To get married in early Kentucky required that at least three records be entered at the County Clerk's office. These were the Marriage Bond, the License, and the Minister's Return.
THE MARRIAGE BOND - To obtain a Marriage Bond required the signatures of two persons. A Bond was a statement that both of the persons proposing to be married were legally free to be married. The Bondsman was frequently a close relative. In all cases, it was someone who had known the groom or the bride for a period of time previously. Sometimes the groom signed the Bond for himself.
THE MARRIAGE LICENSE - The next step was to obtain a Marriage License. This was usually done at the same time as the Bond, but not necessarily. The bride and groom both had to be present to obtain a License. If either party was under the age of 21, the consent of a parent or guardian was required. For persons who were over 21 years of age, a consent was not required. At this point, the couple was free to take their License to a Justice of the Peace or a Minister to be married.
THE MARRIAGE RETURN - The Marriage Return is actually the only proof that a marriage took place. It is a statement by the person who performed the ceremony that the marriage actually took place and that they are now man and wife.
The ideal situation is that the Bond and the License were obtained in the same courthouse at the same time, and the couple was married that same day and the Return was properly made to that same courthouse. The other extreme is that the groom and the bride's father obtained the Bond while they were getting the family's food in one county seat and the couple went to another county seat to get the License because the Circuit Rider Minister was coming to their church the next Sunday. After marrying a few couples on that Sunday, the minister went on to the next church on his circuit. The next time he was in a County Clerk's office in a county 100 miles away, he tried to remember everyone that he had married in the last three months and file all the returns. "Let's see, what was that young girl's name?" [Let's hope the minister was a better record keeper than that!]. Therefore, all of the documents to support a given marriage may be spread over three counties. The Return is the least likely to be on record of the three documents.
Discrepancies occur everywhere. One county only recorded the groom's name as he was the one paying for the License and the brides’ names were never given. Missing names and dates are common.
Taken from the Clay County KY Records Book #1; Breathitt County Library Genealogy Collection
If you would like to contribute an original marriage record for your ancestor, please contact me. I am interested in records from the 1700s and 1800s.