A Quaker marriage usually took place under the care of the bride’s meeting (congregation), either in the meeting house or in her home. There was no clergyman marrying the couple; rather, they offered themselves in marriage and made promises to each other, under the care of the meeting.
The marriage certificate was hand-lettered on large paper, usually velum. As part of the ceremony, the certificate was read aloud to all in attendance as legal witnesses to the marriage, and all were invited to come forward and sign their names. There were several columns of lines where the witnesses signed. It was customary that the bride and groom’s family members signed on the right-hand column of the document, under the names of the bride and groom, usually with parents’ names first. Then the rest of the attendees—whether old or young—signed their names to the certificate as legal witnesses to the ceremony. At least 12 witnesses were required to sign the marriage document; these witnesses could be any member of the meeting.
Anyone could attend the wedding, so researchers cannot assume that the names found on the certificate were all Quakers.
A poster-sized certificate with signatures of all witnesses becomes the property of the bride and groom, but not until it is read aloud to all gathered for the ceremony. Marriage certificates become treasured heirlooms in Quaker families and are often passed down through the generations. You’ll find a few copies of certificates in the Quaker Collection on Ancestry.com.
The text from the certificate was copied verbatim either into the Monthly Meeting minutes or into a separate book kept by the meeting for that purpose.
Finding a list of all the witnesses in the meeting minutes can be a true genealogical treasure. Quakers attended many weddings as a show of support. You can often find family members by looking through the witnesses on marriage records in your ancestor’s meeting to find others with the same surname.
To learn more about Quaker weddings, order my new book: Thee & Me: A Beginner’s Guide to Early Quaker Records. Available on Amazon.com. Purchase as an eBook or in printed format. The printed book has dozens of illustrations and images, including a bonus chapter with a case study demonstrating step-by-step how to perform a successful search using the Quaker Collections on Ancestry.com.