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Undertaking genealogical research involves more than growing a family tree. It means gaining a deeper understanding of traditions, not just of our own family but the culture we are rooted in. Because as we grasp how our customs have evolved through the centuries, we gain insight into our own family's history and way of life. And learning a bit about Colonial marriage traditions can be both enlightening and intriguing.

The original settlers of Jamestown, Virginia of 1607 were all men, no women among their crew. And the approximately 100 Mayflower passengers included only 28 women, making the task of obtaining a wife difficult at best for the early 17th century colonial male.

Eager and perhaps desperate for male colonists to marry, approximately 150 "pure and spotless" women arrived in Virginia between 1620 and 1622 to be auctioned for 80 pounds of tobacco to future husbands. Many other women were brought to the Southern colonies as indentured servants, marrying the men who purchased their contracts.

The colonists established laws pertaining to the rights of husbands and their wives. The wives had few rights to land or to their children; the children were granted legal guardians upon the passing of their fathers, even when their mothers were still alive. Women had the responsibility of clothing and feeding their children but the guardians addressed legal matters, such as the child's property.

The wedding traditions varied, depending on ethnicity. The Dutch and Germans performed wedding ceremonies in their native languages, and the Quaker's weddings were held in their meetinghouses without a clergyman. Southerner's and New Englander's wedding ceremonies were also quite different: the Southern weddings often held in the bride's home with a pastor and lavish parties; whereas New Englanders often perceived a wedding not as a religious rite but as a civil affair conducted by a magistrate.

And not only were marriage customs dissimilar depending on the culture one lived, but divorce and grounds for divorce varied between New England and the South. If a wife alleged physical assault by her husband in Massachusetts in the 1600's she had grounds for divorce, but in the Southern colonies her husband was only restricted from "inflicting permanent injury or death" (all other atrocities on a wife must have been fair game).

Many of the colonial churches maintained marriage books. And institutions, such as the New England Historic Genealogical Society, offers free searchable records of colonial churches of Massachusetts and Connecticut.

For leads into locating archived marriage certificates and church records, you may find the Genwed website helpful, providing links for all 50 states along with Ireland, the U.K and Canada.

It can all sound silly when learnng about the marriage traditions of the colonists but they eventually evolved into our present customs and gaining insight into your own ancestor's marriage traditions based on their ethnicity and location where they lived can provide clues to further your research.

So have some fun and learn about the marriage customs of your ancestor's religion and culture and you will establish a good foundation for your quest.

Possibly leading you to the ultimate discovery: their marriage records.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
(Source: GenealogyMagazine.com)



 


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