When you think of researching and obtaining copies of historical marriage records, what’s some of the thoughts that cross your mind? If you’re like me, you envision a notable document recorded somewhere on a mysterious page in one of those big ol’ heavy books down at the courthouse. To obtain a photocopy, you simply venture to the county courthouse. You photocopy the record and head back home. Pretty simple.
I know what you’re thinking. “Wait just a minute. Nobody goes down to the courthouse nowadays to get a copy of a marriage record! Haven’t you heard of the Internet?”
You’re absolutely right. Most of us have transitioned to the digital age in which older marriage records are now downloaded at the click of a mouse. The manner in which we access marriage documents is very important. Abstracting precise vital dates and the names of various parties named within marriage records is also a critical aspect of our research. Most important, however, we should study each and every marriage record we encounter in its entirety to gain the whole story. As the following recorded event attests, sometimes we encounter an unexpected story of matrimony that goes far beyond the minutiae expressed on the recorded page. It is a great example of the educational value of marriage records.
I arrived early that morning just when the courthouse door opened in Talladega County, Alabama. I made a beeline straight to the probate judge’s office. Upon consulting the marriage indexes, I located the marriage of my ancestors, James “Jimroe” Taylor and Susan Garmon. Next, I identified the appropriate marriage register which reeked with smells of the bygone past. Lifting the bulky book from its shelf, I turned to the proper page and eagerly stared at the record.1 “Wow. They got married…in 1874…uh, where? Yep, I should have guessed,” I thought to myself. As I continued to read, it stated they were married “at Ala. Iron Furnace.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I first reacted in disbelief. Then, I surmised, “My ancestors may have been anxious to get hitched, but choosing to elope and wed at an iron-making blast furnace of all places was taking the idea of marriage to a whole new level.” My curiosity was now stirred for sure. I just couldn’t wait to learn more about this outdoor “furnace.”
With photocopy in hand, I proceeded to the local public library. It didn’t take long to find out that in my rush to judgment, my premature conclusion was all wrong. From information gathered by Eugene Allen Smith, state geologist, Talladega’s sole iron furnace during the Civil War was destroyed by Union forces but was rebuilt by the Alabama Iron Company in 1873.2 (Please note that this furnace was rebuilt one year prior to James Taylor’s marriage to Susan Garmon.). Smith stated its location was in Section 17, of Township 17 South, of Range 7 East [of the Huntsville Meridian (in the upper, northeastern area of Talladega County)]. In March 1873, the town of “Alabama Furnace” was incorporated by the Alabama Legislature.3 The language of the act indicated that its corporate limits were to “…extend three miles in every direction from said furnace, near Salt Creek, on the line of the Selma, Rome and Dalton railroad…” It was to be no closer than one mile from the center of the town of Munford.
Further research revealed that one month later, in April 1873, a post office was established at Alabama Furnace.4 It serviced the community which surrounded the iconic iron-manufacturing facility. A historical map published in 1878 indicated that the town and post office were located in Township 17 just south of the Rome and Dalton Railroad line near Salt Creek, between the towns of Munford and Silver Run.5 On 18 February 1884, the name of the Alabama Furnace community post office was changed to “Jenifer.”6 The town was named after Jenifer, mother of Samuel Noble, the new corporate owner of the furnace.7
So there, we now have the rest of the story concerning this confusing marriage record. Consequently, James and his bride had not tied the knot at an industrial edifice after all—it occurred somewhere within its surrounding community which also bore the town name and post office of same name. Yippee! I dodged a negative social bullet on that one, ’cause I had initially thought my “Jimroe” was a rather strange ancestor. The lesson to be learned is simple. We should never jump to premature conclusions in our research—even if the record we are viewing is original. If we don’t conduct thorough study before postulating our conclusions about the evidence in hand, we may get the “wrong picture.”
Next week, I’ll continue this discussion about marriage records and their “educational” value…
1. Talladega County, Alabama, Marriage Book D (1872–76): 239, James Taylor and Susan Garmon, 1874, recorded license, return, and bond (not filled in); Probate Judge’s Office, Talladega.↩
2. Geological Survey of Alabama, Report of Progress for 1875 (Montgomery: W.W. Screws, State Printer, 1876), 133, 149–151; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 23 November 2015).↩
3. Acts of the Session of 1872–1873, of the General Assembly of Alabama held in the City of Montgomery, commencing [18 November 1872] (Montgomery: Arthur Bingham, State Printer, 1873), pp. 280–81, “An Act To incorporate the town of ‘Alabama Furnace’ in the county of Talladega” (Act no. 274); digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 23 November 2015).↩
4. “U.S., Appointment of U.S. Postmasters, 1832–1971,” digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 November 2015), Talladega County, Alabama, 7 April 1873, Alabama Furnace, search path: Start > Alabama > County > Marion-Winston > image 402 of 603; imaged from Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832–September 30, 1971, microfilm publication M841 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Service, 1973), roll 3.↩
5. U.S. General Land Office, State of Alabama (New York: Julius Bien, 1878); digital image, David Rumsey Map Collection (http://www.davidrumsey.com : accessed 23 November 2015), search path: Start > Alabama > When [left menu] > Show More > 1878 > map 5 of 5.↩
6. “U.S., Appointment of U.S. Postmasters, 1832–1971,” digital image, Ancestry, Talladega County, Alabama, 18 February 1884, Alabama Furnace (late) to Jenifer, image 402 of 603.↩
7. Ethel Armes, The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama (Birmingham: Chamber of Commerce, 1910), 316; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 23 November 2015.↩