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I recently found (via ancestry.com) this document regarding the marriage of my great-grandparents (specifically my father's mother's parents) in 1883, from the Delaware Marriage Records, 1744-1912. The text, along with any typos I've introduced and italics denoting fields that were filled in by hand, is:

Marriage records, vol. 40 p. 293

Know all Men by these Presents,
That We, Abram Vandegrift and Albert Vasey
are held and firmly bound to the State of Delaware, in the sum of two hundred dollars, lawful money of the said State, to be paid to the said State of Delaware, to which payment well and truly to be made we bind ourselves, and each of us, jointly and severally, our and each of our heirs, executors and administrators, firmly by the presents. Sealed with our seals and dated this First day of January in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty-Three

The condition of the above written Obligation is such,
that if Abram Vandegrift aforesaid and Miss Emma Cleaver may lawfully unite themselves in marriage, and if there be no legal objection to celebrating the rites of marriage between them, then this obligation shall be void, otherwise to be and remain in force.

Signed, Sealed and Delivered in Presence of John Vasey

Abram Vandegrift [seal] Albert Vasey [seal]

It seems similar to "banns of marriage", but it's significantly different, particularly in the mention of $200 (which was a great deal of money back then).

I've never heard of a document like this. Was its use common and widespread? And given the date of January 1, 1883, what can I assume about when they were actually married?

Delaware marriage document

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Very odd, some form of deposit for a marriage licence maybe? Interested to see the answer to this one! –  AvieRose Feb 12 '13 at 16:39
    
Doesn't seem like such an odd document after you've encountered dozens of them. –  RobertShaw Feb 13 '13 at 4:57
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3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

That looks to me like a Marriage Bond, posted by the groom and a relative of the bride, (two parties who could be expected to know the truth) to testify that there is no legal or moral impediment to a marriage. The $200 would be forfeit (to pay legal costs?) if the marriage didn't take place or was subsequently nullified.

Some of these documents were annotated to show the date of the actual marriage (typically within a few days), although this didn't always happen, so the absence of any annotation didn't mean the marriage didn't take place.

Reference: The Source: A Guidebook Of American Genealogy, by Loretto Dennis Szucs, Sandra Hargreaves Luebking

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If it's anything like the English equivalents, the sum of money was deliberately set high to encourage truthful declarations! English equivalents originally came in pairs - the bond and the allegation, the latter being effectively the application. These led to the issuing of a marriage licence, an alternative to banns. –  AdrianB38 Feb 12 '13 at 17:12
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@AdrianB38: Spoiler alert: the marriage did take place, and they had 6 children, including my grandmother. –  Keith Thompson Feb 12 '13 at 18:05
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I believe this is what was known as a Marriage Bond and Albert Vasey is presumably the bondsman, or surety. Most sources seem to suggest that the bondsman was usually a close relative, so you may find Albert Vasey to be a useful lead to pursue.

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This looks like a standard marriage bond. No money changed hands at the time of signing the bond, but the bondsman (usually a relative of the groom) would be held responsible for legal costs if the groom was sued for violating the terms of the marriage contract.

As others have mentioned, the bond was to ensure that the prospective groom had the legal right to marry the prospective bride, that is, he was of age, not already married, and of an appropriate degree of consanguinity, if related.

The bond price of $200 was relatively low; marriage bonds in the South, for example, Mississippi and Tennessee, were often much higher -- $1000+

Generally, marriage bonds were required when a groom was not well known to the bride's family. They were designed to offer legal protection to the bride in the event that the groom misrepresented himself.

In the state of Delaware, according to the Delaware Genealogical Society Research Guide, "In 1790 an act was passed requiring a marriage bond. The act provided that unless the banns--formal notice of the intended marriage --were announced in the bride's church the marriage could not be solemnized without a license; and a bond was required before a license could be granted. Marriage bonds required the signatures and seals of both the bridegroom and another person as surety (guarantee) of the obligation. If the groom or bride were minors their parents or guardians would be parties to the bond. No money was involved unless the marriage was proven invalid." (page 12)

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