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:
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. 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 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.” 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
 Madison County, Alabama, Marriage Record Book 1: 1, McGuire-Gormley, 1809; Madison County Records Center, Huntsville.
 Madison County, Alabama, Marriage Record Book 1: 1.
 Madison County, Alabama, Marriage Record Book 6: 7, Walker-Reaves, 1871; Madison County Records Center, Huntsville.
 Madison County, Alabama, Marriage Record Book 66: 1, Tumpkin-Douglas, 1936: Madison County Records Center, Huntsville.