Engaged couples are required in many jurisdictions to file marriage intentions
in their towns, cities, or counties of residence. After a
waiting-period prescribed by law, the intentions may be certified—i.e.
a marriage certificate may be issued—and a religious or civil ceremony
may legally occur. Intentions were once published in a
very public way, by placing notices of impending nuptials on the walls
of stores, post offices, schoolhouses, or taverns. Intentions could also be taken down or forbidden—perhaps by the parents of an underaged girl, or a previous spouse alleging bigamy.
genealogists, historical records of intentions often prove more
records of marriage ceremonies, as intentions were generally recorded
contemporaneous with the event, and are usually arranged
chronologically. The International Genealogical Index
includes many records of marriage intentions, but fails to distinguish
them from actual marriage records. Genealogists should
always mark the distinction.
A record of intentions is often considered the poor cousin of a marriage record, but should not be neglected by researchers. It may include information on the marrying parties (middle initials, places of residence, etc.) omitted in the marriage record, and can corroborate or cast doubt on the marriage date. Indeed, in some cases only marriage intentions exist to prove a union occurred.