net
Mon Sep 27 13:53:46 MDT 2010

I have not seen this question answered yet, so am giving it a try. However, it may require someone in Tennessee with more knowledge or access to old statute books jump in and assist.

I am including a research trail in hopes of showing one way to find an answer to such a question. I have not included URLS on most items as many were too long too work properly or to shrink in Tiny URL. You can find the books listed by searching for the titles in Google Books.

The below site shows present Tennessee statutes. 


Under license required -- county of issuance we only find the below item on residence. It indicates that there was a statutory change of some kind in 1986. 

"(b)  All existing marriages that occurred before March 24, 1986, are validated if a marriage certificate was signed by the county clerk either from a county in which the female did not reside or from a county where the marriage was not solemnized."

At the bottom of the marriage licensing statute is a clue to other places to look for earlier laws that dealt with the same topic. 
"[Code 1858, § 2441 (deriv. Acts 1778, ch. 7, §§ 2, 3); Shan., § 4191; Code 1932, § 8414; Acts 1976, ch. 539; § 1; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), § 36-405; Acts 1986, ch. 582, §§ 1, 2; 1989, ch. 224, § 1; 1996, ch. 1031, § 2.]"

Since the 1858 code is after the time period that you are looking for, I chose to start at the earliest of those listed, Acts 1778. (Keep in mind that Tennessee did not become a state until 1796.) My Google Books search was for _Tennessee Acts 1778 marriage license_. (I did not use quotes for those search terms.) It brought up _The Statute Laws of the State of Tennessee: of a Public and General Nature, 1831_. Page 219, section 3, deals with marriage licenses. Note that this book breaks up the sections, so more than one section 3 is found on page 219.

Note the phrase "which bond aforesaid shall be taken and license granted by the clerk of the county in which the feme resides..."

This tells us that according to what is included in this book, in 1778, the license was taken out in the county where the bride resided. However, since the book breaks up the chapter sections, it is not clear if each section, pieced together, is complete. 

Google books has the _State Board of Health Bulletin: Tennessee, Volumes 9-10_ (1893). Volume X, page 59 comments on Tennessee law regarding the marriage license. 

The text indicates that an Act was established in North Carolina in 1778 and still operative in Tennessee when the bulletin was written in 1893. "...a license under the hand of the Clerk of the County Court where the female resides, or where the marriage is solemnized...". [The listed source is Act 1778, ch. 7, sections 2 & 3]. Amendments quoted for 1815, 1838, and 1865-6 mention other aspects of the license and return, but are silent on license residency requirements. Whether a complete review of the changes in the law was listed is not clear. The authors were trying to get more vital records registration laws enacted as they were already in "older civilized countries and many of the States of the Union".

The book _Marriage Laws in the United States, 1887-1906_ by S. N. D. North, ed. by Desmond Walls Allen, sources the authorities Code 1884; Laws of 1889, 1899; Code 1896; Supplement to Code, 1897-1903. This book indicates that a license was issued in the county where the female resides or where the marriage is solemnized.

If you don't have access to that book, Google Books has the original Census Bureau publication _Marriage and Divorce, 1867-1906: Part 1 Summary, Laws, Foreign Statistics_ (S.N.D. North, Director, published 1909) from which the above was derived.

So, one source (_Statute Laws... 1831_) indicates that ca 1831 the license was taken out where the feme resided. However, since this source breaks up the sections of the marriage chapter, one wonders if anything was left out. I suggest that you try to obtain complete version of the chapter and sections dealing with marriage licenses from this time frame. A state law library might be a good place to find this. Google Books has a lot of older statute books, but it can be a bit time-consuming to dig through the hits for a winner.

Another source indicates that North Carolina enacted legislation in 1778, which required the license be taken out in the place where the female resided or where the marriage took place. This was allegedly followed by Tennessee (TN attaining statehood in 1796), and still in place in 1893 when the _State Board of Heath Bulletin_ was published. I suggest that you also try to find a copy of the section on marriage license requirements in this Act.

_Marriage and Divorce, 1867-1906_ also indicates that the license was taken out where the bride resided or where the marriage took place, but we only can glean that this was the law in effect ca 1906 (and not how much earlier any portion of it was enacted).

What seem to be slightly conflicting answers might simply be a case of an incomplete section on licensing in one publication. The answer to residency requirements? Possibly. But the state health department in 1893 seemed to think differently of the history of the licensing requirements. They felt the residence of the bride or place of marriage applied. And of course those might have been one and the same. My apologies for a very long "maybe, but probably not" answer. Tennessee researchers, feel free to add to or subtract from this attempt at an answer.

Debbie Mieszala, CG(sm) 

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