Public Marriage Records of Black Persons in Madison County, Tennessee, 1868-1888
By Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith
Copyright, Jonathan K. T. Smith, 1998
During the period of time, 1868-1888, in the principally rural Madison County, there were about 3400 black persons to whom marriage licenses were issued by the county court clerks. The officiants who performed marriage ceremonies were supposed to return marriage licenses annotated with the dates of marriage and their own names as performing the ceremonies, on these forms, and even though many couples were in fact married the licenses were not properly returned to the clerks. Hence researchers need to prove that a marriage did in fact occur between the parties mentioned in the licenses that were not returned, from some other public or private records. One WPA listing of the early black marriages mistakenly noted that marriages were solemnized when in fact there is no record proving this from the records in the marriage books. This, referring to unreturned licenses only.
In these present abstracts, if the officiants failed to return licenses a standard usage, "license only" indicates this failure to follow through on proper procedures. Some licenses were not returned when the parties failed to marry. Other prospective grooms probably just discarded the licenses when their marriage plans fell through. Some licenses were returned with brief explanations for the reasons marriages were not solemnized.
For many decades the county court clerks noted on their marriage records if couples were black, using the then-current term, "colored." As discriminatory as this is sometimes seen, it is never-the-less helpful to persons who are tracing their black families' lineages. Occasionally a "colored" comment was carelessly written on a white couple's marriage record and sometimes couples known to have been black failed to have "colored" noted on their marriage records.
The present abstractor has tried to report accurately the information as entered in the marriage books, including the spellings of given and surnames. Some surnames will be seen to lend themselves to various spellings, something a conscientious researcher needs to keep in mind while looking through the bride and groom index of this publication.
The original marriage licenses (those surviving) and marriage books are kept in the office of the Madison County court clerk. The records have also been or are in the process of being microfilmed. The value of a publication such as the present one is that it offers the benefit of cross-referencing of surnames which one will not find in the public marriage records. If there was once a marriage book for blacks during the 1866 and into 1868 period it has long since disappeared.
On page 73 of this publication is a map of the civil districts of Madison County which should be useful to persons in locating the home districts of their long-departed relatives, along with a brief commentary about early black ministers of the gospel.
The present abstractor is grateful for the pleasant environment provided him by Ms. Lisa Kirby-Butler, probate clerk of Madison County and Messrs. Jack D. Wood and Robert D. Taylor, Jr., Tennessee Room librarians, Jackson-Madison County Library, during that time he abstracted these marriage records in their respective domains.
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