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Madison County, Alabama, Marriage Records

Similar to other Alabama counties, Madison County’s marriage records vary in genealogical value, depending on the time period in which they were created. One of the state’s oldest counties, Madison County, Alabama, was formed on 13 December 1808 as part of the Mississippi Territory.  The first marriage recorded in the county, between James McGuire and Elizabeth Gormley, took place in the following spring on 3 April 1809, as shown below:[1]

First marriage recorded in Madison County, Alabama

First marriage recorded in Madison County, Alabama

The county remained a part of this territory until 1817 when Mississippi became a state.  From 1817 to 1819, Madison County was part of the Alabama Territory until Alabama became a state in December 1819.  It is important to know the territorial history of the state in order to locate some of the early records.   Marriage Record Book 1, 1809-1817, located at the Madison County Records Center, is a book of marriage returns that occurred while Madison County was a part of the Mississippi Territory.  Copies of these records were sent to the Mississippi State Archives in Jackson.   Copies of all Madison County marriages from 1809 to 1973 are on microfilm at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery.

The Madison County Records Center in Huntsville, Alabama, has marriage records from 1809 to 2004. The courthouse has never suffered a fire or other major disaster, and there are no breaks in all the years of the marriage records. Most of the early records contain little information other than the names of the bride and groom, the date of the marriage, and either the clerk of court’s name or the officiant’s name and title.  On the first marriage record of James McGuire and Elizabeth Gormley shown above, one can see the name of W. H. Winston, C.O.C. [Clerk of Court], but the parents’ names are not given.[2] Beginning in 1820 just after Alabama became a state in December 1819, marriage bonds and the officiant’s certifications became part of the official records.  Books 3 and 4 contain the original licenses sealed in archival-safe vellum or a similar material.  No one knows why the county kept the originals during this period.

If either the bride or groom was under 21, a father’s consent was required, or a letter from the mother or a guardian if the father was deceased or absent.  After the Civil War, the consent age for brides was lowered to 18 years.  The original letters of consent were inserted in the bound volumes with the marriage records.  Some of these letters are simply scrawled in pencil on small scraps of paper. Below is an example of consent notes for a bride under 18 and a groom under 21:

This note of consent provides a wealth of genealogical information.
This note of consent provides a wealth of genealogical information.

This photograph shows the marriage of J. Hamilton Walker and Miss Virginia E. Reaves in December of 1871.  For genealogists, these consent notes from 18 December 1871 give additional pieces of information that the marriage record alone would not have ordinarily provided if they had been of legal age to marry without consent.  The first note indicates that Virginia E. Reaves is an orphan, was raised by a relative, C. J. Campbell, and is not quite 18, while the second note, written by J. Hamilton Walker’s father, Wm. [William] A. Walker, identifies the groom as his son and shows him to be “not yet 21 years of age.”[3]  It also provides the father’s original signature.  By this time, the signing of a bond and the inclusion of the return was a common practice in the county marriage records.

In later volumes, consents are sometimes on a special form and inserted into the book.  Eventually the consents became a pre-printed section on the marriage licenses.  These have the actual signatures of the bondsmen or the parents giving consent.  Parents’ names were not typically recorded in the registers until 1915.  By 1899, the age of consent was lowered to 17 for brides only.  By 1911, the legal ages to marry without consent were lowered to age 18 for grooms and age 14 for brides.  Also by 1911, the practice of including personal descriptions, residences, occupations, and religious preferences began to appear in the record books on a small, preprinted memorandum attached to the record and later as part of a preprinted license.   The bonds were included occasionally by 1913, sometimes with just a signature or two, and this practice continued until 1936.  By 1915, doctors’ statements were included, along with parents’ names.

The modern records from the 1920s to the present time are copies of marriage licenses with preprinted sections for consents and returns. By 1928 the marriage record included the names of the parents with the maiden names of the mothers of the bride and groom, and by 1936 the record indicated races, ages, birthdates and birthplaces, occupations, numbers of marriages, previous divorces, and even whether or not they were related by blood.

Madison County’s marriages can be requested in person or in writing. There is a small fee for copies.  For licenses after 2004, patrons must go to the probate office on the first floor of the courthouse.  While this process is specific to Madison County, other counties often have similar procedures. If you are looking for a marriage record, see if there is a county archives for your area of interest, or contact the county probate office or county court clerk.

To view Madison County Records Center’s online indexes, visit their website: http://madisoncountyal.gov/mcrc/index.shtml

Happy hunting!


[1] Madison County, Alabama, Marriage Record Book 1: 1, McGuire-Gormley, 1809; Madison County Records Center, Huntsville.

[2] Madison County, Alabama, Marriage Record Book 1: 1.

[3] Madison County, Alabama, Marriage Record Book 6: 7, Walker-Reaves, 1871; Madison County Records Center,  Huntsville.

[4] Madison County, Alabama, Marriage Record Book 66: 1, Tumpkin-Douglas, 1936: Madison County Records Center, Huntsville.

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Missing Records Returned to Madison County, Alabama!

After disappearing for 60 years, a treasure trove of early records from the 1800s, some dating back to territorial days, were returned to the Madison County Records Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  Imagine the excitement!

In mid-June of 2013, a large number of boxes were delivered to the Madison County Records Center, which serves as the county’s archives.  These boxes held a variety of materials including deed books from 1818, superior and circuit court minutes and record books, as well as chancery (equity) court records and orphan’s court (probate) records.  There were even some private ledgers and other records from early local businesses.   It was a dream that had finally come true for local researchers as well as for the center’s staff and its loyal volunteers, many of whom had lamented the loss of the records for decades.

Example of a ledger page from an unknown merchant near Brownsboro, Alabama Photo copyright: Angela Lucas

Example of a ledger page from an unknown merchant near Brownsboro, Alabama
Photo copyright: Angela Lucas

How did such records go missing in the first place?  Basically, they were removed from the old Madison County Courthouse in 1953 by James W. Bragg, Sr. with permission of Thomas Jones, the probate judge at the time.  Mr. Bragg was a historian working on his master’s thesis over a period of several years.  He was also a preservationist at a time when records were carelessly kept in the basement of the former courthouse, where leaking pipes and general disarray were wreaking havoc on the old documents.  After a change of judges and the demolition and rebuilding of the courthouse, James Bragg, Sr. may have been reluctant to return the records.  His family kept the records safe for many years after his untimely death.   Finally, the items were inventoried, carefully packed, and returned by James Bragg, Sr.’s grandsons, Ben Bragg, Greg Bragg, and David Frost.

Some people have expressed dismay that the records were not returned sooner, while many researchers in the area are just relieved to have the items back.  Madison County, Alabama is not the only county that has experienced misplacement, theft, or loss of records not caused by disaster.  Hopefully, other families with public records will do the right thing and return missing items to the repositories in which they belong.

Some of the materials returned are the oldest judicial records of Madison County and the state of Alabama and among the oldest of the Mississippi Territory.  Alabama became a state in December of 1819, after being a part of the Mississippi Territory until 1817 and later the Alabama Territory from 1817-1819.  One of the oldest court records of Madison County, the Circuit and County Court Record Vol.1, 1811-1813, was among the returned items.  Also included was the Circuit Court Minute Book 1861-1863 from the Civil War days, including the only record of civilian court proceedings in Madison County that followed Alabama’s secession from the United States in January 1861.

A page from Circuit Court Minute Book, 1818-1819, Madison County, Alabama Photo copyright: Angela Lucas

A page from Circuit Court Minute Book, 1818-1819, Madison County, Alabama
Photo copyright: Angela Lucas

One item that is generating quite a bit of interest is a thin, delicate book entitled Criminal Docket 1816.  The date on the book is misleading; the record begins in 1816 but covers cases through the May term of 1824.  This book has recently been carefully digitized and indexed.   The images are not online, but they can be viewed on a computer the Madison County Records Center (MCRC).  An online version of the index will be made available as soon as possible.  The actual book is very fragile and will not be viewable by the public.  The digital images are of high quality and visitors are allowed to download them from the record center’s computers.

In fact, indexes and digital images of the other books in the collection are available in this way.  The goal is to merge the indexes and upload them to the MCRC’s website.  Many of the court record and minute books were indexed by surname in the ancient handwriting of some overworked court clerk long ago; for example, the clerk may have written “Smith vs. Jones, page 70.”  Some of these indexes are faded or torn in the front or back of the book, while some other books have no indexes at all!  Volunteers are taking these books and the hard-to-read indexes, going back through each book to find and record the given names of the people involved in the court proceedings, and creating a searchable index that includes both given names and surnames, page numbers, and sometimes the case numbers.  This will help distinguish which Smith or Jones was involved in which case within each book, so that the digital image of the desired page can be located and copied upon request.  This is an ongoing and somewhat tedious process, but it is occasionally very revealing, especially when a “zinger” of a case is found!

If you have an interest in the holdings of the Madison County Records Center, you can check their website listed below.  Be patient and check back again if the information you seek is not readily available, as the website is in the process of being updated.  Visitors can also come to the center, located on the third floor of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library, and look up items on a computer.  The staff is friendly and helpful, and a dedicated group of volunteers, led by John Rankin, is busy indexing and digitizing the newly recovered records.  Mr. Rankin will be giving a presentation about the “Bragg Collection” on Sept. 8, 2013 for the Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society (see link below).

As one of the volunteers, I can tell you that it is very rewarding to give back to the community by helping to preserve and to make these records publicly available.   I get a special feeling when I hold a record involving a prominent early governor, judge, or town leader whose name I have repeated often when I was teaching Alabama history in the classroom!

Links of interest on this topic include:

  • Madison County Records Center, 915 Monroe St., Huntsville, AL 35801, phone: 256-532-2347;  http://madisoncountyal.gov/mcrc/index.shtml.  If you have a Facebook account, you can also search www.facebook.com for “Madison County Records Center” to view updates and see photos on their Facebook page.  You can also contact the staff via Facebook or by clicking the email link on the website.
  • Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society http://www.hmchs.org/.  View their calendar to see details about an upcoming meeting on Sept. 8, 2013 at which John Rankin will present fascinating details about the recently returned records.
  • Forget the overdue fine: Library thrilled to get Madison County courthouse records missing 60 years http://blog.al.com/breaking/2013/06/forget_the_overdue_fine_librar.html [Note: the Madison County Records Center is housed in the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library, but they are separate entities.  The items returned are not under the control of the library; instead, they are a part of the county government holdings.]
 

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Kentucky Confederate Pension Files

While exploring digitized records today, I stumbled upon a wonderful treat: Confederate pension application files at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA) website.  Pension applications are a wonderful resource for genealogy with sometimes surprising biographical information, and these are no exception.  Kentucky has some applications that are quite detailed and lengthy.  Often there are affidavits from family members and neighbors, giving great insight to the lives of these veteran ancestors and providing us with a more complete picture of their struggles than we ordinarily get with just the dry facts.

Digitizing records is slow and laborious, and I appreciate KDLA’s efforts to make these records public.  To access this ongoing project, go to the KDLA website and look for the e-archives link on the right-hand side of the page.  Here is the URL: http://kdla.ky.gov/Pages/default.aspx.

 

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Lawrence County Archives

698 Main St., Moulton, Alabama

698 Main St., Moulton, Alabama

I recently visited the Lawrence County Archives in Moulton, Alabama to conduct research for a client needing help with his Bradley and Brown ancestors from the tiny community of Wolf Springs in the northwestern part of Lawrence County. Housed in a former bank building just off the courthouse square, this little archives is a hidden gem. The building itself was built in 1939 and still retains its retro charm inside with original trim and art deco hardware. It even has the old bank safe, which is still used today by the archivists on staff and provides an odd source of conversation.

Look closely and you can see "Bank of Moulton" across the top front of the building.

Look closely and you can see “Bank of Moulton” across the top front of the building.

I had a lovely lunch at a quirky downtown cafe in Moulton called Lang’s Latte Cafe. The name caught my eye because it reminded me of my Lang relatives in northern Minnesota, some of whom ran small cafes and even bars in small prairie towns near the Canadian border. After lunch, I walked around the square and returned to my starting point, where I spent the afternoon combing through records at the Lawrence County Archives.   Some of their records date back to 1818 before Alabama became a state.  A list of their holdings can be found on their easy-to-navigate website: http://www. lawrencecoarchives.com.

 

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Georgia Archives to Remain Open…For Now

Imagine having no state archives open to the public for research.  What a sad day in the genealogy world!  That is what the people of Georgia were facing until recently….and may face again in 2013.  The office of Georgia’s governor, Nathan Kemp, announced last month that the Georgia State Archives in Morrow, GA will remain open for the remainder of the budgetary year that ends on June 30, 2013.  It will keep its current hours, which are already limited to just Fridays and Saturdays.  On July 1, the archives will be transferred to the University System of Georgia.  What then?  Will it be by appointment only?

Think of all the valuable materials to be relocated and the care which must be taken in this situation.  What if the documents that prove your ancestor ever existed on Georgia soil are not available to you because of budget cuts?  Hopefully, it will not be a worst-case scenario.  The press release from the governor’s office did indicate that the transfer provides for the appropriation of funds for operation and staffing; however, just the thought of losing access to the archives makes many genealogists and other researchers very nervous.  If it can happen in Georgia, it can happen elsewhere.

If you live in a place in which your state archives and other repositories are open several days a week with no plans to close anytime soon, consider yourself fortunate.

 

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Tennessee State Library and Archives

Tennessee State Libary and Archives in Nashville

Back in August of this year, I spent six productive hours in downtown Nashville at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, located at 403 7th Ave. N, between the state capitol and the judicial building.  I knew it was going to be a good day when a parking space right in front of the archives was open!  Parking is limited; I fully expected to have to find a public parking lot and walk, which I was willing to do, but being able to park in one of the few spaces available on weekdays was an added bonus.  The friendly and helpful staff was ready to answer all questions and to give assistance.  I was lucky enough to snag one of the newer microfilm readers that allows patrons to save documents to a flash drive; however, I came prepared with my roll of quarters for the copier, just in case.

I did my homework ahead of time by first going to their detailed website at http://www.tn.gov/tsla.  I was interested in Greene County records, and the website had a 27-page list of all the microfilms for that county.  Had I not seen this online, I could have used the list on display at the archives.  Also, the website has a great “Visitors’ Guide” section.

After a great meal at Noshville, and New York-style deli in Midtown located at 1918 Broadway, it was time to drive by the Parthenon in Centennial Park.  Nashville’s Parthenon is an excellent replica of the famous Parthenon in Athens, Greece.  On this beautiful summer afternoon, the park was busy but not crowded, as visitors rode bicycles or walked the paths and across the green spaces.  A few folks were sitting on the Parthenon’s steps as we drove by.

Nashville’s Parthenon

I look forward to another short trip to the state archives Nashville soon and will be happy to research your Tennessee ancestors for you.  Just send me an email from my “Contact Me” tab at the top of my blog.

 
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Posted by on Monday, November 12, 2012 in Places of Interest, Repositories, Tennessee history

 

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